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Industrial Placements

When you think of industrial placements or sandwich placements, you shouldn’t be thinking of where to position your ham and cheese on a piece of white bread. Banish those peckish thoughts, a sandwich placement or industrial placement is an extended period of work experience with a company. Usually lasting 12 months (although it can be less), industrial placements are a great chance to get well on your way to securing a graduate job.

If you’re doing a degree ‘with industrial experience’, then the industrial experience part will probably take the form of a sandwich placement. Sandwiched between the end of your second year and your last year at university, it forms a compulsory component of your degree course. In other degree courses industrial placements sometimes form an optional part of the course.

Industrial placements have to be related to your course. For example, you can’t do an engineering degree and do an industrial placement in human resources. After all, the people in your university department probably wouldn’t be very happy bunnies. Industrial placements are common in areas such as manufacturing, I.T., sales and marketing, human resources, finance and engineering.

You can get placements with big UK and international companies, which are very competitive. Alternatively, you can track down placements in medium-sized and smaller companies. You could even apply for an overseas placement if you’re itching to get a taste of work abroad.

Why should I do an industrial placement?

Well here’s one reason: industrial placements increase your employability, providing you with essential work experience and commercial awareness. Industrial placements are a great way to build up a network of contacts within your chosen industry, which can be pretty important when it comes to tracking down a graduate job. All in all, industrial placements are great preparation for the job market, providing you with crucial experience of the industry and the world of work.

There is some evidence that industrial placements help students perform better in their final year exams and achieve higher grades. It’s definitely a chance to develop the skills you have learned at university in a practical environment, as well as picking up vital new skills to get you ready for the world of work (e.g. communication, planning, organising, problem solving, teamwork, confidence and networking skills).

To top it off, at the end of the placement you could get offered a graduate job or get fast-tracked in the application process for the company’s graduate scheme.

How do I apply for an industrial placement?

Although the industrial placement forms a compulsory part of your course, the responsibility for finding and applying for industrial placements will usually lie in your hands. Of course, your university will probably have a placement officer who’ll give you information about vacancies and employers that work with the university. You can also have a look at the AllAboutCareers placements job board for more opportunities.

Make sure you properly research companies and find out exactly what the placement will involve. When looking for industrial placements, you should consider: the company (the size of it, the location, the level of support it offers and its ethos), the sector (do you want to work in a particular sector or in a particular department of a business) and whether there are any particular skills that you would like to develop. As mentioned earlier, your placement will usually have to be relevant to your degree, so make sure you check with your placement officer before applying to ensure your target placements are relevant to your degree.

The early student catches the worm. You need to be quick off the mark if you want to get an industrial placement, particularly one with a large company. You should apply early, preferably at the beginning of your second year. Many companies and governmental organisations have application deadlines before Christmas.

The application process usually involves filling out an online application form on the company’s website or sending a CV and covering letter. Your application will usually be made directly to the company, but some people apply through their university. If your initial application is successful, then you’ll probably be invited in for an interview; or depending on the size of the company, you could be invited to an assessment centre. 

There is intense competition for large companies, so you might also want to apply to some smaller or medium-sized employers. If they don’t explicitly offer industrial placements, then there is no harm in giving them a call and asking if they might take you on. Alternatively, you could send in a speculative application.

What will I need?

A number of companies specify a certain number of UCAS points, a degree level (e.g. have achieved a 2:1 so far) and even GCSE grades, so check to make sure you fit the criteria. Employers often ask for a set of skills and for evidence that you have them, so try get involved with a broad range of activities at university, such as part-time work and extra-curricular activities. Get involved with university societies, get some work experience and maybe even do some voluntary work too. These things will give you good ammo to answer the situation-based questions that you’ll be asked you in your application.

You might have to give evidence of your eligibility to do a placement and your student status. If you’re not registered on a ‘with industrial experience’ degree, you must obtain permission from your university to do an industrial placement. You’ll also need to get permission from your grant awarding body, which is usually your local education authority (LEA).

What will my industrial placement involve?

Your job duties will vary depending on what sector you decide to do your placement in. You might be helping on projects (or managing them yourself!); you might take on an advisory role; or be involved with problem diagnosis. Either way, an industrial placement is often considered equivalent to a graduate job in terms of responsibility, so don’t worry, it won’t just be a year of running futile errands and making tea.

You’ll usually be paired with a ‘mentor’ or ‘buddy’ to help you through the process and you'll be put under the watchful eye of a manager. Many companies have structured training processes in place too, which you’ll be required to follow.

If you impress, you might be offered a job when you graduate (you might even land yourself some cheeky sponsorship for your final year too). Alternatively, you could simply be fast-tracked to an assessment day for the graduate programme.

Funding…

Here’s the good news: you will usually receive a salary. Granted it probably won’t be more than £17,000 and you’ll be earning less than other employees, but you will be paid nonetheless. Since the placement is part of your course, you don’t legally have to be paid, but most companies will pay you between £10,000 and £17,000 for the 12 months you are there.

The pay for students in non-UK European companies is often lower. But if your industrial placement is a yearlong placement and a compulsory part of your course, you’ll have the added bonus of having your tuition fees waivered. Otherwise, you’ll only have to pay reduced tuition fees or a small administrative fee for that year. You may also be entitled to receive all or part of your student loan. Bonus!

So there you have it: sandwich placements have very little to do with sandwiches (unless you’re doing a sandwich placement with a sandwich manufacturer). They are, however, incredibly filling (when it comes to fleshing out your CV), satisfying (when it comes to getting some real experience) and marvellously enjoyable! Bon appétit!