What are the opportunities available to students wanting to obtain relevant work experience?

These take a number of forms but most can readily be described as either formal or informal arrangements and of short or long duration. Two examples that many students find particularly appealing are to take a ‘gap year’ or to do volunteering.

However, for some reason many students interested in taking this route doubt the value in terms of gaining relevant work experience. This all depends on what your personal objectives are in wanting to experience a gap year or undertake volunteering. Both in their way can achieve remarkable levels of experience that a potential employer will find highly appealing and relevant – but it will depend on you being able to identify which aspects of your experience seem relevant to them.

In these days of student fees and incurring debt whilst studying, many students already have part-time work or take casual jobs. Again, some students doubt the relevance of this experience when it comes to thinking about how a potential employer regards such work.

The key point here is that it is not necessarily the job title or the company that you work for that is important – it is what you have gained from the experience that matters, and that is often based around the notion of how you have taken personal responsibility for activities or events as well as how well you have contributed to leadership and team work.

Placements and internships

However, when it comes to gaining relevant work experience, the more traditional route open to students is via a work placement of some kind. These come in a variety of guises and titles – sometimes they are referred to as internships or industrial placements and mostly involve some form of paid employment (typically £9-15,000pa) for an agreed fixed period (e.g., six months, 12 months, the academic year, etc).

You are therefore often regarded as an employee with legally binding responsibilities. Typically many of these placements can be found via your college or university careers centre but increasingly they are offered on a company’s website in the ‘job vacancies’ or ‘job opportunities’ sections.
Visit our work experience notice board for live opportunities.

Year in Industry (YINI) – is an organisation, which also actively supports students on placements.

If such a full-blown formal placement is not something that readily appeals to you then there are two further ways in which it is possible to gain that magical ingredient of relevant work experience.

Many students manage to find vacation work, especially during long vacations. To state the point once more, it is not necessarily the job title or the company that you work for that is important – it is what you have gained from the experience that is so potentially valuable.

Work shadowing

The idea of work shadowing is also gaining interest. Although this may not lead directly to what can be regarded as genuine work experience, it does demonstrate your capacity to take the world of work seriously and signals to a potential employer that you have recognised its value. Such initiatives, although usually of limited duration (days rather than weeks) and unpaid, depend on your ability to see their value and how they reinforce your determination to seek a professional career.

Informal placements

Once you’ve identified one or more suitable companies, try to identify the actual names of individuals with the sort of job titles that you think might be interested in getting your letter of introduction and CV across their desk.

In these days of devolved managerial responsibilities and budgets, it is these people who often have the authority to decide whether or not it would make sense to have you as a work experience student. Unless you are extremely lucky, it really is a waste of everyone’s time to address your enquiry to the managing director, head of human resources or personnel section.

Additional benefits

Finally, for those of you who may still be undecided as to the value of taking some form of relevant work experience, there may be one final piece of information that could just persuade you. For whatever reasons, work experience appears to enhance your academic performance.

For example, YINI claim from a recent survey that 70% of their placement students go on to achieve a very good or excellent degree on graduation and that 95% of tutors agree that work experience improves a student’s employability after graduation.

About the Author

  • About Dr. David Gillingwater: Dr David Gillingwater FCILT is currently Chief Examiner of the Institute and a University Fellow in transport studies at Loughborough. He was until recently responsible for managing student placements for Loughborough University’s accredited degree progra

Dr. David Gillingwater

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