Work Placement vs Work Experience

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Getting the job you want has always been tough and it is getting tougher. Obtaining a degree and taking courses is no longer enough to secure a good job. This is why many university and secondary school students are eager to put in their applications for professional work experience. An emphasis is placed on work experience from an early age for most of us. However, there is still some confusion on what work experience actually is. Many people use the words internship, apprenticeship and placement interchangeably when they are not exactly the same thing.

Work placements and work experience are two completely separate things. The main differences are in the time taken and the type of work. Typically, work experience is short-term, lasting for anywhere between a few days and a few weeks. Work placements on the other hand are for students who are completing an undergraduate degree at university. These normally range from approximately six months to a year.

Read on to find out more about the differences between work experience and work placements so you can find out which one is best for you and your future goals.

What is a work placement?

Work placements are an opportunity given to university students, typically after the second or third year of their undergraduate degree. They are referred to by many names including a ‘sandwich year’ or ‘year in industry’. It is important to note that not all courses offer a placement year.

The primary purpose of a work placement is to give you an insight into the responsibilities an employee should be aware of when working for an organisation. For example, the global research industrial placement offered by HSBC, which can be found here.

This program gives you the opportunity to learn about the strategies and methods used by economists and more. They are especially popular amongst STEM students who will find it harder to find work experience in the science industry.

A work placement is taken as part of a degree. Therefore, they are fully assessed and you will receive academic credit throughout your placement. Work placements will commonly be linked to your field of study.

Students who take work placements will most likely have an idea of what job they want to pursue after graduation. The placement will allow you to build your academic skill set and apply your degree knowledge. This makes you a much more competitive job candidate by the time you graduate as compared to your peers.

One of the biggest benefits of a placement year is of course the pay. Although a salary is not always guaranteed, larger companies will usually pay you. To learn more about the pay received during work placements, as well as their benefits and drawbacks, be sure to check out this article from Think Student.

What is work experience?

Work experience is generally used by people to describe any type of professional experience. When employers say, “work experience”, they’re generally referring to any kind of short-term placement. This means that work experience can be undertaken by anyone, ranging from teenagers to adults

Most people taking work experience haven’t got any qualifications related to the work. This is because the experience does not necessarily relate the career you want to enter. This article by Think Student provides a list of potential work experience options for teenagers.

Due to the lack of high skill needed for most work experience placements, they are much easier to get than work placements, which require a degree. Most students will use their work experience to determine whether they want to enter the field or not.

The shorter time period means you do not have to stay committed for long. This gives you time to have an actual paid job alongside the work, unlike work placements. Unlike work placements, most work experiences are not paid. However, you will be taught some skills which could increase your chances of employability or make you money in the future.

How do you apply for a work placement?

Work placement positions are much more competitive than work experience due to the limited number of spaces available. As a placement is much more similar to a job, the application process is a lot like applying for a graduate job.

Most universities will have a careers service who can help you arrange a placement. They often put on careers fairs to help you network with potential employers. However, the application process itself still heavily relies on you.

Many employers will hold either telephone interviews or face-to-face interviews. Some also use assessment centres to help narrow down their candidates. Preparation is the key to securing a work placement. This article from QS Top Universities is a good guide to applying for your first work placement.

What do you need to apply for work experience?

There is no single way to apply for work experience because it often comes in different forms. Companies may offer shadowing schemes, virtual experiences, internships and many more. Each type of work experience will have different criteria for what they expect from you. At the end of the day, showing passion and determination for a role will put you in the best possible standing.

Many companies will advertise their work experience programmes. Students and teenagers are the target market for these programmes, so CVs aren’t usually a part of the acceptance criteria. However, references and a standard application form are often required.

You could also be more eligible for work experience at some organisations like Nuffield Foundation and Sutton Trust if you come from a lower socio-economic background. For a comprehensive guide on how you can find work experience at different ages, check out this article from Think Student.

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of what the biggest differences between work experience and work placements are. Taking part in work experience as much as you can is extremely important. It will help you to start applying for work placement programmes. Both work experience and placements have their advantages and disadvantages, but both can definitely boost your CV.

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