Work experience

All work experience – be it part-time bar work, or a full-time, career-oriented placement – is beneficial to your future employment prospects

Think work experience and you probably imagine the sort of thing that was served up back in year 10. For some it was useful, but for many it was an unpaid week or two not doing very much, with little relevance to any career plans. On the other hand, you may have had a part-time or vacation job already. You probably see the two as totally separate activities, one not very lucrative but perhaps useful education, and the other just a way of staving off being stony broke.

Work experience at university is often part of a sandwich course. Typically these incorporate a year in work relevant to your degree, and they are offered most often in subjects such as Engineering, Computing and Business Studies.

Now, however, the short placement in a traditional three-year degree is spreading. Bournemouth University’s BA in Multimedia Journalism incorporates work placements totalling about six weeks; and Law students often use the prospects websites to seek out placements in law offices.

These are vocational courses which prepare students for work in the media or the law where professional experience is crucial. But the revolution in the idea of work experience does not stop there. Even those courses which are not related to a specific career are beginning to include short periods of work experience.

The College of Ripon and York St John has for some years used this approach as a vital component of its Humanities combined degree programme. Students have undertaken four-week placements in private, public and voluntary sectors as part of a Personal and Professional Development Programme (PPD). The principle is that all courses, not to mention university life in general, help students develop skills which are valuable to employers, for example an ability to analyse, solve problems and communicate solutions; confidence with information technology; an ability to work in a team; an ability to meet deadlines and be organised; and an ability to take responsibility.

Four weeks in companies as diverse as Nestlé, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Age Concern, taken in conjunction with tutor support, have helped students analyse skills they have acquired which are of interest to employers and give them contacts for the future. Building on the PPD programme, the College of Ripon and York St John is developing a broader key skills approach, which will involve all students in work based learning from 2000.

One of the objectives in going for a degree is “to get a better job“. But many graduates from subjects like History, English or Philosophy find themselves with no firm ideas about what they want to do next, and give them CVs which, on the surface, show little of interest to employers. Work experience, and even that part-time job you took to save up some cash, when properly understood, may help reduce some of those early post-graduation pressures.

If you feel that your work place skills need to be enhanced, it is important to discover which universities and colleges include an element of work experience in their courses. Check the prospectuses of your chosen institutions carefully for details.

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