It is well recognised in Higher Education that graduates who have participated in work based learning during their studies have enhanced their employability prospects once they leave university1. Almost half of the employers who took part in the High Fliers Annual Review of graduate vacancies commented that graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer2.
All five departments in the Faculty of Science participate, in some way, in placement/internship activity but a review of activity had never been undertaken. More importantly, the percentage of students engaged in these activities had never been determined. This project carried out such a review so that baseline activity can be established. Additionally the perceived benefits of placement/internship activity were established by asking relevant students to complete a questionnaire. Equally as important was the request to students who have not participated in an internship or placement to complete a separate questionnaire regarding the perceived barriers to these activities. Once this information had been collated into a report, a range of resources have been developed. These are currently being compiled into a guide to support students in securing internships and placements. This will highlight existing workshops delivered regularly by the Careers Service and employers and be complemented by student interviews about their placement activity to represent their perspective on this process. This compilation of practical advice will help remove the ‘fear’ factor around securing a placement.
This was a two year project which was completed this year. The work was undertaken by a student intern in partnership with the staff members of the project team. Their first task, which was completed in summer 2016, was to carry out a survey of the internship/placement activity across the Faculty of Science and ascertain the percentage uptake from students across the faculty. The intern consulted the External Engagement Plans created by each department and utilised an existing Employability Audit Tool3 during this activity. Using this Audit Tool assisted the identification of good practice in relation to employability and identified action points around placement activity specifically. A report summarising the findings from this work was produced in July 2016 (Appendix 1, available below).
The second phase of work took place in the first semester of the 2016/17 academic year, and the intern, with staff members of the team, created a questionnaire for students. This was circulated to all students in the faculty and the results from the questionnaires were summarised in a second report produced in January 2017 (Appendix 2, available below) and informed the preparation of resources which are now available for use.
The range of work based placement/internship activity, that staff are aware of, which currently takes place in the faculty of science has been identified. This had not been quantified previously and is helpful to departments in the development of their external engagement plans. The range of further work based placement/internship activity which students have organised themselves has also been established. The student questionnaire results confirmed for the project team the positive benefits for students to be involved in work based activities and, more importantly, has allowed us to identify the barriers which students perceive to exist in applying and securing work based placements/internships.
Both reports have been shared with members of the Faculty Learning Enhancement Committee and contained the following recommendations.
The outcomes of the first year of this project have already been shared with colleagues in the faculty of science. The final outcomes will now be discussed at the Faculty Learning Enhancement Committee and methods for implementation will be agreed. The resources to support students in applying and securing work based placement/internships will be contained within a web page with case studies of students sharing their experiences of work experience. Alumni events in every department in Science are also being implemented to connect students with graduates who will share their experience and advice regarding work experience. This work was disseminated by a formal presentation and a poster at the International Innovation and Enhancement In Higher Education Conference in June 2017.
We believe that this project worked well and has built significantly on the knowledge base we have on work based placement/internship activity. A key factor in this project was the engagement of a student intern as we believe this approach of working with students achieves the most beneficial results and would not propose any changes.
Timing of when the funding is made available can be slightly problematic. Once funding is secured and a selection process takes place it is usually well into the summer months before the student intern can begin work.
Students were involved in this project on a number of levels. A student intern had the lead role in surveying staff within the faculty. The student intern then interacted with a small group of students to pilot the questionnaire which had been created. The questionnaire was then shared with all students in the faculty of science. The student intern gained experience in gathering data, writing reports, preparing posters and presentation at international conferences. Longer term, the resources created will be applicable to all students in the institution.