Employers increasingly view work placements as part of the graduate recruitment process

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A recent conference in UCD, hosted by the Association of Higher Education Careers Services, AHECS, explored the whole area of work placement and how the process can be refined to offer more value to students and companies. Entitled ‘Positive Impact of Work Placement: Enhancing Employability in Challenging Times,’ the aim was to promote and refine the concept of work placement as an essential tool for building graduate careers. Research presented at the conference showed that employers are increasingly viewing the work placement process as part of their recruitment processes. 

Speaking at the start of the conference, Seamus McEvoy, chair of AHECS and Head of Career Services at UCC said that the Association has established a working group in this area to “develop best practice policy and guidelines for work placement learning, produce relevant research publications and create a forum for the sharing of expertise and experience amongst Work Placement practitioners.”

The keynote speaker on the day was Ms Una Halligan, Chair of the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs (EGFSN). She hosted a presentation based on research carried out by the Expert Group, entitled Future Fit: Role of Work Placement in Preparing Students for Employability & the World of Work. 

The Group have carried out a number of studies on the impact and effectiveness of work placement schemes in different industry sectors. The overriding theme of the responses from companies in these sectors is that work placement is increasingly vital for graduates. In the bio-pharma sector, companies  “emphasised the importance of student work placements and consider them to be very valuable, giving students practical experience of the industry.” In addition, according to the report, they see a “considerable difference between graduates who have had a work placement as part of their studies, and those who have not,” and it is the experience of companies that ‘graduates from programmes with work placements hit the ground running.”  The issue though is that the report also found that large numbers of students taking biopharma-pharmachem related courses do not have access to placements. For those unable to secure a placement the EGFSN recommended that students use visiting lecturers or networking with industry professionals to attain some of the knowledge and skills that work placements can provide. Companies surveyed also said that placements should be ideally between 6-9 months as it takes between 8 and12 weeks, in their experience, for students to familiarise themselves with the positions.

The theme of the growing necessity of work placements was carried through to the Financial Services companies surveyed by the EGFSN, mirrored by a similar lack of placement opportunities. This lack of opportunities was, according to companies, having an impact on the effectiveness of graduates during the recruitment process. The report says that financial companies found a lack of “industry readiness” in graduates. But the exceptions to this were colleges who included work placement programmes as part of their curriculum. According to the EGFSN; “this practice was viewed very favourably by industry with several respondents stating that quality work experience made these undergraduates instantly more employable and often placed them on a par with students who had pursued postgraduate level studies. The report emphasises the benefits of the “practical application of their education in a live work setting, and as graduates, that they can adapt and contribute immediately as they encounter less of a learning curve in entering the work environment.” In terms of manufacturing,  employers emphasised the importance of graduates being reasonably ready for work, both in terms of being able to apply what they have learned, and in terms of the course content reflecting the workplace as it is now. The presentation from Ms Halligan also highlighted that “employers indicated that they see work placements as forming a major part of their recruitment process.”

The presentation also touched on the skills levels in the ICT sector, with surveyed firms saying that they “are generally happy with the graduates they see,” and “were keen to endorse work placements as a mechanism to smooth the transition from college into the workplace.”

Ms Halligan also spoke on the under-usage of the Erasmus programme and the whole issue of the shortage of language skills as a result. We’ll discuss this whole area in a future article.

Check out http://gradireland.com/work-experience for advice on work placements and internships.

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