Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Visiting a placement student

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The other day I had to visit one of our undergraduate students who is on a work placement. It was an interesting day out at the UK headquarters of a multinational company in Uxbridge where Rachel Carroll has been working in the finance department. She is really enjoying her time there and says she has learned many new skills and a lot about working in a corporate environment.

USE has a special Placement Office to assist students who choose to apply for twelve month placement positions between the second and final years of their undergraduate degree programme. The Placement Office has contacts with many companies looking to recruit placement students (they often call the Interns) and advertises the jobs that are available both on notice boards and via the USE VLE. The Placement Office doesn't match students to jobs - it is up to the students themselves to apply for an advertised vacancy - but the people working in the office will offer advice on completing the application form, and putting together an accompanying CV and cover letter. They will also help them prepare for any online aptitude tests that they might be required to undertake and for an interview.

An increasing number of students are seeking placement positions even though our economics degree programme does not have a sandwich course structure as such. Some students find that, after a successful placement year, they will be offered a job or at least a further training position with the company. Even if that doesn't happen they will have gained valuable experience which will increase their employment chances after graduation. It also seems to be the case that students who have been on placements regularly achieve Upper Second and First Class Honours degrees as the whole experience has helped them mature and adopt good work practices. However, getting a work placement place is highly competitive so there may be more than a bit of self-selection bias here.

Anyway, as part of the placement programme each placement student will be visited by a member of the academic staff to talk to them, and the person at the company who is supervising them, to ensure that the placement is fulfilling its objectives. Hence my trip to Uxbridge.

First, let me tell you what went well (once I had got there!). I was met by Rachel and her supervisor who, to my surprise, didn't look much older than Rachel herself. It turned out that only three years earlier he himself had been a work placement student at the company so he was very much aware of what he needed to do in his supervisory role. Not too much, though, he said as Rachel had settled in very quickly, making the most of all the training opportunities being offered. Early on she had been given a data cleansing task to carry out which she completed very efficiently and soon found herself actually heading up projects and writing up reports for senior management. Our discussions took place over lunch in the staff restaurant (which is a little bit posher than the university cafeteria!). I should have got to Uxbridge by coffee time but, despite leaving home early, I hadn't anticipated quite such long delays due to an accident on the M25 which meant that I was nearly two hours late arriving. And it was just as bad on the way home. I am thankful that I only have a short commute to work at USE.

If any students who might be interested in applying for a work placement are reading this blog, please note the following. 1 Start applying early - right at the beginning of your second year as the vacancies have usually gone by the New Year. 2 Do make sure that you make use of the help that can be provided by the Placement Office. They won't match you with a job but they will help you in lots of other ways. 3 Remember, you will get paid while on placement. I am told that the current average salary is somewhere between £15K and £17K. 4 On completion of a successful placement year you will be awarded a USE Certificate of Professional Practice. Good luck!

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