My placement year during a pandemic

By Taylor Atkinson, Employer Engagement Development Officer

Hi, I’m Taylor and this year I have undertaken a placement at Careers and Placements, as part of my English Language and Linguistics degree.

It’s safe to say that my placement year has looked very different to what I thought it was going to be when I applied back in February 2020- a month before a global pandemic would be declared, the UK would be in a national lockdown and life would look very different to what we were used to!

I was delighted to have secured a placement in the middle of such an uncertain situation, but as the start date approached, I knew my placement year was not going to be a typical one. I began to feel incredibly sceptical about the prospect of working remotely; how am I going to do my job? Would I still achieve my goals? How will I get to know my colleagues? These are  just a few of the questions I was asking myself. However, the reality has been quite the opposite to what I had imagined! Although the experience has been predominantly a virtual one, my placement year has been incredibly beneficial, both on a personal and professional level and I have developed a vast range of skills that will be invaluable when I return to my studies – and for applying to jobs in the future. 

Why I decided to do a placement

Since starting at York, I have been keen to make the most of my time, by getting involved in the range of opportunities that are available to gain valuable experience alongside my degree programme. The placement year is an optional addition to my degree, but it is something that has sparked my interest since I was in first year. I decided to pursue a placement, as I wanted to gain experience of working in a professional environment and apply the knowledge and transferable skills that I have developed during my studies to real world situations. The Placement Year offered a structured work experience programme that would enable me to gain experience working in a sector that I hadn’t previously considered, further develop my skills and gain exposure to the professional world.

My experience

As previously mentioned, my placement year has been at Careers and Placements, where I have worked in the Employer Engagement and Events Team. The team is responsible for developing and maintaining employer connections that aim to develop student employability, whilst responding to the recruitment needs of employers. The work of the team is very varied, so everyday has been different for me!  I have had the opportunity to get involved with so many aspects of the work within my team and across the wider service, and have been working on a variety of projects that will impact the team and our employer offer. Some days, I have been working with the team to plan and deliver our central events programme, including our Careers Fairs, the Careers in a World Impacted by Covid Q&A events and the  York Strengths Development Days, and other days I have been working independently and leading on my own projects. These projects have included increasing the visibility of our employer offer, working with campus brand ambassadors to increase our engagement with them, supporting the implementation of our new careers platform, Handshake, and developing a process around how we use the platform to enhance our employer relationships.

All of the projects that I have been involved with have given me the opportunity to not only work with different teams across the service, but also external partners, employers and colleagues across the University, and it has been great to be exposed to the work that goes on not only in Careers and Placements, but across the University. 

What I have gained from doing a placement year

I have gained so much from doing a placement year and, in some respects, I feel like I have gained a bit more experience by undertaking a placement during a pandemic, as I have developed certain skills more than I initially thought I would, for example flexibility and adaptability- this has been a direct result of working from home and having to strike a balance between work life and home life. My placement year has been incredibly valuable and I have developed so many transferable skills that will be invaluable when I return to my studies. The confidence I have in myself to make my own decisions and manage my own projects has increased dramatically and I hope this confidence carries forward. I have been pleasantly surprised to have been given more responsibility than I thought I would as a placement student and this has given me the opportunity to lead my own projects that will directly impact on the work of the Employer Engagement and Events Team and I look forward to hearing about how the work progresses next year!

I know that after a year of the pandemic we all have Zoom fatigue, but it has genuinely been the best way to keep in touch with colleagues, so that we can continue to work together effectively and support each other.  This has made me realise that organisational fit is very important when seeking opportunities and is something that I not previously considered, but I will definitely take this forward. The culture and values of the workplace have a massive impact on your enthusiasm and motivation for your role. Careers and Placements fosters a collaborative and supportive culture and this has been essential in the last year. It has been really rewarding to work with my team, the other placement year students and colleagues across the service to make a difference and see a tangible outcome to our work during such an uncertain period of time.

So, my advice would be not to let the pandemic put you off! I have thoroughly enjoyed my placement year and would highly recommend the experience to anyone considering it. Whether you know what you want to do after university or not, a placement year shows that you have sought after further work experience aside from your degree and it will help you to stand out from the crowd!