Do work placements add value to higher education in 2018?

26th March 2018

Getting a graduate job has never been easy, but with so many students about to enter the marketplace this year competition is likely to be fierce. As a hiring manager I am always looking for something that makes a candidate stand out amongst a sea of CVs.

But for the candidates themselves it is tough. Employability is very much front of mind for students, and over the last four years we’ve surveyed thousands of students to understand their experiences.

A particular stand-out finding is the low confidence that students have in their ability to secure a graduate job. Last year, 40% of undergraduates thought that finding a job was going to be challenging or impossible. Moreover, almost three quarters of students felt nervous about going into the workplace.

One thing that students believe will really help them is work experience. Eight out of ten young, first time undergrads believed that work experience would increase their chances of securing the job they want.

In our 2015 survey, we found that 55% of students were offered a work placement or internship by their university, and yet half of them turned it down because it didn’t meet their needs.

There’s room for more to be done here, and that’s why we’ve been working with Jisc and the National Centre for Universities and Business to innovate into this challenge. The resulting Placer app offers a free solution to match up students and businesses through a bespoke platform for tailored work experience.

We hope Placer will increase the proportion of students undertaking work placements, helping them to tailor their post-university job search, target their applications more closely and stand out to potential employers.

But we have ambitions to go even further. In our most recent research report – Everyone In – we looked at the hidden disadvantage that some groups of students experience both while at university and moving into the labour market.

For example, students with a disability are less likely to report that they have gained important soft skills while at university. To put that in perspective, this equates to 38,000 students with a disability who do not believe they have gained social skills while at university.

Work placements are a valuable opportunity to develop those social skills, such as teamwork and giving presentations, which impress hiring managers. But without change, there’s a risk that the disadvantage experienced at university will simply carry forward into the workplace.

Placer offers blind matching, helping to remove unconscious bias at the initial selection stage and support businesses to meet their own inclusivity targets. By doing so, Placer levels the playing field for students from a wide range of backgrounds, helping to bring much needed diversity and new talent into the workplace.

If you’re an employer looking to offer work experience, or you already do, find out more and register with Placer 

Jenny Shaw is Head of Student Services & Insight at Unite Students

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