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Student placements have changed, and, if they are well managed could be a valuable resource that you would be unwise to ignore.
Students are now part of a savvier, financially literate generation. They tend to be far more motivated and career-orientated than in previous years. In today's higher education and graduate recruitment market they have to be. Their thoughts are already focused on how to pay off their student loans. Many are also mature students, returning to education after a spell in employment, well aware of the demands of the real world and looking for a degree that will give tangible benefits.
This means that many prefer to follow hard-edged vocational courses. These courses, sometimes part-time or modular, are usually designed in association with business, and often include an element of compulsory work experience in the curriculum.
Placements not jobs
The short-term nature of placements is both their biggest disadvantage and greatest asset.
It is therefore best not to think of placements as regular jobs, but as contracts - in the same way you would treat a contract with a consultant or a builder on a specific project.
As in any contract situation, be careful to:
Of these, the first is the most important. It is therefore vital that before you start you have a clear idea of both:
What you want
In almost any business there are usually several things you would like to do, but just don't have time for. Many of these are relatively trivial, but some are projects that could have a significant effect on the long-term future of the business - if only the permanent staff were not too busy with short-term tasks.
Sometimes, these changes require professional external assistance. However, there may be other occasions when all you require is a bright person with an objective viewpoint and a bit of common sense. In such cases, a student is ideal.
For example, in 12 weeks a student might:
Some of these tasks will require some previous skills, particularly with computers (web design, database creation etc), but often students can bring the latest thinking from their course.
What the students want
Theory is all very well but nothing teaches like experience. So, in addition to something good to include on their CV, the student will expect to gain knowledge and skills that will be useful in the marketplace later on.
In particular you must consider how you can give the student:
Bear in mind that most people can become easily bored and quite capable of walking away if not stimulated or challenged enough. The same rule applies to students. A dull, repetitive, menial task is a waste of the student's time and your opportunity to utilise their skills and enthusiasm.
The ideal scenario
It often happens that the student and the business get on so well together that the student is offered a permanent job on graduation.
However this should not be seen as the objective on either side. While there is an advantage in recruiting with whom you have already worked, placements becoming permanent may not need to be an official part of your recruitment policy. Similarly the student should not be encouraged to think of the placement a short cut to employment with the organisation. If it happens, it happens and it is a bonus.