There are many reasons for considering including elements of a work experience or work placement programme into your teaching. As an early career lecturer you might be asked to formulate new courses on your arrival at your new teaching job. If so, consider the benefits to students and the department of including work experience.
Benefits to students:
Having a period of work experience can benefit students because of the skills they develop (both in terms of practical, subject-based skills, but also more generic skills such as networking) and also by enhancing their CV. It might also guide those as yet undecided on a career path. Students might also make contacts in the world of work that will prove useful to them later on in their career.
Students who do less well in formal essay type or exam assessments might flourish in a more creative, practical assignment. You must decide how the period of work placement will be assessed and what you need from the external employer to complete this.
Benefits to academic departments:
Academics are being asked to develop their third stream, impact, public engagement and outreach activities and work experience programmes can contribute to all of these agendas. By making connections with public sector bodies or private companies and collaborating to deliver part of your teaching programme, departments can enhance their standing and reputation, both in relation to governmental initiatives, but also more broadly in their local region.
As departments may be struggling to make up student numbers under the challenging new fees regime, being able to offer work placement programmes will make your department stand out from the competition and as a result may attract more students.
How to start a work experience programme:
In order to integrate a work experience element into your teaching programme, you will have to get approval through your university’s quality assurance mechanisms and so your plans will probably be discussed at departmental level. Through these discussions you may find that colleagues have prior experience of running this sort of programme, or if not, they may have contacts in the local community who may wish to be involved.
Before offering the programme you need to ensure that you have enough employers on board and if necessary to contribute to the students’ assessment. Some work placements are offered on a full time basis for a number of weeks; others require only a minimum number of sessions to be undertaken while the student continues with his or her classroom-based studies. Negotiating the exact arrangements for the work experience programme will take a long time. Don’t expect that you can create this scheme in a few rushed weeks before the start of an academic year.
Once the employers have been secured, students then have to be attracted to the programme. Will it be compulsory or optional for the cohort? It will be important to make sure that this is correctly marketed.
Examples of work placement:
Work placement on vocational degrees will naturally be closely associated with the qualification itself, i.e. on law degrees, work placement might be in a solicitors’ office; similarly, medical degrees will offer on the job training in hospitals or doctors or dentists surgeries. It is also possible to offer work placements in more traditional academic subjects. For example, in the subjects of History or Archaeology, placements could be offered in museums or galleries, archives or libraries or on an archaeological dig, or in the council offices covering planning.