Placements and employment support

Placements and employment support

by Academy Admin

This section features examples of best practice related to the provision of practical experience for students and support with preparation for employment.

The implementation of a long-running optional 10-credit module at Level 6 CS-390: Teaching Computing via a School Placement for students interested in teaching Computing as a career – Swansea University 2014 

In this module, students in Level 6 are able to initially shadow and then, under supervision, teach classes in computing in secondary schools. Links with 10 local schools enable us to offer places to up to 20 students who generally go into schools in pairs. Students receive a full day’s training by the teachers they will be working with. They then spend 10 half-day sessions in school. Initially, students observe the teaching process. They then progress to assisting the teacher and, finally, to delivering lectures under the teacher’s supervision (with help and guidance in developing lesson plans). Assessment of students is based on three components.

•           A written assessment by the teacher mentor.

•           A log of student activity in the school.

•           A final report and submission of the prepared learning materials.

The module is generally oversubscribed, and a significant proportion of students taking it have progressed to study for a PGCE.

Aberdeen software factory which provides placements and assists employability – University of Aberdeen 2014 

The Aberdeen Software Factory is a student-run software house started in 2009 so that students can gain experience working on larger software projects. Students benefit from work experience, while clients benefit from a flexible, cost effective solution in which their application is developed to suit their needs. 

ASF uses an agile, lean and service design approach to projects, thereby providing incremental delivery of the most important parts of the client projects in timely two-week iterations. This flexibility benefits the client through adaptation to their changing priorities. Clients have ranged from small charities and SMEs to other departments in the University who need something developed. 

The software factory provides students with two types of experience. First, they gain the experience of working in a development house prior to graduation, working on both greenfield applications, as well as helping to continue the development of on-going projects.

Second, they can also look at the factory from the business side of projects and think about what they need to do if setting up their own software house as entrepreneurs. Additionally, the ASF allows students to apply their programming and software engineering skills to real world projects. Finally, students are also able to supplement their income through work for the ASF, which is additionally valuable for their CVs. 

We also use the format of the software factory as a framework for our live client group projects with MSc IT students. This means those students also benefit from working with live clients on their summer projects, which provides them with larger project experience.

Aston Active Software Engineering (AASE): a student-run software company – Aston University 2014 

Background

AASE is in its fourth year of operation; its primary focus is to provide a place where Aston CS undergraduates can gain industrially relevant experience that will support them when applying for work-placements and first time graduate positions. 

Since 2012, we have been running ten-week internship programmes over the summer vacation, term-time contractual internships, and term-time experiential internships. 

Operations

We operate like a company and run projects that are client facing.  We deliver our projects through two types of internship programme: Experiential or Contractual. 

Experiential Internships – these internships are designed to give hands-on experience of working on a project with a ‘real’ client who defines the features and requirements of the software product. Supervised by one of the AASE staff team students work directly with their client, gaining experience in Agile development methodologies and software delivery.   Students need to be self-funding to participate in these internships. 

Some of the benefits for participating in these internships are: hands-on experience that can put on a CV; real-world software development experience; experience of working with real clients, more than a university project; delivering an end product that can talked about and demonstrate to future possible employers; developing people skills and being part of a team.   On completion, Aston provides a reference letter confirming participation in the internship programme. 

Contractual Internships– we have several paying clients, with whom we have an ongoing relationship to develop their software products.  These are formal contractual commitments and we require developers that have demonstrable experience of working in an industrial context.  Experience may come by completing one of AASE’s Experiential Internships or previous experience before studying at Aston.  You will be working closely with an AASE staff member who will be taking on the role of the Product Owner in these projects. These internships are funded, details available on application. 

Benefits include: experience of working on industrial projects that have a significant and demanding user base, technical leadership – solving problems for our clients, financial remuneration, development of your people skills, references and verification of you skills and abilities in an industrial context.

Industrial placement recording and support – University of Huddersfield 2014

The University of Huddersfield’s School of Computing and Engineering provides an integrated placement service for both students and placement companies. The process starts when students apply to the University, with placement opportunities emphasised during applicant days. Once at the University students are provided with a series of personal development lectures during their first year of study where they reflect on their career aspirations. Industry and professional body lectures are combined with portfolio development enabling students to reflect on skills gaps and identify actions to address prior to their placement year. Students are encouraged to network with industry and develop their online profile, investigating for example BCS Special Interest Groups – the School have by far the highest student membership of the BCS in the UK. Students are encouraged to gain relevant experience during the summer of year 1 and return to attend a series of timetabled placement lectures where CV, application process and interview techniques are all discussed. During the lecture series students are motivated and encouraged to apply for placements through further industry talks and opportunities to engage with final year students who have returned from placement.  Placement posts are advertised from autumn through to summer and students are provided with mock interviews and feedback to help ready them for the placement company selection processes. After the selection round the placement unit requests interview feedback on behalf of students, so that unsuccessful applicants can improve their chances of securing a placement in future. Successful students undertake a year-long placement which is supported by a named supervisor within the company, an academic visiting tutor who liaises between the company and the University, a personal tutor who is a contact point for the student and the placement unit who provide a highly engaged and personalised support to both students and companies. Students undertake two assignments, reflecting on the company they are working for and on a substantial work task during the year. The employer also appraises the student. The visiting tutor visits twice, providing opportunities to review student progress and employer feedback and to discuss final year dissertation ideas. When students return to their final year they often undertake dissertations strongly linked to their placement roles. Placement companies often comment on the gap left in their organisation once a placement student has completed their placement year and the School are proud that approximately 30% of placed students are taken on by their placement companies after graduation. 

From a placement company perspective, the University’s reputation for providing high quality placement students and placement support has meant many companies approach the University based on personal recommendations. For example the School have recently started to discuss placements with a Scottish technology company, based on personal recommendations from a company in Silicon Valley. In the last year the School’s reputation for placements has also led to students being placed at Buckingham Palace for the first time. 

To enable the School to maintain its reputation and the quality of its service it is essential that it provides an integrated placement service to companies. This starts with a process of informal discussions and information gathering, followed by more formal discussions with the company regarding its aspirations for the placement, the type of students it is seeking, specific post requirements, advertising dates, salary and benefits together with a wide range of other details required to ensure that the highest calibre and best matched students are available for selection by the company. Having selected the student the company are provided with clear documentation and checklists so that they have everything in place for a smooth placement experience, including information on who to contact and what to do during the entire placement cycle. The visiting tutor discusses with the company advertising dates for the following year so that this can be effectively planned and managed.  

The processes outlined above are the backbone of the placement service provided by the University of Huddersfield’s School of Computing and Engineering for students and companies. However its success is built not just on these highly refined and rigorous processes but also on the level of care and support provided by the placement unit, visiting tutors and personal tutors. Perhaps the greatest example of this is that if any visiting tutor or placement company contacts the placement unit at any time of year for any reason, the placement unit know exactly where each student and company are up to and are therefore able to provide detailed information on both the student and the company. The results speak for themselves. The placement unit have been recognised by the BCS, who have highlighted both the student support and placement services provided within the School as best practice within the sector, and the placement unit have reached the RateMyPlacement Award national finals in each of the last five years. Further information is available at http://www.hud.ac.uk/ce/.

Curriculum Plus and the wider employability focus – Southampton Solent University 2013 

Student employability is a core objective across the University. This involves the development of employability skills, including preparation for acquiring the first career step after graduation, and the embedding of placement and “live brief” opportunities. These opportunities are designed to expose students to professional practice and build confidence that they are equipped with the professional skills required to be successful in their future careers. 

A Work Based Learning option is also offered as part of the University’s Curriculum Plus programme, which is available to all students across the University. 

Curriculum Plus Programme

The aim of the Programme is to provide students with the opportunity to broaden and enhance their learning and achievements beyond their core discipline by providing additional experience and qualifications. Units have been developed for the Programme using existing staff experience and expertise and with the University’s commitments to meeting the needs of students and the community in mind. Importantly, the experiences students can expect to gain by taking Curriculum Plus units will contribute to their broader development as individuals and members of their communities – a primary aim of Higher Education and the University. 

The Programme recognises that students and employers increasingly recognise the benefits of work and community experience for student learning and employability. In line with the University’s mission and Strategic Plan 2008-15, the Academic Framework stipulates that all undergraduate students have to be offered the opportunity to choose an option from the Programme. 

The Curriculum Plus units are marked, assessed and carry academic credit just like any other units. The units are generic, but can be negotiated by students and tailored to their particular interests, needs, current level of study and aspirations (often through a learning contract approach). 

For 2014/15 the units on offer are:

  • Community Volunteering: personal values in action*
  • Sport Coaching in the Community*
  • Work Based Learning*
  • CV and Career Building
  • Capability for innovation
  • Planning to succeed
  • Language Programme
  • Introduction to Teaching English as a Foreign Language

*Units with a placement element 

Rather than requiring course teams to develop and deliver their own units, particularly ones relating to work and community experience, these generic units are offered across the University, and administered on a Faculty, rather than a course basis. It also ensures that national requirements (especially in respect of conformity to the QAA Code of Practice on work based/placement learning, for instance) are met without increasing the administrative workload on academic staff in each course. 

The engagement of the school and wider community with the BCS Branch and Specialist Interest Groups – Southampton Solent University 2013 

Southampton Solent University has a strong commitment to the promotion of student employability.  A key focus of this commitment within the Technology School is engagement with professional bodies, who form an important part in the development of the students’ personal networks and provide an important insight into professional expectations. 

Students are actively encouraged to join their professional bodies and staff in the Technology School are similarly supported. The Technology School has a high number of professional memberships and a variety of professional activities and roles are undertaken by its staff.  

The University hosts a wide range of BCS branch activities and events, which are well attended by students and a network of other organisations. This professional dimension is an important part of the ethos of the computing and networking courses.

The placement provision within the MSc programmes – Staffordshire University 2013 

The industrial placement experience is an important study element for all Staffordshire University School of Computing students in terms of their personal and professional development of knowledge, skills and confidence in their own abilities. All School of Computing, on-campus, taught, postgraduate students have the opportunity to undertake industrial placement experience, working for a company usually between 24 or 52 weeks. Staffordshire has been placing computing and IT students in industry since 1967. 

The placement aims to:

•           Provide practical experience of working within and for an organisation

•           Increase awareness of the financial and other constraints within which organisations function

•           Apply and further develop skills in communication and decision making within a practical environment

•           Develop appropriate behaviour and attributes within the work environment 

The placement is seen as a key part of the School’s postgraduate awards. Although the placement itself is not compulsory, students are strongly encouraged to take up the opportunity. The placement currently aims to occur after one semester of study on the taught Masters awards. Students on a 52 week placement are visited at least twice during the placement by an academic tutor to both assess the student and provide support during the placement period. Those students on 24 week placements will be visited at least once. The placement experience is also useful for the academic tutors who visit the companies, providing an additional avenue for discussions to ensure that the skills the students have are relevant to the needs of the industry. This complements on-going work by academic staff with industry partners which feeds into teaching. 

At the start of a Masters award, the Placements Team and the Academic Placement Leader schedule sessions used to introduce students to the Placements Team, starting to get students to think about the sort of placement they would like and to start thinking about filling in required documentation such as the Placement Application Template (PAT). Students returning from placement participate in these sessions, discussing how the process worked for them and passing on advice on best practice to secure a position and what to expect from placement companies. Of course, this is in addition to the on-going advice given to students on a more informal basis by e.g. their award leaders and personal tutors. Each year a number of students will find their own placement simply through recruitment websites and personal contacts. These are evaluated by the Academic Placement Leader to ensure, for example, that the placement experience is at the correct level and fits with the aims of the student's award. 

Support is also provided through the Careers Centre, located at both Stoke and Stafford campuses and ranges from one to one sessions via an appointments booking system for e.g. simulated face to face and telephone interviews, through to group sessions covering e.g. recruitment techniques, interview preparation, selection processes and aptitude tests. Information and documentation for: School of Computing students undertaking a placement (including a handbook for postgraduate students); companies wishing to employ a placement student; academic staff visiting placement students; frequently asked questions and the opening hours and contact details for the Placements Team, can be found on the Placement's website:  http://www.staffs.ac.uk/support_depts/careers/placements/index.jsp 

The assessment of the postgraduate placement comprises three elements: visiting academic tutor mark; industrial supervisor mark and a student report. The report is around 3000 words and is an evaluation of the student's placement experience and activities. Students are encouraged to keep a diary of what they have been working on during the year which should be included as an appendix in the report and can then be used as a detailed record for discussion at job interviews.

A sustainable mechanism for providing students with real world commercial experience through the SEED (Software Engineering Experience Development) project – University of Hull 2012

SEED is a commercial software development unit embedded within the Department of Computer Science at the University of Hull, with the aim of providing guaranteed industrial placement to computer science students.

SEED was established in 2005 with support from the European Social Fund and Microsoft UK as a means of increasing the employability of graduates in computer science and allied disciplines. During the two and a half year period of ESF funding, over fifty graduates were successfully trained and found well paid employment in IT-based roles. Since the end of the ESF subsidy, SEED has become self-supporting with income generated from sales of products and services.  It is staffed and managed by a permanent team of professional software developers.

Students in the final year of their MEng/MSc programmes in Computer Science undertake an industrial project.  This project is operated and managed by SEED, with the students working as if they were employees for one and a half days per week.  The projects have a strong software development bias.  Our customers include: Atomic Energy Authority, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and several regional Fire Services.

The huge benefit from the students’ perspective is that they are exposed to the entire software project lifecycle.  They liaise with real customers and produce real software.  This is invaluable experience, the results of which can be demonstrated by the exceptionally high level of professional employment amongst our graduates.

For more details please see http://www2.hull.ac.uk/science/seed.aspx

Professional Development Planning which focuses on supplying employability skills directed to employment in the students’ chosen field of specialism – University of Hull 2012

The Department of Computer Science has an established programme of Personal Development Planning (PDP) which it delivers to all its students (undergraduate and postgraduate).  The programme places joint responsibility on both staff and students to help students reflect upon their own learning experiences, professionalism, performance and achievements, as well as planning for their personal, academic and career development.

Examples of the activities delivered within the PDP scheme include:

  • The PDP portfolio; a study and learning skills document (including action plans, personal reflection and guidance notes), enabling students to record academic and generic skills development, promote reflection and ultimately to develop a personal development plan.
  • Personal supervisory meetings at the start of each semester.
  • Compulsory Careers Services lectures, specific to each year group.
  • Compulsory curriculum vitae coursework in year 2 and year 3 with formative feedback from supervisors.
  • Badging of PDP activities in module content so students are aware of opportunities for reflection.
  • Integration of industry led lectures to enhance employment prospects; these include internship opportunities, graduate jobs, CV skills and Women in IT.
  • Peer Assisted Study Support (PASS) sessions.  These compulsory study support sessions for first year students are led and delivered by final year students.
  • 24 hour software development events enabling students to create marketable games and mobile apps whilst experiencing team working in a compressed high pressure environment.

These activities are supported by the Department’s virtual learning environment (VLE) which makes resources available to students (in the form of literature, tests, surveys and activities), that covers, and includes:

  • CVs
  • Skills audit
  • Future prospects
  • Applications
  • Assessment Centres
  • Interviews

All of these activities are designed to build professionalism in our students and to increase their market value and hence their employability.

For more details please see http://www.hull.ac.uk/dcs