This page focuses on the element ‘work experience’. It provides a description of the element, highlights its relevance, and provides examples of work experience in the curriculum.
Opportunities for, and active encouragement of, work experience – developing students’ expertise and attributes, and where possible building links with the rest of the curriculum. This could be in many different forms, for example: blocks of work-related experience; a short two-week work-based experience; a year-long industry placement; a volunteering experience; individual or group project work for an employer.
Work experience allows students to gain insights into the world of work, provides a chance to hone a range of skills, can be an opportunity to apply disciplinary methods to live problems, and allows students to create or expand their professional network.
Tips and things to consider
Below you will find some key tips and guidance to consider when incorporating work experience into curricular provision.
Implementing successful work experience
|Support students' development before their work experience
|To gain the most from the experience and make it purposeful, it can be valuable for students to set goals, and have input on resilience, professional behaviours, and support on adapting to change.
|Support students' development during their work experience
|Students can develop a lot from the work experience alone, however by encouraging your students to seek frequent feedback from peers and supervisors, reflecting on and self-assessing their performance, they can develop even more. If students have created a goal prior to their work experience, progression toward that goal is a great focus for feedback and reflection.
|Encourage building contacts
|Students can benefit from talking to as many people as possible during their work experience. Through these interactions students can develop non-technical skills, while learning more about the organisation or life as a professional. This can support students by providing insights into specific fields and professions as well as helping them build their own professional network.
|Support students to see the value of optional placements
|While this is not always the case, sometimes students choose not to engage with optional placements or sandwich year placements as they fail to see the relevance. Assuring students that any work experience can be relevant and boost their employability can encourage students to engage.
|All work experience can be valuable
|Any work experience can benefit students’ development regarding their self-awareness, opportunity awareness, decision making and ability to navigate transitions as well as supporting their general employability. This is true even if the work experience is not directly related to the discipline.
|Consider potential barriers to access for your student cohort
|For some students there can be barriers to access, such as caring responsibilities, financial issues, and visas. Identifying these early on and familiarising yourself with sources of relevant support can be valuable and can potentially save both you and your students from unnecessarily challenging situations.
Creating work experience opportunities for the first time
|Specialist support available
The Internships and Work Experience team in the Careers Service is expert on the diversity of ways to offer work experience, brokering relationships with employers and work experience providers, and best practice around facilitating transitions between study and work and back again. Both they and your School’s linked Careers Consultant are happy to support you and are a good place to start.
The easiest way of getting targeted support is through your School’s linked Careers Consultant, who you can find through the link below. They can help you directly and can also facilitate contact with the Internships and Work Experience team.
|Engage with employers and alumni
Sometimes including work experience in the curriculum requires knowing the right people who can provide the opportunities; engaging externals can be a valuable step. The page on ‘Employer and alumni engagement’ contains support on connecting with externals.
|Work-related learning within courses
|It is not always feasible to include work experience within the credit-bearing curriculum. Think about how you can use course time and assessments to emulate real-world work activities, such as consultancy briefs or outreach activities.
Examples of practice in the University of Edinburgh
There is diverse practice across the University that can be used to stimulate thinking about what is possible in your setting.
Below is a link to a range of relevant practice from the Teaching Matters blog. The examples come from multiple parts of the student experience and relate either partially or substantially to this element. New articles are automatically added so check back in the future to discover some of the latest practice.
The blogpost below looks at one specific way of embedding work experience: placements. It outlines some of the author’s tops tips for organising them.
Further reading and external perspectives
The references below provide some background on this element as well as some of the external drivers and motivations for including it.
These references highlight the benefits of work experience for students’ employability such as helping them develop skills and creating a network, but also more widely by providing students insights into the working world and the types of work that exist. The references also indicate that recruiters generally prefer graduates who have some work experience; this is not always easy for all students to achieve so by incorporating relevant work experience into the curriculum, students from all backgrounds and contexts benefit. Lastly, some of the references provide practical guidance on how to incorporate work-based learning into your curriculum.
|Work experience increases a graduate’s employability and their chance of employment. 'Recruiters at the organisations featured in the research were asked about the value of work experience when it comes to assessing students’ applications for graduate roles. Over a third warned that in today’s competitive job market, it was either ‘not very likely’ or ‘not at all likely’ that a graduate who’d had no previous work experience at all with any employers would be successful during their selection process and be made a job offer, irrespective of their academic achievements or the university they had attended.' (p.23).
|Office for Students (2018). Regulatory advice 6: Good practice advice on the preparation of access and participation plans for 2019-20.
|Guidance for the development of Access and Participation Plans – which many Russell Group institutions in England will need to produce – includes: Point 162. 'We expect providers with an access and participation plan to demonstrate continuous improvement in developing their activities ... This may include increasing student engagement with enterprise and social enterprise, curriculum refreshments to include greater employer input, and increasing early engagement with careers and work experience.'
|Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding, May 2019, p.94.
|The ‘Augar review’ strongly recommended two strands of development to increase differentiation in the market: ‘focus on employability’, and ‘working with industry’, citing best practice of the RISE placement programme at Sheffield Hallam University, and industry experience at Warwick University.
|Bridge Group (2017). Social mobility and university careers services.
|'Employers should deliver more curriculum-based interactions with universities, to place less emphasis on ‘prestigious’ events at which students self-select to attend’ (p.45). This recommendation, while targeted at employers, continues to highlight how including work experience into the curriculum allows all types of students to gain access. This can help engage students who otherwise would not be able to benefit from this opportunity and thereby support a levelling of the playing field.
|Creed, P., Prideaux, L. and Patton, W. (2005). Antecedents and consequences of career decisional states in adolescence. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67, 397–412.
|Work experience supports students’ career decision making and career management skills. In the research done with high school students in Australia, it was found that students who felt ready and confident making career decisions generally had work experience, whereas students who were not confident generally did not.
|Stringer, K.J., Kerpelman, J.L. (2010). Career identity development in college students: Decision making, parental support, and work experience. Identity, 10(3), 181-200.
|While both were predictive, this study found that the number of jobs held was a better predictor of student confidence in making career choices than having work experience relevant to their study discipline.
|Moores, E., Birdi, G.K., & Higson, H.E. (2017). Placement work experience may mitigate lower achievement levels of black and Asian vs. white students at university. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.
|This research looked at a large sample of final-year students at a UK university, and looked at differences in degree outcomes. The study found that placements generally improved students’ degree outcomes, but it also found that the improved effect was larger for BME students than for white students, suggesting that work experience may help mitigate outcome differences.
|Taylor, A.R. and Hooley, T. (2014). Evaluating the impact of career management skills module and internship programme within a university business school. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 42 (5) 487–99.
|This paper explores the graduate destinations of students who received a curriculum-based intervention teaching career management skills and a structured work placement, compared to students who did not in similar programmes. They found that receiving only a career management skills intervention positively influenced graduate destinations compared to no intervention, but not as much as both career management skills and structured work experience.
|Skills Development Scotland (2016). Graduate level apprenticeships: work-based learning principles.
|Section 1.5 provides a good introduction to both work-based and work-related learning citing a series of sources. Key characteristics identified for work-based learning include that it is centred on reflection of work practice and learning from experience, and that it requires acquisition of the meta-competence of learning to learn.