In mid-to-late 2019, I started looking for a placement. I decided to apply for the careers and placements ‘Year in Industry’. My motives included wanting to discover where I could fit in a professional organisation, and which direction I should take my job searching – and potentially, my career. I’d always felt a little lost in this regard, as many students do. I had no prior knowledge of types of jobs and where they fit in organisations. I also hoped to gain professional skills that I could add to my CV, which would help in future employment and education.
I accepted a role in a project management department for sustainability- and human-impact projects. Placed within the operations department, I conceived, planned, pitched, implemented and monitored systems to improve compliance. My main projects included overhauling the site-wide waste system, which I made less costly and more sustainable. I designed and implemented a method of employee input in decision-making, and helped shape the company’s Covid policies.
What I learned
My placement was largely a positive experience. The most important benefit was gaining a real-life insight into the structure of a company. I worked alongside several departments, as I’ve heard is the case with most placements. As a result, I learned the functions of departments and the jobs within. Companies care about giving placement students a broad perspective on corporate work. A placement constitutes a unique opportunity to dip a toe into a sector, as well as a departmental role. Although placed in operations, I gained new perspective on management, sustainability, and even directorship, where previously I had none.
Because of my initiative and commitment to seeing things through, I realised my organisation fit was in projects. I know now that I want to pursue project management, especially in operations or sustainability. Due to my placement, I can state this with confidence and clarity. I honestly think most students jump into their careers blind after university, and a placement is a chance to avoid this.
My assessment of a Year in Industry
There were some downsides to the placement experience, but in my view, these were minor. Looking for a placement is a competitive process. Accepting repeated rejections until you get an offer is hard, but persistence is key. Moving away from university, friends and family is also difficult, but you’ll have done it once before, in the first year. The responsibility of corporate work can also be difficult to get used to. Before the placement, we only have responsibility over ourselves. But everyone else at the company has responsibility too, probably more than you, so you can do it. In my view, the downsides are manageable for the privilege of a placement opportunity.
Benefits to a placement year include being paid. This has given me some financial freedom in my final year, and the confidence to consider a Masters. Another benefit is the experience of successful management and responsibility, which no doubt will help me stand out to future prospective employers. I also gained confidence in my ability to thrive in a workplace and meet my work goals outside of education. In the process, I gained a whole new skill set for professional life, on top of my academic skills. I have already found part-time employment in my third year. I credit this to my placement experience.
Thoughts to leave you with
When graduating with honours, your degree title could say ‘with year abroad’, ‘with year in industry/placement year’, or just your course name. Which title will stand out to an HR team among dozens of CVs? This alone is reason enough to take a placement year. But having done it, I can say you will change as a person, as a professional and as a student. You will know more than you otherwise could have about career direction. You will be better equipped than the next job applicant; HR teams would be right to prefer you for a role. The process can be disheartening, and the responsibility can be nerve-racking. But the experience is priceless.