Session four: notes and updates

Student Focus Group session four:
Placements, internships and work based learning

Notes and recommendations

  • Session 4 Wednesday 18 January 2017 (16 students)

Industrial placements (10 – 12 months) are employer-based learning projects in which undergraduate students extend their study period to incorporate industry experience. These placement experiences are managed and administrated by the Placement Team. This work sits within the Careers & Employability Service (CES) at Plymouth University. 

As a part of their degree study, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, students can also undertake short work based learning projects, either as part of their semester or during the summer or holiday period. This work primarily sits within the programme or faculty, though the CES would support activity regarding applications, interviews, approaching employers and reflecting on experiences. 

Students were present from various areas, including business, criminology, civil engineering, English, geology, international relations, politics, publishing and illustration (including strains of these areas). 

Short work placements/work based learning inside and outside of curriculum

Main topics of concern and interest:

  • concern over missing study to undertake work placement
  • lack of encouragement or referral from academic staff for support with work based learning
  • financing work based learning.

Main discussion:

  • Awareness of options available: some students in the group perceived that they had no awareness of the work based learning (WBL) options available to them, either as part of their degree programme or outside of it. This is less true for programmes such as criminology, where the WBL is a dedicated part of the programme. Some programmes, such as English and international relations/politics had WBL or internship programmes available, but students did not feel that they were promoted enough or that options were made clear by lecturers. Students felt a session on WBL and short internships would be beneficial in induction week as would a list of places students had previously undertaken WBL or internships. 
  • Referrals between academics and CES services: some students in the group felt that when they did have questions about WBL or internships and tutors did not know the answer, they were not referred to the CES but felt that topics around WBL or internships were just mentioned and then students were expected to find out more information themselves. 

Main discussion (continued):

  • Application help: students felt that some lecturers do not know the process of applying to WBL or internships and again do not refer students to the Hub team. When information is sent to staff about events or activities, the information does not always reach the student with the student left wondering who to ask for advice. 
  • Replacing topic learning with WBL: students on programmes where a WBL module was available in lieu of other study topics (for example English) some students felt that they do not want to miss out on what they perceive as ‘academic’ modules for WBL. This was particularly a concern when WBL is not explained in detail and appeared generic, e.g. ‘a three day placement’. Where WBL is integrated on to the degree programme, such as criminology, students felt it was clear and well supported by academic staff, though input from CES would be welcome. 
  • Financial support: for some students who work part-time, taking time out of paid work to undertake work experience is a concern. This is particularly true when WBL is further afield (for prime opportunity). There is funding available through some programmes (up to £800) but not all.

Would like to see:

  • Much more structure needed in preparing applications - perhaps a session run by CAs closer to the time when students should be considering WBL or internships to help find a suitable role, or to help with applications. This already happens for international relations/politics. 
  • Knowing the faces and roles of the careers team is crucial so that students can find out who they need to approach and email for help, without needing to ask their tutor. 

Industrial placement year – reasons students do not undertake placements when they are part of their degree programme

Main topics of interest or concern:

  • adding time on to degree study
  • variety of placements on offer
  • confidence to undertake a year in industry.

Main discussion:

  • Length of placement: for some students they felt that taking a year out into industry felt like a long time away from university study meaning they would find it too difficult to readjust back into university life – particularly prevalent when they have spent two years building friendships, society roles and study patterns. Some students wanted to do masters study; seeing five years in HE too long away from work. Civil engineering would like a choice between short/long and summer vacancies. 
  • Variety of work placement offers: some students felt that their chosen industry does not have a wide enough range of placement choices. Some students have heard from other students who have gone on unpaid placements to get the right experiences and this is not a positive message to those considering experience. 
  • Methods of encouragement for placements: students would find it useful for companies to send in representatives to explain to the students about the nature of their business and what to expect on a placement. Where this doesn’t exist already; having an employer or another placement student explaining the ‘nuts and bolts’ of a placement could help to further explain what the realities of a placement are and put the student’s mind at rest. 

Main discussion (continued):

  • Stepping out of their comfort zone: some students expressed a lack of confidence around stepping into industry or had a fear of being fired from the placement. We discussed the fact that all students will have to enter the workplace at the end of their degree and so methods of preparation are key. Students felt that a month’s placement to give them some idea of what to expect from the work place and to build confidence could help in lieu of a full year. If students were on international placements (discussed later) and felt affected by lack of confidence, anxiety etc then having the opportunity to Skype with the employability team to speak with someone about problems/concerns/progress would be encouraging to undertake a placement.
  • The value of internships: students felt that short internships could increase their employability and build their skills as well as building their knowledge of the industry (and whether it is right for them). They would like to see this type of opportunity more formalised and visit CES staff for support on this. We discussed how events like FLUX can help with this and some felt they would like to see FLUX run more than once a year for more areas. We discussed the problem of students not attending/signing up to events (although also previously discussed in the engagement session. Students felt that someone from the Careers team visiting in lectures to encourage the students to take part).

Would like to see:

  • Shared placement vacancies from all subject areas, where appropriate, so that more students can access vacancies of interest to them. 
  • More opportunities for short term work experience and information from career staff on how to access them.
  • Stronger referrals from the academic staff as to the benefits of work experience and placements and referrals to the Careers & Employability Service to get the help they need. 
  • Employer and alumni visits into programmes to talk about the realities of a placement and the long-term benefits. 
  • Broader and larger mix of employers attending fairs with all types of work experience, internships and placements would helpful as some courses are bespoke.

Work placements abroad/options for undergraduates and postgraduates

Main topics of interest and concern:

  • opportunities to undertake placements abroad
  • knowing who to get advice from
  • opportunities for students studying a second language.

Main comments:

  • International placement: students felt that they would benefit from being able to take a placement abroad (where this isn’t already on offer as part of their degree). Students felt this experience would be incredibly beneficial but they felt it was difficult due to regulations, etc. This stood both for international students and EU/UK nationals. The student perception is that collaboration between the international office and employability team to answer difficult queries would help, as the combined knowledge can help to tackle problems - explained the extent to which this already happens. The two offices work closely already - events for students working abroad and for international students finding work in the UK are being planned, but point is noted. Students felt they would like better communication of who is the point of reference to talk to if students have any queries.

Main comments (continued):

  • Students studying other languages: students learning an additional language do not feel there are any placements with the incorporation of languages abroad. Where placements are offered or not offered is decided by the academic teams or led by programme structure - we discussed this is something course reps can take to a programme meeting outside of this forum. 
  • International partnerships: students felt that the University (in general) and CES Service might consider creating an agreement with international companies to offer students a placement either during or after their studies - for a significant number of students, rather than just a few students. Students feel a better connection between themselves and the employer would be better to help them secure employment and so employer events and seminar visits to discuss opportunities abroad are essential. Some countries are not always open to non-nationals working there so university connections and internal programmes abroad (like for studying) might work better- like working for the university as a business.