Josh Dowbiggin: Why doing a placement year is the best thing I ever did

At a recent meeting of dairy farmers, I was asked by an attendee: “What makes the employment rate of Harper Adams University so high?”

There are lots of possible answers to this question – state-of-the-art facilities, great lecturers. The list goes on and on.

But I honestly think the main reason for their employment success is the compulsory placement year that all students must do as part of their degree.

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Most employers will acknowledge that your employability is influenced more by your experience than by your credentials – and I would completely agree.

However, most university students never do a placement year, and you could argue they are on the back foot when they graduate, compared with those who have.

So for those of you considering a placement year, here are four reasons you should definitely go for it.

1. Pre-grad scheme

Placements are possibly the best way to prove yourself to the kind of business that you want to work for – even before you graduate.

As someone who is now employed full-time with the company that I worked for on placement, I can testify that if you can secure a job early on in your final year it removes all the stress of job hunting while trying to complete your degree.

Many of my university classmates have returned to the companies they worked for on placement, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Why wouldn’t they employ someone who they already know and who knows their business? It’s a win-win.

2. Comfort zone

Doing a placement year is the perfect opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself to your limits.

Many students choose an industry or sector that they have previously worked in, and this is fine if you already have clear career aspirations.

But for those students who still don’t know which career path is for them, a placement year is a great way of dipping their toes into a completely different career option.

Before my placement I was dead-set on a career in the genetics industry, but after spending 12 months working for a food retailer, I knew this was the career path for me.

Not knowing your perfect job shouldn’t be a reason for not doing a placement – in fact it ought to be the opposite.

Throwing yourself into a placement will do one of two things: you will either realise that the work isn’t for you, or you will find your passion.

3. Skills

Placements are a great way of rapidly improving your skills set in lots of different areas. After all, 12 months full-time employment is a lot of time in the workplace.

You might improve your IT skills or communication skills or simply develop a better understanding of your field of work, and this experience will prove invaluable once you have graduated.

Once on a placement year, you can then challenge your employer to challenge you, as taking on more responsibility at work will only help you build on your skills set.

Have a think about your weaknesses and then figure out how you can use your employer to turn them into strengths.

4. Contacts

While on placement you will meet lots of different people – internal colleagues as well as people external to the business.

This provides a great chance to network within your chosen industry and make contacts that will benefit you in the long-run.

External contacts could also provide alternative job options if you decide that the company you worked for on placement isn’t where you see your future career.

So if you are considering a placement year next year, I would say it is without doubt the right choice. It might just prove to be the best decision of your whole career.