Be prepared for the unexpected when you take a student on work placement

Scared of taking a student on work placement

Student work placement? Really?

The statistics are compelling; students with relevant work experience benefit from a much greater chance of successfully acquiring a job once their education is complete. So, what’s having a student in the building really like?

In 2014, we were approached my MidKent College to consider taking an IT student into a work placement. We were told that the student, Michael, was in Higher Education, with some basic IT development skills and he would need something rewarding to do. We had no experience of working with students at this level, nor did we understand how much work would be involved or how distracting it might be. Nevertheless, we instinctively said “yes” and then called an emergency meeting … what had we just committed ourselves to?

We interviewed Michael prior to his start date. He was shy, infeasibly tall and, from head to toe, every bit the student. His lack of formality was coupled with his lack of relevant knowledge and lack of research on our company, our interests and so on.

Question: What do you want to do in IT?
Answer: I don’t know but I think the gaming industry looks interesting.
Response: We aren’t in the gaming industry!

Question: What programming languages do you want to major in?
Answer: Microsoft stuff.
Response: We don’t use Microsoft stuff. We use LINUX, Apache, MySQL, PHP etc.
Reaction: [motionless, wide-eyed stare, like a frightened rabbit paralysed with the fear of inevitability as it turns to see the tyre tread of a fast-approaching truck]

You’d think this might be the time we decided to qualify out and let the College know that there might be too big a gap to deal with. But no, we soldiered on.

We configured a space for Michael and constructed a proof of concept. If were to invest in Michael, we at least wanted to test one of our product ideas. With languages to learn, a technical environment to understand and everybody’s coffee preferences to note down, Michael was going to have his work cut out for him.

The early days were interesting. Michael apologised for asking so many questions about the languages he was using, about his method, the details of specific functions and so on. But, after a number of sessions, he, like any student interested in getting somewhere, soaked it up and built some code. Not only that, his code worked.

Michael got used to our style of shaking things up and dropping a specification in a new shape, of taking things out and putting things in on a whim as the proof of concept took shape. More than that, he started to enjoy what he was doing and we started to enjoy having him in the building.

He spent a couple of short days in the office each week over a period of about three months. He finished his course, declared that he’d learned a lot and that he loved being with us. We bought him some clothes vouchers, some cufflinks and said a big thank you to him too,
A few weeks later we received a phone call. “Can I come back for a year?”. Michael needed more work experience to support the final year of his foundation degree. We agreed, set him some new challenges that would support his course and settled on a start date. For two days each week, he wore the suit he’d purchased with his vouchers and looked even taller than he had previously. He took a proof of concept to near production-strength code, saw his first function go live in a commercial product and gave a solid presentation (in his suit) to his College assessors at end of his course.

Now, we’re helping Michael to acquire a degree by swapping a one-year course that would cost him a fortune for a two-year course with the Open University. He’ll work with us for three days each week and study for two. We’ll pay for Michael’s education, pay him a bursary and give him a full-time job at the end. We’ll have invested a huge amount of time, money and faith in Michael, but we believe that he’ll develop some great skills and experience along the way.
So, the case for work placements seems to be made. We never expected to take one and never expected this sort of outcome.

Was it a positive experience and would we do it again?



6 seconds rule (Employers vs your CV)

This should serve as a wake up call to each student who believe that their beautifully crafted CV deserves hours of consideration when they submit it. They’re unaware just how little time the CV has to make a make a positive impression.


Every time I am about to send my CV I either get very nervous or very excited. But I never knew how much, well and long they spend looking at my CV.

One of my lecturers who works at Napier Partnerships told me that he only views it for max of 6 seconds due to receiving hundreds/thousands weekly/monthly.

I thought that is too short to really estimate the quality of the applicant but then I understood. There are many people who send quite poor resumes to employers expecting an answer or some sort of good news. But majority of them write in stereotypes or does not give enough examples what skills they possessed by doing certain job. They vaguely explain what they learn and rather than keeping it short they make long and complicated sentences.

Becoming the Employability ambassador here at Solent University I came across a few that had…

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Employability frameworks – why so complicated?

ComplicatedStudents are taking employability courses as part of their curriculum. However, does everybody have the same idea about employability and are we at risk of confusing the very people we’re trying to help?

Question: What is employability?

Answer: Everybody knows, but few can define it.

Herein lays the issue. Employability is a measure of how employable somebody is. However, for a subject to be measurable, it should be objective. The regular answer is to have an employability skills framework so that we can break the employability subject down into its component parts, each of those being a measurable element of the whole.

And that’s where it’s all gone horribly wrong.  By way of example, we reviewed the employability skills framework from the Department of Education, Victoria, Australia dated 2006. We know that it’s old, but it happened to pop up at the top of the Google rankings when we were searching for employability skills frameworks. In it, we have a framework that reviews 8 skills areas and suggests a great many explanatory points for each of those. For each of the skills, such as communication, we example one of their explanations:

  • Communication
    e.g. Persuading effectively
  • Team Work
    e.g. Applying team work to a range of situations e.g. futures planning, crisis problem solving
  • Problem Solving
    e.g. Resolving customer concerns in relation to complex projects issues
  • Initiative and Enterprise
    e.g. Developing a strategic, creative, long term vision
  • Planning and Organising
    e.g. Adapting resource allocations to cope with contingencies
  • Self-Management
    e.g. Having a personal vision and goals
  • Learning
    e.g. Acknowledging the need to learn in order to accommodate change
  • Technology
    e.g. Having the physical capacity to apply technology e.g. manual dexterity

Now, we all know that a 15-year old may not have a well-formed strategic vision, that persuading effectively only comes with a valid point, that complex project issues aren’t commonly found in the classroom and that some students unfortunately don’t have sufficiently good manual dexterity to apply technology.

So, whilst the framework may be an attempt to break down the ideals of an employer, these component parts are not easy to describe to a student, nor do they provide an easy system of coaching or measurement. If you think I’m wrong, find a way of measuring each student on “adapting resource allocations to cope with contingencies”. Any form of measurement should be universally implementable and deliver consistent and appropriate scores to each student.

Among others, we also review the Kent Employability Skills Framework. Whilst it also lists skills and measures, there is no obvious way of interpreting some of the observations. So, how do you tell whether somebody demonstrates:

  • Good ability to make decisions based on sound judgements, to inspire others to work together to achieve shared goals


  • Average ability to make decisions based on sound judgements, to inspire others to work together to achieve shared goals?

To engage students and support employability progress, things need to remain simple. In addition, the focus of many employability schemes appears to be workplace skills. The journey to employment starts earlier than day 1 on the job. If a student doesn’t know how to write a CV, apply for a vacancy and interview appropriately, all the workplace skills in the world won’t help them.

We believe that educators already understand that any employability framework must be:

  • Simple to describe
  • Simple to implement
  • Simple to measure

Take a look at our website. We have an employability scheme that is straightforward and easy to implement. Let us know your thoughts. 

Thanks for reading.

Help us to define Employability

There’s a lot of discussion on the subject of Employability these days.  Improving the work readiness of Students is a fundamental objective and educators are increasingly targeted on student progression and employment outcomes.

We’ve seen Employability definitions given by Employers, Universities, Colleges and Skills Groups, but there is plenty of variation.  High level attributes such as communication skills, attentiveness and subject matter expertise all feature somewhere.  There are also many definitions that focus on attribute sub categories including firm hand shake, level of eye contact and politeness.

We would welcome thoughts on what Employability means to you and what you believe to be the most important Employability attribute.

Many thanks in advance for your input.

CVMinder releases support for Recording Interviews and managing Applicant Documents

We have just released some great new CVMinder features that should help some of our College Job Shop and Education users.


The first of our great new additions relates to interviews.  Recording the outcome of interviews can be time-consuming and techniques can vary from individual to individual.  To support a more consistent approach which can be used to deliver feedback to interviewees, you can now build a standard interview feedback form, complete with metrics.  You can even make this NAS compliant!

You can record your notes and assess the performance of your interviewees in a consistent format, right across your organisation regardless of who might be conducting them.

HR Documents:

Applicants are frequently required to submit documentary evidence of their education, address, right to work in the employer’s Country and much more. Where do you store all that confidential information and what do you do with it when it’s no longer required?  It’s an issue we have resolved in CVMinder.  Licensed clients can securely upload documents against any candidate and ensure that those documents comply with their own, fully automated Data Protection policy.  By setting any document’s level of confidentiality, it will naturally become inaccessible after a commensurate period of time.

That’s two great new additions and we hope that our users really enjoy them.

All comments gratefully received.

The CVMinder Team