With graduates facing an increasingly competitive marketplace, students should take full advantage of placement opportunities they are offered while still at university, according to Du Pont HR Consultant, Andrew Cahalan.
Mr Cahalan was visiting the Magee campus of the University of Ulster to speak to second year BSc Hons Business Studies and BSc Hons Advertising students. The talk was organised by Julie Connolly, Careers Adviser at Magee, to ensure that students get maximum benefit from their industrial placement year.
Stressing the importance of making a first good impression, Mr Cahalan told the students that an industrial placement was their opportunity to showcase their employability to potential employers.
With placements increasingly difficult to secure, Mr Cahalan stressed the importance of preparation and said it was worth putting in the effort to secure a suitable placement.
“In today’s increasingly competitive work environment and challenging economic climate, soft skills are increasingly important. Employers are looking at other skills and attributes – how you work with other people, communication skills, your drive and motivation.
"The labour market has changed, and qualifications are not always enough to land a job."
“Five years ago, a degree might have been a desirable criteria but today it could considered an essential criteria for the same position and a Masters degree is desirable. The stakes are getting higher all the time. An industrial placement is an excellent way of developing generic transferable skills, which would be useful for many different workplace situations.
“Without a doubt, life skills gained during industrial placement improve your employability. You cannot fully replicate workplace scenarios in the lecture theatre.”
Speaking frankly about his own career path, Mr Cahalan said he had not gone directly to university from school but had taken a more difficult route. His many jobs along the way included stacking shelves in a supermarket but this taught him a lot about how to work with other people as part a team.
“You cannot buy experience and a good placement can give you an opportunity to prove your worth to a potential employer.”
Echoing Mr Cahalan’s views on the importance of proper preparation for work placements, Dr Laura Bradley, who co-ordinates student placements for the Department of International Business at the Magee campus, said the majority of students really value their placement year and return for their final year much more focused and energised.
“The onus is on the student to get as much as possible from their placement year and use it as an opportunity to develop their skills and experience different work environments. Placements can open doors to a permanent position after graduation and some students may be encouraged to go off on a different career path as a result of their placement year but the skills developed are transferable and will help them in many other types of employment.”