Employability Skills: Placement Year at Aston University

Matthew Olczak, Aston Unviersity
m.olczak@aston.ac.uk
Published October 2019

At Aston Business School, the placement year is an integral part of our undergraduate degree programmes. During the third year of the degree programme all home students are required to take a placement year, while this is optional for overseas students. These students then return to the university for the final year of their degree programme.

Whilst some students opt to study abroad or do a split study-work placement, the majority work for the year. To ensure that all students are able to find a suitable position, support is provided at an institutional level to help students search and apply for placements.

Our students undertake placements in a diverse range of organisations, for example, we have economics students currently at the Office of National Statistics, the Bank of England, Microsoft and HM Treasury.

The learning objectives for the work-based placement state that on successful completion of the year students will be able to:

  1. Identify and articulate the significance of an issue or process for your organisation or relevant business sector.
  2. Analyse factors contributing to and impacting upon this issue or process, integrating your academic learning and professional skills.
  3. Recommend appropriate actions for the organisation to address this issue.
  4. Reflect upon and articulate your own learning and competencies and plan and implement strategies to build upon this learning.

To support students on placement, they are allocated an academic tutor who visits the student at least once and meets with their in-house placement supervisor. This allows us to check on how the placement is going, if it meets the expected standards, and provide support with the assessment. It also allows staff to keep in touch with the skills required in the graduate labour market, which in turn feeds into the design of our programmes.

The placement year counts towards 10% of a student’s final degree classification and in-line with the learning objectives is assessed in the following way:

  • A personal development plan outlining a framework for the student’s learning and development during the placement and a portfolio of blogs reflecting on the placement experience (40%).
  • A recorded presentation, plus written presentation plan and outline, critically evaluating an issue or process in the organisation or business sector the student is working in (60%).

Generally, feedback on the contribution students make to the organisation during their placement year is extremely positive. It is also incredibly common for students to be offered future employment with the organisation at which they spent their placement year. Furthermore, research demonstrates that the placement year can have a significant positive effect on student learning, for example, Jones et al. (2015) find that, controlling for self-selection, students from a range of programmes at Aston and Ulster universities that go on placement get marks 2-4% higher in the final year compared to students that don’t[1].

We believe that the placement year leaves our students very well placed for graduate employment. This is supported by the most recently available Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) which data shows 100% of Aston International Business and Economics graduates and 79% of Economics and Management graduates went on to graduate level destinations.

Lessons learnt

  • To help students find suitable placements it is important that they are provided with information on a range of both economics specific and more general placement opportunities.
  • Placements work best when there is clear communication between the student, academic tutor and in-house placement supervisor.
  • If the placement year is to be assessed, it is important that the assessment is carefully designed to encourage students to apply their academic learning to the work-based environment and to reflect on their placement experience.

Skills developed by this activity

The main skills that this activity explicitly helps students to develop:

Communication 

 

Writing for academic audience 

 

Writing for non-academic audience 

 

Presentation to academic audience 

 

Presentation to non-academic audience 

X

Application to real world 

 

Applying economics to real world context 

 

Solving policy or commercial problems 

X

Simplifying complex ideas/information to make them accessible to wide audience 

 

Data analysis 

 

Sourcing and organising quantitative data 

X

Analysing and interpreting quantitative data 

X

Fluency with excel 

X

Fluency with statistical/econometric packages 

 

Collaboration 

 

Team-working with economists 

 

Collaboration with non-economists 

X

Wider employability skills 

 

Flexibility 

X

Creativity and imagination 

X

Independent thinking 

X

Can do attitude 

X

Reliability 

X

Resilience 

X

Commercial awareness 

X

Time management 

X

Project management/organisational skills 

X


[1] Jones, C.M., Green, J.P. and Higson, H.E., (2015). "Do work placements improve final year academic performance or do high-calibre students choose to do work placements?" Studies in Higher Education, 42(6), 976-992. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1073249

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