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What makes a work experience placement successful:

Exploring student perceptions of the value of work experience: a case study of 140 students currently studying IT at a college of further education.

Karen Scott

on 7 July 2015

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Transcript of What makes a work experience placement successful:

What makes a work placement successful:
Student experience
Work experience stories
Read and hear the stories of
nine different work placement experiences

Work experience as part of a study programme
Establishing success criteria
Current knowledge
Using the success criteria
Current research and our own analysis of student expectations were used to devise a second survey
Student expectations
Investigating student perceptions of the value of work experience: a case study
Views of success
Student reflection on experience
summary findings
Arranged own experience in hospital IT Department
Co-ordinated external placements
A good experience in a college department
J's work-related activity was a project, arranged by his tutor and involving a 'real' client.
Experience arranged through family and friends
Georgia's work-related activity was a project arranged by her tutor and involving a 'real' client.
Report compiled by Karen Scott, Dee Thrussell, Rob Drew June 2015
Lecturers at Mid Kent College of HFE with responsibility for delivering employability lessons for full-time vocationally related courses in Information Technology:
Hear John's reflections on his placement, how he was able to confirm his career choice, to work in a team and to be busy for the whole week.
'never a moment when you had nothing to do'
Hear Kevin's reflections on how the opportunity to demonstrate his positive attitude to work gained him access to interviews for apprenticeships.
"I have been offered two interviews with apprenticeships here at the college through my positive attitude during my work experience"
The Wolf Report
In her review of 14-19 vocational education, Professor Alison Wolf recognised the value of work placements as part of preparation for work, more especially for those students who were older and therefore nearer to the time when they would hope to enter the workplace, those between 16 and 19 rather than those earlier in their education careers.

Work placements, she suggests, help students to develop valuable skills that can’t so effectively be taught in an education environment, to experience what it is like to be at work and to test a career path before jumping in.
Wolf, Alison. "Review of vocational education: the Wolf report." (2011).
The Mid Kent College IT Department context
Department for Education guidelines for 16-19 study programmes
Currently, any 16-19 study programme that does not have a compulsory work experience element must include allocated, planned time for work related enrichment activities. Ideally this will contain a significant element of work experience, taken in an industry related to the students main vocational area of study, if they have one.

Work-related activity might include careers education, work ready interviews or employment linked projects and must be planned and recorded. For any student, real work experience in an industry closely related to their chosen career path is the ideal.
However, the number of readily available placements, the number of good quality placements, the human resources needed to find and arrange good placements and the financial resources to ensure that placements are sourced, prepared for, monitored and outcomes properly fed back are lacking. Wolf estimated the cost per day for one work placement (one student) to be £11.45 on top of existing expenditure but the funds for this may not necessarily have been made available. At Mid Kent College the number of students needing to be placed just in the IT department would warrant a member of staff being employed for 1-2 full days to co-ordinate. Wolf felt that this sum would be easily affordable within the current funding scheme but with a strong emphasis on other parts of the study programme, especially English and mathematics, there may competing funding priorities.
Embedding work related learning
Success criteria
A case study of a total of
155 students from a cohort of 157
Survey 1 (Dec 2014)
- expectations
139 participants
Open questions - expectations
- benefits
to establish what students expected to gain from a placement
- a variety of different types of placement were completed at different times between February 2015 and May 2015
Survey 2 (May 2015)
- reflection
133 participants, 119 with expectation match from survey 1, 2 with a second entry reflecting on a second placement.
Closed questions - based on established success criteria
to establish types of placement deemed to be successful by the student
Establishment of success criteria
based on literature review and Survey 1

Junior School
for the blind
Types of placement
27 students took up placements at local companies or with local charities after these were set up by a family member or friend. These placements were taken up mostly by first year Level 3 students in the 16-17 age group who, maybe, had the advantage of social capital.
Placements were varied and there is some anecdotal evidence that students may have, in some cases, been given more responsible tasks due to the recommendation of the family member or friend. The data, however, does not back this up.
"I have gained a lot more confidence, I understand a lot more technical terms and ultimately how a business works." Connor
Demographic data
Although the study programme requirement for work-related activities applies to the 16-19 age group, our placement programme was applied to all students.
Each level has a similar proportion of over 19s.

Of the cohort of 157 students, 139 responded to the survey. 16 identified that they had no previous experience of work at all (not even work experience at school). Most of these were in the 16-17 age group and were distributed fairly evenly between the levels. Ten of these students responded to the second survey, four of whom reported a positive outcome and one negative.
Here Level 4 is used to identify Level 3 students in their 2nd and final year.
arranged by the student
Responses to survey:
33 students arranged their own placements at local companies or with local charities.

The range of placements is wide and includes IT support companies, IT departments in larger companies, charities needing IT support, schools needing technical classroom support.
13 students took up placements at local companies or with local charities after these were co-ordinated through communication between the Level 3 employability tutor and the organisation. These placements were taken up mostly by final year Level 3 students (identified as Level 4) who were vetted for the skills required for placements.
Seven students were placed with a local IT Support company, four students were placed with a local primary school to support computing classes, two students were placed with a charity that organises technology for blind people and two students trained and worked for a college sponsored enterprise optimising websites for real clients. All were possible through contacts made by the tutor and through another second year student who volunteered at the charity earlier in the year for his placement and has carried it on.
arranged by a family
member or friend
the student arranged some different, more IT related work with their current part-time employer
15 students chose to use their existing part-time work as their work experience. These students were asked to either complete work experience in an IT related part of the company or, where this was not possible, to investigate and report back on the IT used by the company and who is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.
These students may be more likely to be in the 18-19 age group and to be studying at Level 2, although the cohort is too small to make generalisations.
the student continued with existing voluntary work as this was deemed to be suitable as a placement.
3 students chose to use their existing voluntary work as their work experience. One took up the placement on the advice of the employability tutor at the start of the academic year and subsequently made arrangements for other students to do work experience with the charity, putting the Level 3 employability tutor in touch with the charity's management.
Another student was able to give some IT support at the youth charity where he currently volunteers.
the college arranged a placement for the student in a college department
28 students were placed in four college departments. The college IT department was the most relevant, especially for Level 3 students. Three students shadowed a junior IT technician and one worked with the software development team, a placement he specifically requested. These students all reported successful placements, only missing the opportunity for further experience or work.
Three students worked in the college JobShop, populating a jobs database and dealing with walk in customers in a supported environment. One Level 1 student requested to work with the college caretakers and this helped his confidence levels. Another worked very successfully with the learning technologists and has been offered an apprenticeship as a result.
The rest of the students took turns running a student helpdesk in the LRC. This was the least successful placement, mainly due to lack of human resources and ownership.
students worked on the development of a website with database for a client who works in the college.
15 students (13 level 1, 2 Level 3 and 1 Level 2 student) completed work placements in college where they worked on a real life project for a real client.

For the Level 1 students this afforded an opportunity to be placed in a supportive and safe environment and to allow them to work in teams.
Level 2 and 3 students had a very different experience on the same project. They travelled independently quite a distance to take a course in HTML/CSS at a digital design company, then worked for two days in college with the client, developing a website with a data entry form.

The two sets of students had very different experiences, suited to their levels of knowledge and independence.
Key Questions:
Reported success by placement type
Laura's placement was arranged by a family member. The outcome was less successful and Laura discusses why
Reported success by progression intentions
Key Findings
Student perceptions of a successful placement based on 9 identified success criteria indicate that:
Skills development
Arranged own experience at Medway Community Healthcare
Charlie reflects on his placement, and why he thinks that it is good to see how what you do can make a difference
We were willing to do everything together, if one falls we all fall together”
Listen to Luke's reflections of a positive work experience but it did not confirm a career path for him or develop any of his IT skills
Internal Placement on the LRC Help Desk
Hear Jane's reflections on working in the LRC and how her confidence improved by being forced to talk to people
For many students the act of actually finding their own employment is a huge confidence boost in the first place.
Confidence Booster
67% of students undertaking a placement reported that their confidence was much or somewhat improved as a result of the placement
A well-co-ordinated placement can result in higher levels of student satisfaction
Where there is active communication between college staff and an employer to arrange a placement it is more likely to be seen as successful by the student.

College arranged external placements had an
above average success rating of 6.31 (whole cohort 5.61 )
Students as a resource
A Level 3 student intending to progress to university is more likely to arrange an external placement and is more likely to experience a successful placement.
A Level 3 student may often be able to use his/her family social network to find suitable placements
Students are a useful resource in terms of finding and arranging placements. These placements may be improved with timely intervention from the college.
An internal placement, co-ordinated and related to the real world can be very successful in raising employability skills and may be a valid option especially for younger and lower level students
A good internal placement can raise employability
Students completing an in college project with a real client reported high levels of success
32% of students at Level 2 were offered ongoing work experience or voluntary work as a result of their own sourced external work experience (no tutor intervention).

26% of students at Level 3 were offered ongoing work experience or jobs as a result of an external work experience placement

One student who had an internal placement was offered a place on an apprenticeship scheme as a result
Further opportunities may arise
Success can be dependent on type of placement and on the individual student. All placement types appear to have been successful in one way or another for a majority of students. Our LRC project, on the other hand, suffered from a lack of ownership and human resourcing and will need to be reviewed if it is to continue as a work related activity
Student Sound Bites
Megan (Tribeca)
"..it was relevant to what I wanted to do as well as what I was interested in"
"going there with the intention of being a technician....it just put me off .... the pressure"
Used his existing job at Medway Council
"it has moved my main focus, I thought maybe I would go into hardware but I think software is my way forward...
it has shifted me into a whole new phase"
Expectations and successes

Final survey responses:
Students appreciate the need to be fully employed
Two students, in interviews, reflected on the fact that they were fully occupied during their work placements. This was seen as a benefit and a contrast to full-time education where they could feel under-occupied.
No examples of relevant research have been found into the effect of low contact hours on the development of employability skills in FE students and this may be an area for further study.
arranged by the college
Student Perception Videos
Best Things about WE
General videos
Placement types
Hear J's reflection on his experience
suggests students could have been give "..a backlog of simple faults.." so that they had something useful to do
The initial survey into students’ current experience of the workplace and the expectations they have of the work experience they would complete during the academic year was completed during the first week back after Christmas. We wanted to find the extent to which students had previously had experience of work, either through work experience, paid work or voluntary work.
The sample was of the whole population of students studying IT at the Medway campus of MidKent College. The total number of participants was 139. The total number of enrolled students was 157
Proportion of enrolled students participating in the survey

All 139/157 (89%)
Level 1 20/24 (83%)
Level 2 43/45 (96%)
Level 3 (1st year) 43/50 (86%)
Level 3 (2nd year) 33/38 (87%)
All students are required to complete 30 hours of work-experience in their area of study. Students are encouraged to find their own work experience placements wherever possible and are guided through the process of preparing a covering email and a CV that they can use to support a request for a placement.
The initial survey attempted to determine how much experience students already had of the work place, through work-experience, paid or voluntary work and to investigate student expectations of what they might experience and what they might gain from their placement.
Part 2 described in Work Experience Stories - Co-ordinated external placements
"I think it sort of boost my confidence as well..I was working with people I didn't reallly know that well.."
“ I got to see what a working environment was like as I had never been in one”
“What would have improved it is they had actually had a plan for me to do as it was random tasks thrown at me”

“There is not really much to do and not many people required my help”
We failed to catch all students through the two surveys. A total of 16 students missed the first survey but completed the final survey and a further two students missed the second survey having taken the first. This represents 11% of the cohort and affects those findings based on matching outcomes to expectations. A more vigorous process for ensuring that all students participate in both surveys by planning the survey into Employability lessons may help to improve the participation rate in surveys used in subsequent years.

The decision to use all responses, even where there was no before or after match was taken because the results of each survey were, in the most part, used separately. Survey 1 was used to establish criteria and survey 2 was used to measure reflected experience against the criteria.

Survey 1 was short and open, survey 2 had one or two questions that were included in response to particular problems, such as the need to be flexible in arranging placements. This question reflected organisational problems and staff opinions probably more than students and the response was, consequently, uninformative. It is recommended that this question is removed from future uses of this survey
Success depends on both the type of placement and the individual student
(there is no 'one size fits all' ideal placement. Placements need to be matched to the student and may take into account: previous experience of work, course level, current levels of confidence, the student’s personal network).
Work experience helps students to raise their confidence levels
(for some students just securing a placement is enough to raise confidence, for some confidence can be built in a ‘safe’ environment in college with carefully planned activities)
A good internal placement can raise employability

(an internal placement, co-ordinated and related to the real world can be very successful in raising employability skills and may be a valid option for younger and lower level students. Internal resources such as IT departments and others, where available, should be exploited but must be approached as a genuine work placement by staff and student. Communication between academic staff and departments offering placements is vital and requires allocated time.)
A well-coordinated, external placement can result in higher levels of student satisfaction
(where there is active communication between college staff and an employer to arrange a placement it is more likely to be seen as successful by the student and can lead to other opportunities. For this, allocated college staff need time.)
Further opportunities may arise
(students can be made aware of the probability of gaining further work experience or a job and this may help to encourage better participation.)
Students are an effective resource in the process of arranging placements
(some students are generally more confident than others and may find it easier to approach employers, others may come from families with wide, relevant, social networks. Identifying and encouraging these students to find their own placement will allow tutors to focus help more effectively towards those who need it more.)
Students appreciate the need to be fully employed
(relevant placements that a student can use to fill the week when they are not in college may help to raise motivation, achievement and employability. Organisation of the timetable to help facilitate this may benefit a number of students.)
The nine-point scale developed through this project can be used to help inform the planning and evaluation of future work placement programmes (students should be encouraged to reflect on the success of their placements alongside what they have learnt and developed as a result. The addition of some more open questions to a survey based on the nine success criteria may form the basis of a formal work experience evaluation procedure.)
Summary findings and impact
Full transcript