What are the benefits of a quality placement?
- Published: Thursday, 17 April 2014 08:49
- Written by National Centre for Universities and Business
Examples of these benefits are demonstrated in the case studies within this report.
BENEFITS FOR THE STUDENT
From the student perspective, high quality placements can bring a range of benefits and positive impacts. There is strong evidence to suggest that placements and work experience are extremely valuable to students, both in terms of their academic performance and their employability skills.1 The Wilson Review of higher education argues that such opportunities may alleviate barriers to employment for graduates, and notes that both sandwich placements and student/graduate internships hold considerable value for the students personal and professional development, and should be encouraged and provided as opportunities to all where possible. At a high level, the benefits for students include:
Improved skills and knowledge, including ‘softer’ employability skills, and specific technical skills and competencies.
Placements give students the opportunity to gain skills specific to their subject or industry of choice as well as the employability skills required for real-life work. It also increases their knowledge of an industry or sector, allowing them to make better informed decisions about future career choices.
Research undertaken at the University of Aston also explored the possible causal link between placements and academic achievement, and found that placements do improve degree performance. However, the research suggested that more able students are more likely to undertake placements in the first place, and that degree performance is not improved by a placement per se, but by a successful placement.2
Increased understanding and awareness of the world of work, accelerated personal maturity, self-awareness and ability to articulate skills and achievements.
Placements provide the opportunity to be involved in team-based working, which provides a welcome contrast to the typically more individual-centric approach taken to academic study. This kind of experience is beneficial, and builds on the self-management and problem solving skills typically gained at university, with the ability to work collaboratively.
A clear beneficial output for students from undertaking a placement is the ability to effectively evidence their experiences on their CV, providing documented contextual proof for their skills and abilities, coupled with a reference. Placements can also provide useful examples to use in competency based job applications or interviews.
Enhanced employment prospects and ability to compete in a turbulent graduate recruitment marketplace. Specifically through:
Completing a placement can sometimes lead directly to subsequent employment with the same employer following graduation. It can be “a foot in the door” that could lead to a temporary or permanent contract.
Interaction with other professionals while on placement can also bring strong benefits in terms of networking. For example, engaging with professionals in their chosen career-field can provide a foundation of contacts on which to build and draw upon in a future career.
Placements may also have a significant economic impact on graduates throughout their careers, and contribute to improved social mobility and success in later life. It is estimated that the average salary of students who have completed sandwich placements is 8% higher than those that did not, six months after graduating. Other evidence that suggests that placements can and often do lead to firm employment opportunities include the Real Prospects 2011 survey (involving 22,000 graduates) which found that the number of respondents indicating they had worked for their employer whilst a student had risen to 22 per cent; and of these, 45 per cent had been on a work experience placement or internship and 27 per cent had been on a placement as part of their degree programme.
Improvement in the university’s reputation amongst students.
Raising the institution’s profile.
Providing placement opportunities enhances an institution’s reputation for graduate employment as quality placements are felt to improve student employability, therefore institutions benefit from more satisfied students and graduates having had a better quality HE experience. In theory this also translates into better performance in league tables based on student employment levels post-graduation. This could significantly improve the attractiveness of the institution to prospective students, who are increasingly mindful of the value of their studies to employers, and improving their job opportunities.
Increased positive contact with employers.
High-quality placements can improve a university’s broader engagement and relationships with business. If a placement experience is high quality, employers are more likely to come back year after year with additional placement vacancies, as well as look for other opportunities to link with the university.
Form part of a broader, institution-wide emphasis on business engagement.
Placements can form an important part of building constructive relationships with local and regional organisations, in particular with small and medium-sized enterprises, and large organisations with whom a variety of income-generating mechanisms may be developed. As such, placements are mentioned in most institutional strategy documentation and frequently sit alongside other types of activity, such as knowledge transfer partnerships (KTPs), CPD, consultancy and work-based learning.
Access to individuals with higher-level skills who can bring new ideas to the company
The benefits to an employer from the high-level skills a graduate can provide are maximised in a high quality placement which is carefully conceived and the best candidate identified so that the student’s knowledge or interests are relevant to the business.
An additional resource
An inherent strength of a fixed-term placement is that it allows the employer to draw upon a temporary, and thus flexible, source of talent. Businesses often have discrete project requirements that lend themselves perfectly to a temporary appointment, particularly for an articulate individual with higher level skills.
Add significant value to their business
A route to support future recruitment
Taking on a placement student holds considerably fewer risks than recruiting a new full time employee and a high quality placement has the potential to identify key staff over the longer term that will eventually lead the business and help it grow. This is coupled with the benefit that little initial training is needed to convert a placement student into a fully-fledged member of a graduate programme, given their prior familiarity with the business.
Supporting students to gain employability skills.
Placements form an important part of a business’s ethos, corporate social responsibilities and identity by developing the skills of local students or those that are important to the future of their industry.
In conclusion, ultimately a high-quality placement should provide benefits for all parties involved.
 Wilson, Review of university-business collaboration, p. 37
 Driffield, N., Foster, C., Higson, H., Placements and degree performance: Do placements lead to better marks or do better students choose placements? (2011), p. 1.