Work experience and internships

Work experience can include formal placements or ‘internships’. Internships generally require a higher level of qualification than other forms of work experience, and are more likely undertaken with the aim of gaining experience for a professional career.

Reflecting a whole-provider strategic approach, professional services, such as careers or information services and academic departments and teaching units can work together and with employers to support their students in accessing a variety of work experiences. This approach is most effective when it spans the full student lifecycle.

Why does this matter?

Evidence highlights that work experience helps to make a student more employable, which helps them to compete more effectively for jobs.  

But recent research from the Sutton Trust reveals unequal access to internships. It found that of those graduates who had not completed an internship, 40 per cent cited external barriers ‘such as being unable to afford it, or being unable to move to a city to take up an opportunity’ and that these factors were more significant for ‘working class graduates’.

The report also highlights differences in the availability of internships across England – with 62 per cent of employers in London offering internships compared with 31 per cent in the East of England.

Effective practice

This should include understanding the barriers that students from particular groups face.

For example, providers should be aware that some students:

  • may need to travel and be away from home
  • may face wider costs
  • will have informal networks (or social capital) that other students may not.

A review of graduates from computer science and STEM subjects highlighted that different types of employer may look for different forms of placement.

It found that small and medium businesses may be better placed to support shorter placements, and larger organisations longer placements. Providers could investigate opportunities for their students to undertake different lengths and forms of placement that may be more responsive to individual employers as well as the student.

For some students a placement could be difficult or impractical. So providers should consider how these students might benefit from them.

This might include engaging employers to:

  • run taster days
  • mentoring programmes
  • employer-led competitions
  • supporting student enterprise and entrepreneurial activity
  • creating innovation spaces and hubs.

Engaging employers should span the full lifecycle – from getting prospective students (who may already be in work) interested in higher education, supporting students to succeed in their studies and to helping them to achieve the best possible outcomes when they enter the jobs market or embark upon further study.

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