Over the past few weeks I have been speaking to academic members of staff, local employers and University of Reading students about their experiences during placements. I have focussed on the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) and Summer Employment Experience & Discovery (SEED). Both UROP and SEED are extra-curricular summer placements. UROP focusses on research within the University and SEED teams students with local and regional businesses and organisations. Common themes have occurred in my interviews, some more surprising than others.Academics, employers and students really value placement schemes, albeit for different reasons. Almost all employers and academics have said that they really value the fresh ideas and questioning that a placement student brings. Every student has said their placement has been worthwhile and that they would not hesitate to recommend it to another student.
I found it particularly interesting how many students are lacking in confidence when it comes to talking about personal development. Most have a good level of digital skills but lack the self-assurance to be able to talk about how they apply them. This was supported by employers who often said that students have the relevant skill set but are unable to articulate effectively how these skills can be used. Something is needed to bridge the gap between digital and soft skills acquired through studying and how these can be applied effectively once in employment.
Another recurring theme when speaking to employers was how they are actively looking for students with a good knowledge of social media, as many businesses are beginning to think about how they can use social media as a digital output for their business. Most commonly it is used for promotion and increasing a company’s online presence. They are requiring future employees to have this skills set as a given.
It seems that placements at Reading are predominately filled with ‘pro-active’ students and students that have been handpicked by academics. These students already have a good level of soft skills and are therefore enhancing skills that they already have, not acquiring new skills. This means that placements are not being filled with students that would most benefit from the experience. They are merely furthering the development of students that already have a good awareness of their own personal capabilities.
Skills aside, students’ welfare is an important factor. Students can actually feel quite lonely when they are on placement if they have limited contact with other students, supervisors or co-workers. In my next post I will be exploring this further and looking at the barriers that prevent students from going on placement.
I have also taken time to reflect on my own skills in this video:
You have a good point about the pro-active and hand-picked students taking up placements. Of course all development is good, and the University has a strategic goal of offering all students some form of placement opportunity, but I have heard some people saying that some decisions about placements are made on the basis of trying to retain the University’s image in the eyes of the companies they work with. This makes sense, in that good relations lead to the greatest good for the greatest number, but I do wonder how we can best serve those who have been deemed to be a reputational risk…