Tree fallA new report NCUB released today adds new evidence to the common sense that students and employers have been exercising when it comes to experiencing work while at university.

We show how even if work experience goes untraced in your HE records, it still improves your employability, much like the noise that a tree falling in the forest makes, even if not seen by anyone.

So do not give up on the idea of a work placement because it interferes with your academic record… because it doesn’t have to.

Typically, HE records trace only certain types of work experience, most often sandwich placements, and these are known to improve employment outcomes upon graduation. However, these recorded placements are not offered or taken up evenly across disciplines, or across universities. And nor do they have to be equally distributed. Today’s report shows that employers offer and value a portfolio of types of work experience, of which sandwich placements are but one. In this wider portfolio there is a wealth of different ways of acquiring work experience, and many of these are not organised or managed by the university, but they count for employability all the same.

Going by what HE students say, we count around 150,000 placements in 2013 across the UK, but going by what employers say, there have been at least 250,000 placements for university students in 2013. Far from being bad news, this gap simply says that what students mean by placement is narrower than what employers mean by placement. More importantly, it is the employer definition, the wider one, that counts for bettering employment outcomes. So, if you do not manage to get into your internship of choice, seek another way of making yourself known to the same employer. Employers who offer internships are five times more likely to offer placements to university students than employers without internships. Do not give up on work experience because you miss one type of placement, there are others, with the same employer, and with other employers, all valuable additions to your degree.

The majority of work experience offered is within smaller establishments which offer one placement each. Only 7% of the larger employers offer placements. Most placements may not be in a sector that is relevant for your discipline of degree. Employers in Real State and Business Services are as likely to offer placements as employers in the Health sector. Each of these sectors offer 1.8 placements for each 1 placement offered in Manufacturing, so students need to keep an open mind as to the shape and host of the work experience.

Even if unrelated to the discipline of degree, even if unrecorded like the noise of the tree, the work experience will still increase your worth in the labour market, over and above your specialist qualification. Employers offer work experience to identify the right talent, but in doing so they also offer generic skills as a by-product. Not getting a job with your placement employer does not reduce the value of those skills, on the contrary, it increases the value of our graduate specialism for other employers.

Finally we show that you can acquire these generic skills not only off your discipline but also in shorter time than typically thought. The vast majority of placements offered by employers last one to six months, so shorter placements, or even better, a chain of them during your study, can make your profile known to different employers, as well as give you information about what kind of job you would like.
Work experience does not have to interfere with your studies but can most definitely increase the value of them in the labour market.

The tree makes a noise on falling, even if you don’t see it.