The Benefits of a Placement Year

by Shanna Hardy, Employability Programme Officer.

Entering higher education is an important stepping stone in reaching your career aspirations, goals and dreams. But do you know that leaving university with employability skills is just as important? If you were a hiring manager looking to fill a sought-after position within your organisation, who would you chose? Graduate A, who’s worked in industry during their studies, understands the pressures of working life, and can hit the ground running, or Graduate B, who has little or no evidence of how to handle job specific tasks and has not yet entered what we all refer to as ‘the real world’?

The transition from university life to working life is extremely difficult. I graduated in 2011, and six years later, a part of me still feels that soon enough I will pack my bags and head back to university. That way, I could choose the time I get up each day and precisely plan which nightclub I will be attending during my five nights out a week. On reflection, after working in industry during my studies and completing an employability module, I was more equipped for ‘grown up life’ than I thought.

That brings me to the present day – working as an Employability Programme Officer at Birmingham City University. I’m passionate about helping students gain the vital skills they will need for life after university. There’s no doubt that your degree is extremely important in getting you to where you want to be. However, if you want to achieve those dreams, you must also give employers what they want, and in my experience, that’s evidence of how and why you are employable.

The CEBE Employability team are here to support you throughout all recruitment processes whilst you’re looking for placements, internships and part time work. We’re on-hand to provide you with the following services:

• Feedback and guidance on CVs, cover letters and applications.
• Interview and Assessment Centre preparation.
• Employability workshops and employer events.
• Advertising opportunities on our Moodle pages.

We also provide pastoral care to students looking to undertake a year-long placement, and we offer an International Travel Scholarship, which could finance your travel abroad.

students applying online

It’s important to note that the application processes you’ll experience whilst seeking internships and placements are the same, if not extremely similar, to the processes you’ll experience when looking for graduate jobs. We can help you to secure those dream jobs, but only if you access the services offered to you whilst you’re here.

Our students have worked in all types of organisations and industries, including IBM, Microsoft, JLR, EY, GSK, Vauxhall, and many more!

So, what are employers looking for? Yes, they expect to see evidence of your hard/technical skills which can be demonstrated through studying/completing your degree, but they are also extremely interested in your soft skills. Employers need to be confident that you’ll adapt to your new environment, and will work well within in a team, communicating effectively and managing your time. It’s imperative that you can evidence your problem-solving capabilities, multi-tasking skills, and ability to work under pressure. Real-life examples of how you’ve demonstrated these skills within a work setting are invaluable. They help to distinguish candidates from a growing number of applications that all show the same thing – a degree with a list of modules and examples of ‘working in a team’ during a group project.

The volume of applications that an employer will receive for one job position has significantly increased over the past five to seven years.
If an application submitted by one candidate could be used to describe a further 400 candidates without changing a word, it’s time for employers to look beyond a degree alone, and focus on the employability skills gained during study. That’s why in my eyes; employability is key in getting you to those graduate destinations.

On a final note, gone are the days that universities can offer placements, internships and work experience as a unique selling point to enrol at their university. Every university across the country has started to invest heavily in their employability services. This means that by the time you graduate, there will be an increasing amount of recent graduates that will possess some form of relevant experience alongside their studies. This means employers have the luxury of selecting those candidates that are ready made for industry when applying for their first graduate job.

Ultimately you have come to university to get a job once you have finished studying. Make sure you make the most of every single employability related service or event offered to you over the course of your time at BCU. I promise you, you will thank me later.

If you’re a BCU student interested in applying for a placement year, you can find out more at your subject area placements page:
Computing / Digital Media Technology / Engineering / Built Environment.

If you’re a business and would like to work with our students, you can find out more by clicking this link.