Developing employability skills in graduates to ease their transition into work is a core focus for Higher Education Institutions.

Degree-level qualifications must be combined with skills prized by employers such as teamwork, critical thinking and time management. At the National Centre we’ve developed Placer – a national work experience platform for all students, whatever their background, to help develop these employability skills. Placer is supported by universities, valued by employers and loved by students.

The challenges of the work experience market

A BIS FutureTrack report (table 9, p78), showed that undergraduates who participated in both work experience and work-based learning during university were more likely to be employed, have greater confidence and earn higher salaries than those that did not.

However, the online marketplace for work experience opportunities does not supply the volume that is required. The fragmented marketplace with a large number of players is generating opportunities that are too low in volume to serve our student population.

There is also a suggestion that students are unaware of the value of the different types of work experience they have undertaken. Research from the National Centre reveals an apparent mismatch between demand and supply: student surveys reported 150,000 work experiences versus employers’ claims of 250,000 placements a year. This may be due to a difference in definitions. If students are defining work experience only as year-long placements as suggested by the report, they may be discounting other experiences that are of shorter duration or that may be unrelated to their studies, without understanding the impact they could have in improving their employability skills. In fact, a further National Centre report, investigating the low take-up of long-duration placement opportunities among computer science students, recommended a wider range of work placement lengths be offered to students without decreasing quality.

Universities also have a role to record the full range of work experiences that students participate in, whether supplied by their own careers services or from an external provider.

Mobile app for work experience

In response, the National Centre has developed Placer –a digital service for universities which will showcase curated opportunities from a variety of businesses, large and small, across all sectors. The core ethos is creating a national pool of work experiences – a day, a week, a month, a year – with mentors, for students from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds in order to equalise life chances for all. The platform is delivered in the form of a mobile app targeted to students, with match-style functionality (swipe left/swipe right).

Placer also seeks to equalise life chances amongst students of different backgrounds by employing blind screening principles where employers make decisions on personal statements and merit of the student profiles. Research from the Bridge Group shows students from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not have the same access to work experience opportunities as those from higher socio-economic backgrounds and are more likely to find work unrelated to their course, which may refer to non-career enhancing jobs to fund their studies. Blind screening will help to eliminate some of these barriers.

“Placer will help solve some of the key challenges in this space and we hope universities and business will join us on this exciting, fresh new approach to make sure that our workforce is equipped to deal with the future and contribute to economic growth.” David Docherty, CEO, National Centre for Universities and Business