10 things you need to know about placements

Before we start – let’s just check we’re on the same page! Here’s what we mean by ‘placements’

A placement is essentially a period of work experience, usually undertaken by students while studying for their degree. They vary in length and could be for as short as a week to year-long ‘sandwich’ placements which are an integral part of some courses. This page will tell you about ‘sandwich’ placements for students on a degree that has a ‘year in industry’ or ‘placement year’. 

In light of the current situation, we are adapting the placements offer to be more flexible and to include virtual opportunities where it is more appropriate. Full-time, part-time and a blended method of delivery will be considered, meaning you can still apply your learning, but in the safest way possible.

If your course has a ‘short work experience’ module (e.g. Sport, Criminology, Psychology, Law, Humanities, Food, Computing etc.), you can read our 10 things you need to know about short work experiences page. In addition, there is specific information for Health and Social Care, and Education placements.

1. Placements last a minimum of 24 weeks, but we still call it a ‘placement year’ 

The formal requirements across the University are for your placement year to be a minimum of 24 weeks long (doing at least 30 hours per week on average) for it to qualify as a ‘sandwich placement’ or ‘year in industry’. This doesn’t have to be done all at once in a single placement; it can be split into multiple placements, for example 12 weeks at one company and 12 weeks somewhere completely different. Most courses at Sheffield Hallam require you to have 24 weeks under your belt before you are awarded a sandwich degree (so check with your course leader) – if you want to do more, then go for it! A lot of placements last a full 12 months (or longer). If you do sign-up for a longer contract with your placement provider, then this is a great way to show commitment to your employer and allows you to gain much more experience. Remember, you need to complete the number of weeks you agree to at the start of your placement. During your placement you will also complete an Applied Professional Diploma giving you additional reward and recognition for your effort. This will also enable you to showcase what you learned and articulate how this improves your graduate employability. 

2. They don’t have to be subject-specific, they don’t even have to be called ‘placement’ 

Most degrees at Sheffield Hallam don’t have specific requirements that require you to work in a role that directly relates to your degree, quite the opposite! This is why you’re encouraged to think creatively about the type of experience you want and what you think might add that ‘real world’ value to your final year or graduate employment. Remember this can also include setting up your own business or social enterprise too. It is also an opportunity to test out different career ideas and perhaps develop certain skills; for example, if you are thinking about marketing as a career, taking on a 'Social Media Coordinator' role will help you develop very relevant skills, even if the job title is not obviously linked to your desired career area. Unless your intended future career requires specific experience, like being a biomedical scientist or an accountant, then ‘you be you’ (but run it by your course leader too!). 

3. The best opportunities for you might not even be advertised 

That’s right – previous students have gained extremely valuable experience by writing a speculative application to organisations they had their eyes on. It’s also a great way to significantly reduce the competition! Some of those placement providers liked those students so much they wanted more, so don’t overlook the placements we advertise either. Find out more on how to find a placement

4. You can take up a placement abroad, or closer to home, or perhaps both 

You aren’t limited to Sheffield, or even the UK (at least not forever). If the type of opportunities you want aren’t in Sheffield, don’t worry! Students find placements all over the UK and internationally, which can add much more than just work experience to a CV. Those that choose to go further afield gain a whole different perspective when compared to University life in Sheffield, which can be an incredible life experience, not just work experience. If you want to know more about accommodation (even about what to do if you feel pressured to secure some ‘final year’ accommodation as a safety net), take a look at our accommodation and travel advice.

 At the moment, the University is reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world, so international travel may not be possible for a while – we have published FAQs on that. That may not necessarily stop you working for an placement provider based overseas though, as some employers are offering flexible start dates and remote working until travel is possible again. The same is also true of UK-based employers who are adapting to social distancing in the same way too. 

5. You’re there to learn, and to be learned from 

This is really what sets a ‘placement’ apart from a regular job – the fact you’re there to learn! Of course, all roles throughout your career will involve learning but this is really emphasised in placement roles. We expect all placements to have a strong focus on your development and likewise, your placement provider will want you to bring your ‘uni’ knowledge into their organisation too. The experience you have on your placement will also help you to enrich your academic assessments by adding an authentic real world context. 

6. Being paid is not a requirement, but we certainly encourage you to secure a salaried role and there is funding available 

Many placements will enable you to earn good money with salaries regularly between £15-£20k but that isn’t always the case in all industry sectors, particularly the charitable and voluntary sector. On that basis, we don’t formally require you to take on a paid placement, but we want you to be treated fairly and to be able to sustain your living costs. We give this guidance to placement providers to the employers that advertise placement roles with us, to make them aware of our expectations around salaries, which you may want to read too. In addition, there are a variety of different sources of funding available for unpaid and paid placements and we have put together the funding page which outlines each of them. We recognise finances are never a simple matter but it’s definitely something to draw your attention to, particularly if you think you need it to be able to do a placement. 

7. They can start anytime between second and third year, or before your course ends if you’re on a postgraduate degree – you have to be on a sandwich / work experience degree 

If you’re an undergraduate student on a 4 year degree, the placement year is usually in your third year. If you’re a postgraduate student, generally speaking the placement year is your second year. In both cases they can start when teaching has finished for the year and should not be longer than either your course end date (for postgraduates), or your final year induction week (for undergraduates). If you are an undergraduate student, the latest you would be able to start a placement during your placement year is usually up until the end of Semester 1 of your placement year, but placements should start as early as possible in most cases; if you are a postgraduate student, your placement should start as soon as possible after your taught studies and any University vacation periods. If you are a student studying with us on a Student visa, there are additional things you must consider and these are in our International students on Student visas page.

8. You need a supervisor, even if you’re working for yourself 

You will be supervised by an academic member of staff while you are on your placement year and you will also need a line manager or equivalent to supervise your day-to-day work. If you’re working for yourself on our ‘Work for yourself placement year’ scheme – we’ve got that covered for you. Exploring whether ‘working for yourself’ might work for your placement? Chat to the Enterprise team

9. You’re still a student, and there’s still work to do!

The placement year does count as a year of your degree, so that means you will need to enrol on your placement year. This both maintains your ‘student status’ for a year and gives you access to the support and resources that come with it. You will be pleased to know the placement year fee is significantly lower than a standard teaching year. Naturally, being a student still means there is still ‘uni work’ to do, set by your academic supervisor and by doing so you will be eligible for the Applied Professional Diploma, in addition to your course.

10. Your placement needs to be formally approved, and there’s a deadline! 

Finally, as placements form part of your degree, they need to be formally approved before you start. The best time to do this is immediately after you have a job offer from a placement provider and there is guidance on how to do this. We recommend that you either secure a placement or let us know you still want to carry on looking by 31 July (or 30 November if you started a postgraduate course in January). You can carry on looking until induction week of your final year, or if you’re a postgraduate student, until shortly before your course end date (check with your course leader), but you need to let us know! Otherwise we will go ahead and put you on the ‘no placement’ version of your course. Your placement can start at any time as long as you can fit in 24 weeks, we just need to know you have one by 31 July or asap after that. 

If you’re worried a placement might not be approved at all or not approved in time, feel free to get in touch at workexperience@shu.ac.uk

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