Understanding the value of a work placement


Work placements are pivotal in the career trajectory of high-flying business graduates, providing crucial workplace exposure and experience prior to employment. Graduate destination data suggests that employment opportunities are stronger for such students, with students also benefiting from improved academic outcomes.  

Despite this, the benefits of a work placement are not well understood, and placements remain poorly researched overall, raising fundamental questions about the value of a placement. What are students’ goals for a placement? What do they learn during their time on placement, and how quickly do they develop the right balance of skills? What do employers think about students’ proficiency? And, how can universities help ensure that students are well prepared for their placements and the employment market? 

Research overview

This research is a multi-partnered collaboration, which studies the development of students through their work placements. Since 2016 we have been tracking students’ development across more than 100 competencies at three time points (pre-placement, mid-placement and end-of-placement), exploring their proficiency and rates of development. Alongside this, our research explores the goals, values and expectations that students have about their placements, as well as how they are perceived in the workplace by their workplace colleagues.  

So far, over 1,250 students have taken part in the research from across three faculties; and over 1,900 line managers and workplace peers from more than 280 organizations have provided ratings of students at multiple time points.  

Key findings

Top five issues:

  1. Students’ competencies develop at different rates. 

  2. There are discrepancies in the ways that students and their colleagues rate their competency development during the placement. 

  3. There are differences between student proficiency, and the rates at which competencies develop, depending on student demographics (e.g. discipline and gender). 

  4. The approach to pedagogy provides multi-layered feedback for students, and opportunities for them to self-manage progress. 

  5. The University can use this data to develop benchmarks, as well as evidence-based employability provision across the University, and with sector-wide implications.


The value of this work is multi-faceted. Student feedback suggests that they really value the opportunity to receive formative feedback from their colleagues, and find the opportunity for self-reflection helpful in navigating placement opportunities.  

For universities and placement hosts, the research is beneficial because it enables us to better target employability initiatives, measure and benchmark student progression, and so in time, improve the quality of the guidance we give to students.  


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If you are interested in hearing more about the project, or are keen to collaborate, please get in touch with Dr Helen Hughes

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