By Sophie Ashmore, BA Politics and International Relations
Hi I am Sophie and for the 12 months between September 2018 and September 2019 I undertook a placement year at City of York Council (CYC) as part of my Politics and International Relations degree.
Having already completed two years of my degree, in what seemed like a blink of an eye, I did not feel ready and experienced enough to head out into the world of work. Therefore, a placement year seemed the next logical step in allowing me to gain more experience and develop my employability skills.
I decided to undertake a placement year much later than most students. After gaining a confidence boost from successfully securing a summer internship, I was motivated by the further experiences and knowledge I could gain on a placement year. I wish I had always had it in mind to do a placement year as the earlier you decide to do one and the earlier you start looking and applying the greater the opportunities and type of schemes available.
Stand out from the crowd
A placement year really helps you and your CV stand out from the crowd. Social Sciences are one of the most popular undergraduate degree choices in the country and being a Politics and International Relations student, I knew that I was part of an extensive cohort who would all have similar experiences.
Additionally, I was unsure what I wanted to do once I had finished Uni and felt the dread of being asked “what are you going to do next’? I hoped a placement year would give me the opportunity to narrow down what I wanted to do and give me some clarity. I strongly believe that it is vital for students to have some sort of idea of what they are looking for as the feeling of ‘what next’ after university is a daunting prospect especially as there are so many careers available to students now that were not options for past generations.
Adaptability and variety
As previously mentioned, my placement year was at City of York Council (CYC) where I worked as an Economic Growth Assistant in the Economic Growth Team. This was a relatively new team at the Council which added to the excitement as I could really help mould the direction of the team. A key skill I learnt through my placement was adaptability. Everyday was different and my job role varied greatly from what I thought I would be doing from the initial job description. I did not think from the job description that I would be touring Nestle’s York factory and getting to see Kit Kats being made. The ability to adapt allowed me to experience all aspects of the Council and led me to work with different teams both internally but also numerous organisations outside of the Council. Consequently, this enabled me to network with a range of people not only with my immediate colleagues but also with many interesting and diverse people.
Project management was an area of work I had always been interested in learning more about. Working on a range of projects throughout my placement year ensured that I gained experience in all the key aspects of undertaking a project such as being a project officer, completing risk assessments and procurement. The most important thing I learnt from placement was the necessity of seeking out organisational fit. The future workforce now has the luxury of being able to pick an employer that suits them and supports their ideals of a work-life balance. With the vast opportunities available it is not only that future employees have to impress the employer but also that the future employer has to impress the future workforce. The world of work is changing rapidly with many firms now promoting working from home, flexible hours and some even having ‘bring your pet to work’ days. It is just as important to feel happy and fulfilled in a job as it is to bring home the biggest pay cheque. This is something I really learnt during my placement. For me, I need to work in a fast paced environment where I am not just sat at a desk all day and that I can see tangible results from my work. From working at CYC, I learnt that the values of a company and the way it treats staff is also very important to me and something that I personally had to resonate with. This was something I had never considered to be important when looking for a job before undertaking my placement year.
Coming back to Uni
A placement year is also very beneficial when coming back to university to complete your studies. Time management is the most important skill to implement when you’re back at university as you have gone from being given deadlines to having all the freedom in the world back again. It is easy to get swept back up in this side of university life but employing those time management skills gained through work has allowed me to be far more productive than I was before undertaking my placement.
Having now completed my placement year I am more motivated than ever to successfully complete my degree by utilising all the skills that I have learnt throughout my placement. Alongside this, I will be applying for graduate jobs and schemes knowing with confidence that I will be able to stand out from the crowd with the experience I have gained. I would encourage every student to take up a placement year. The benefits that I have experienced, not only skills based but also personal development, has been second-to-none. By doing a placement year, you can really discover the world of work in a more in depth way than you could from just doing a summer internship. It is important to remember that employers are looking for experience and the experiences you gain from a placement year are unrivalled.
It can be overwhelming to think of being a year behind your cohort, moving away from your friends at university or even moving to another country but the powers of modern technology mean that home comforts are never too far away. Help your future self to stand out in the ever growing competitive job market and do a placement year.