Most people’s reaction to coming across a degree course with a 'sandwich year' is to think: "What on earth is that?!"
In a nutshell, it's an option in which you take a year off from your university studies (usually at the end of your second year) to gain practical work experience that's relevant to your degree. Once you've completed your sandwich year, you then head back to uni to finish your final year of study.
A sandwich year can take a multitude of forms - in my case it was an industrial placement at JJS Manufacturing.
So what does applying for an industrial placement actually involve? In this blog post I'll talk you through what to expect from the process and how you can achieve the best possible outcome.
Why take a sandwich year?
When you're in your second year of university, it can be a big decision as to whether or not to apply for a placement scheme. For one thing, the whole application process can be very time consuming. At times it can also be pretty stressful - especially when you have hundreds of course deadlines to meet (and maybe a few nightclubs to visit!)
It can be tough to balance your time. So is it worth it? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes.
Completing an industrial placement year will give you a whole year’s experience of what it is really like to work in the real world and can provide an invaluable boost to your career development. It can also stand you in very good stead upon graduation, as employers are often looking for experience, not just degree classification.
Weighing the pros and cons
After spending two years as a uni student scraping the barrel, fighting with overdrafts and looking for spare change in the cracks of the sofa, the prospect of being paid for the year is undoubtedly what attracts a multitude of students to an industrial placement.
Personally, I was also ready to take a break from my books and gain a feel for working life. And I figured, if I gave myself a year off from study, it would give me that injection of energy to go back into my final year, with a fresh mind, and smash it.
I also felt that if I didn’t complete a professional practice year as part of my studies, then I risked being stuck in a catch 22 situation: where I couldn’t get a job without work experience, and I couldn't gain work experience without a job.
Of course, every rose has its thorns. A lot of people I know decided not to do an industrial placement as they didn't want to be ‘a year behind the rest’. This is a valid point, as maybe your friends will start working before you and you may wish that was you.
Possibly my biggest struggle when applying for placement roles was thinking about what my friends were doing. I didn’t particularly want to miss out on completing the final year of university with my mates. But in the end I decided that what was a short term loss, would result in a long term gain.
Finding the right placement
Finding a placement can be a tough and lengthy process. There are thousands of opportunities around the country and even across the world. However, there are even more students looking to secure those opportunities.
I started looking, and applying, in October and didn’t receive an offer until the following April. In some cases it can even be as late as July before some students are offered a placement. So patience is key.
But where do you start? From my experience, websites that specifically focused on promoting placements were a really useful resource.
University 'Job Fairs’ - where employers come in, set up a stand and talk with students - can also be really helpful. Having the chance to talk to companies meant I could find out exactly what they were looking for and understand what I would need to do to have the best chance of being successful.
My university was also really useful when it came to handling the application process by offering weekly seminars on how to improve employability skills and helping me with my placement search. If your university provides similar opportunities, then I'd highly advise taking full advantage, as it can make securing a placement a lot easier and a lot less stressful.
Stay in control
If you’re constantly applying for placements and having no luck, then it may be time to get a bit more proactive. Resilience is a pivotal characteristic to possess when finding a placement. At times it can be a mental battle to keep on applying after having been knocked back a number of times. But what's important to remember is that it happens to the best of us, so just keep getting back up!
Get in touch with the companies you're interested in and find out what vacancies are available. By taking the initiative you'll show that you’re keen about the company and you'll also have the chance to make a great first impression. You never know, a simple phone call could lead to an interview, and numerous other possibilities.
The graduate job market is a very saturated environment and it can be tough to find a job. You need to have something on your CV that makes you stand out - and an industrial placement year could be the perfect way of achieving this. Those twelve months of practical experience will provide you with a vast amount of new knowledge and skills that you can use to your advantage in your future career.