There are a number of options to consider when gaining experience and it's important to find the right one for you.
Employers are looking for knowledge and experience as well as education. There are a number of types of work experience options available to you. By taking on a short or long-term placement you can come out of university or college with a strong CV to enhance your qualification and make you more attractive to employers.
You may already have some part-time work under your belt, eg working in a high street store, warehouse, pub or a local office. You can use this to your advantage by stating strengths such as teamwork and customer service skills which are relevant to any field of employment. You'll also gain an understanding of the pressures of a working environment. Employers will often look at this type of work when selecting candidates for graduate jobs and you may find that they ask for some of these transferable skills.
The CRAC insight plus programme is one project which provides assessment and accreditation of part-time work. You may also have achieved relevant NVQs or training courses while in part-time work and these are also worth noting on your CV.
Internships are often taken during the summer breaks from studying, although they are also available as year-long placements. They offer a chance to do graduate work and give experience of real projects within large, sometimes multi-national, companies.
Internships give a chance to improve on many skills and often pay a good salary which can be the equivalent of pay received by entry level staff. They also offer a chance to develop new skills and network with other, more experienced, engineers and technologists.
Employers will often take on students in their penultimate year, but you can also apply for an internship after you graduate. There is often a lot of competition for places, so ensure that you are proactive in applying and highlight all of your relevant skills and experience. You may face multiple stages of tests and interviews, but a successful application will enhance your employment opportunities after graduation.
Your college or university career service may also be able to assist you with finding and applying for internships.
Sandwich placements are usually a year long and part of a degree course, although they may also describe internship type positions. They usually take place between the second and final year of a degree and offer a chance to get paid work experience.
Universities will help to arrange a placement and often have a database of companies that are relevant to the course that you are studying. However, if there is a specific company that you would like to work for, the university may also be able to arrange this.
As with internships, a sandwich year can give you valuable skills and often leads to an offer of a permanent job when your degree is complete.
Placement agencies can help you find a suitable position; matching you to placements for specific fields you are interested in and for the time you have available to commit. Using agencies can reduce the difficulty of arranging a placement and as they will already have the contacts, they will use your CV to pair you with a potential employer and arrange an interview. If you are undertaking a placement arranged by an agency, make sure that you keep a record of your achievements while there.
Work shadowing involves observing an employee or several employees for a short period of time which can range from a day to a week. This allows you to get an idea of what their job involves and the expectations of the role in terms of workload and pressures. Shadowing someone can also show future employers that you are committed to working in this area. Many companies are happy to have students visit, especially smaller companies, but bear in mind that these positions are often unpaid.
Work experience does not have to be paid. You may wish to volunteer abroad on a building project or teaching in a school, but you don't have to go overseas to help. There are opportunities within your own community. For example: assisting the disabled, undertaking conservation work, getting involved with your IET Local Network, or promoting engineering in a local school.
Most volunteer roles don't need specific skills and some offer free training and valuable networking opportunities. As well as the feeling of satisfaction you get from helping others, you can gain skills in team working, using your initiative and gain confidence by volunteering.