When looking into different universities and courses, you may have heard some of them talking about work placements. Maybe you’ve even heard university students discussing them. But what actually are they? Your mind has probably turned to money. Is this an opportunity for you to earn some much-needed cash while doing university work?
It really depends on what kind of placement it is. If it is a shorter-term placement, or a placement you have organised yourself, then there is a good chance you won’t get paid for it. However, if it is a ‘sandwich placement’, which is a compulsory placement for a longer period of time, then you can be paid a decent wage of anywhere between £11,000 and £25,000 a year.
So now you know whether you get paid or not, read on to find out some details about different types of placements, and how to get involved with each type.
What is a University Work Placement?
A work placement is a period of supervised work. Allowing you to work in a certain role within a company and gain the necessary experience. For example, if you are doing a medicine degree, you could get a work placement working in a hospital. If you are doing a business-based degree, you could work in some kind of corporate office.
University work placements are a valuable and sometimes essential part of your degree. These provide an opportunity to apply the knowledge you gain from your course into the real world. As well this you will be gaining invaluable workplace experience which will help your employability in the future.
Universities offer placements because while all the knowledge gained in lectures and seminars is important, you have to know how to apply it in the real world. This is one of the main aims of a work placement. They are an invaluable part of a university course, and there is certainly more to them than earning a pay check.
What are the different types and how does this affect your pay? Well, there are largely two types of placements. There are short term placements, and longer-term placements. The later are often known as ‘sandwich placements.’
Shorter University Placements
These types of placements can be taken over the holidays for a few weeks, or even one day a week for a longer period of time.
These are not usually the types of placements that will earn you any decent kind of money. Usually, you won’t get paid at all for this kind of placement. They are supposed to be quick and efficient. They gain you a quick flash of experience in the workplace, but since they are so fast, they are very often not seen as a proper job by the company, and therefore pay is often not offered.
As I have already said, there are plenty of other benefits to this kind of placement, and you definitely shouldn’t rule it out just because it doesn’t pay you any money. They gain you lots of experience and can be put on your CV for future job opportunities.
Longer Term University Placements
These are the kind of placements that are called ‘sandwich placements’, and this is because of the structure of the placements. A sandwich year is a year that is part of your degree course, where you take part in a year within an industry. Not only do these clearly gain you invaluable experience, but they will pay a decent salary.
If money is all you are interested in, then this is the way to go, but you should not only be focussed on money. There is so much else to be gained! Longer term placements are sometimes required on certain courses, but you will have to look into this yourself, as it is different for every university.
What are the Benefits of University Work Placements?
This article has been all about money so far, and that’s fine. It is clearly something that is on people’s minds, but it is worth remembering there is so much more to be gained than just money. You should not base your entire decision when it comes to university placements purely on financial gain.
The placement will allow you to gain knowledge and practical skills. In the modern day, having good qualifications for an elite level career is only half the battle. Employers like to see you have some real experience in a working environment. These placements will get you this experience which will help you get better jobs down the line. They are also a good way to get a feeling of what it feels like working in certain environments or industries.
Another benefit is the contacts you will hopefully be able to meet by working in the industry for a decent time. This can be hugely beneficial, as it means when you are done with university, and looking to move into a career, you hopefully already know people in that area that can help you get a job. By showing your enthusiasm for the industry, you can also get some good references, which, in the current market, are invaluable.
Finally, there are some cases where a placement can lead to a full-time job. If the company you worked for really liked you, you may well be able to return to them after you have finished at university. They will want to offer you the role you took on a permanent basis. So, as you can see, there is a lot more than money that needs to be considered when deciding on university work placements.
Drawbacks of a University Placement Year
There are also some potential drawbacks when it comes to placement years, and it is only fair that we talk about them as well. For a starter, it is a year out of university life. Usually, a placement year would occur in the third year of university. By this time, you will have become used to university life, and will probably be having a lot of fun. Doing a whole year in a separate place will separate you from the university, the lifestyle and all the friends you have made. It can be a hard call to make, and if definitely something you need to think about.
Another thing you have to prepare yourself for is that it may not be all you thought it would be. If you find the job boring or difficult, you’re stuck doing it for a year. This can then turn into a grind and be very unenjoyable. Of course, if you have picked a course you like and are interested in this shouldn’t happen, but you can never know for sure. It is a reality you need to prepare yourself for and think about when making your decisions.
Other issues include the fact that, after a year out of university, it may be hard to get back into it again. The lifestyle at university is very different to the real world, and there is always a chance you will struggle to adapt to the difficult environment again.
I have not said all of this to put you off the idea of doing a placement year. In fact, far from it, it is something I would personally recommend. Just make sure you remember all of these problems that could occur and take them into account when making your final decision.
Should You Take a University Placement Year?
Having read all of this information, including how much you will get paid, but also the other benefits and drawbacks of a placement year, you may finally be thinking, should you take one?
Well, the first thing to do is check the course you want to do. If there is a mandatory placement year, the choice is really out of your hands, and is certainly made a lot easier. However, if this is not the case, then it is something you need to think about.
It really depends on your situation. If you love the subject you are going to study, know what you want to do for a job, and are really interested in that job, the choice could well be clear. In this case a placement year seems like a sensible option.
If you are not really interested in your subject, or not sure in your career preferences yet, then it really is up to you. On the one hand, it could be useful to figure out what you do and don’t want to do, but on the other you could end up wasting a year doing something you hate.
You need to think about yourself personally, and not focus on what anyone else is doing. Make sure you do your research and take everything this article says into account.