Building relationships with business for organic growth of placements

Building relationships with business for organic growth of placements

This is an extended case study from the NCUB Research Report Growing Experience: A Review of Undergraduate Placements in Computer Science for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

In the School of Computing at the University of Kent we place around 75% of our cohort of computer science, business IT and computing students each year in UK and overseas in paid year-long placements. 

"The better we get to know the employer, the better we can match their requirements and the more successful the overall experience for everyone involved."

We pride ourselves on being a dedicated Placement Office whose sole purpose is to find suitable year-long placements to complement the theory taught on the course. Many of our students secure placements with the organisations – large and small – that promote their vacancies and schemes each year, and each year there are new, exciting destinations for our students. But over the years, we have also managed to build strong relationships with industry – regularly ‘growing’ our own placements organically. 

Many companies that employ a Kent Computing student bring repeat business to the School; students on the Year in Industry programme are encouraged to push their boundaries, and visits from the School ensure that they’re developing personally and commercially, as well as technically, and employers really value that commitment.  The year is worth 10% of their degree, and students are incentivised by this, frequently going over and above their deliverables. In 2013-14 46 of our placements were through repeat business or relationships with somebody in the organisation (including Sky, Disney and Cisco), so the dedication really pays off.

The best example of this organic growth started seven years ago when a Kent computing alumnus Rory Franklin decided to introduce our Year in Industry programme to his Soho-based digital content management and distribution graduate employer - ChilliBean. Having been a placement student himself, he knew the value of the placement scheme and recruited two of our undergraduates into web development placements. One of these students was Matt Fairbrass, who was so enriched by his placement year that he introduced the scheme to his graduate employer Clear Books, an online accounting software company based in West Kensington. 

Here he recruited Kent students for web-based placements over two years. In parallel, ChilliBean continued to recruit students solely from our School. When Matt moved to a new organisation in 2013 – Lab49, a strategy, design and technology consulting firm also in London – he introduced us to their HR department and plans are underway to initiate the programme for 2015-16. In the meantime, Tom Verran, one of the former placement students at Clear Books, returned as a graduate, and has himself recruited four placement students from Kent over the past two years. In short, one Kent alumnus has generated 13 web-development placements (so far!) – typically an area where students struggle to find meaningful and challenging jobs.


Example of organic growth of Year in Industry placements for School of Computing, University of Kent

Through getting to know employers and companies, we are able to more easily predict the type of student who might thrive in that environment; to encourage individual students to apply, and to work closely with the employers to come up with effective application processes.

"In short, one Kent alumnus has generated 13 web-development placements (so far!)"

The Placement Office also commits itself to engaging with individual student supervisors to discuss the student’s progress, and to help ensure a set of learning outcomes are met for the Year in Industry. These include working in a professional team, managing self-development and of course applying appropriate levels of technology/IT. It is only through these discussions that skill gaps can be identified and clear objectives can be set. This process benefits both student and employer, as it constantly reminds students to squeeze every drop out of their placements, which invariably means adding value to the team. We track their progress throughout the year, and students value the continuity of support they receive during this significant and pivotal year of their studies.

We remain in close contact with as many placement employers as possible – whether SME owners/senior managers, or individual supervisors within global organisations, nurturing these relationships whenever possible to ensure continued repeat business, and to offer positive placement experiences to our students with confidence. The better we get to know the employer, the better we can match their requirements and the more successful the overall experience for everyone involved.

Katie Van Sanden is Industrial Placement Co-ordinator at the University of Kent School of Computing

This is an extended case study from the NCUB report Growing Experience: A Review of Undergraduate Placements in Computer Science for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

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