Is a placement year the right choice?

Completing a placement year may impact on an individual’s potential for increased academic performance and employability into the workplace after graduation.

Every year thousands of students graduate university having gained similar degrees to other students both nationally and globally. Employers now discriminate more heavily on the employability of a candidate by assessing their personal characteristics and work experience. A work experience placement not only gives students “transferrable skills” (Brooks, 2012), but also greater confidence when entering the job market, as they have more experience to draw upon in interviews. Similarly, research has shown that employers are more likely to employ placement students as they are “potentially lowering their risk” (Brooks, 2012) due to their previous knowledge and records of the students performance on their work placement.

A structured work placement allows students to gain a sense of how it feels to work in a professional environment, and can help prepare them in the transition from university to work. Cranmer (2006) found that teaching employability skills in the classroom is limited, and found that structured work placements had positive benefits on the development of these skills, suggesting that these placements are invaluable in both personal and professional development. This is further supported by Mason et al. who found that placement students were more successful in post-graduation employment as they had developed greater employability skills such as “commercial awareness” (Brooks, 2012) which have found to be lacking in non-placement graduates.

In contrast, Duigan (2002, 2003) found no improved effects on the academic performance of business students and that more academically capable students tended to go on placement, however, non-placement students improved most in the final year. This is contradicted by Table 2 [below] (Reddy & Moores, 2012) which shows that students who went on placement gained more marks (on average) in their final year, with the lower achievers showing a more significant improvement. This suggests a placement year is beneficial as there’s a greater chance it will improve a student’s grade.

Table 2

(Table 2, Reddy & Moores, 2012)

When using statistics, research has shown that more academically able students enter a placement year, thus, when returning for the final year, that ‘group’ is largely made up of more intelligent students. Results may be argued to be invalid, as they do not consider that “higher final year grades would be expected from this group” (Brooks, 2012).

Results into the impact on the academic performance of placement/non-placement graduates are relatively consistent, suggesting going on a work placement is likely to improve overall academic performance in the third year, potentially raising the honours classification received. Similarly, Brooks (2012) explains how employers are looking for graduates with the “right mind-set and relevant work experience”, giving the student extra skills that are hard to learn in an academic environment.

However, one must also consider the mind-set of the student, for example, entering into a working placement may alter the students routine, presenting a difficulty in returning to a ‘studying routine’. Other factors that may prove difficult in obtaining a placement are; the relocation of the student to an office across the country, accommodation complications and costs, the relevance of the placement to be undertaken and many others.

Therefore, going on a placement year during university is a very personal choice, and should not be taken lightly. Similarly, students should research placements thoroughly, and consider advice from different sources. However, the ultimate decision lies with the student, and therefore they should not feel pressured into going on a placement – this is a very important issue with regards to all types of education.

List of References

Brooks, R. (2012) Valuing the human asset: the impact of university placements on academic performance and graduate employment amongst management students. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 364.

Reddy, P. & Moores, E. (2012). Placement year academic benefit revisited: effects of demographics, prior achievement and degree programme. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(2), 159.

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