By Mathew Norvall, Resourcing Partner, Gazprom Energy

With hundreds of thousands of students graduating from university every year, keen to enter the world of work, most graduates recognise that simply going to university no longer makes them stand out from other candidates. Increasing numbers are eager, and are being encouraged, to complete work experience programmes. A ‘year in industry’ placement used to be just for those completing science or traditional vocational courses but now many degrees offer a year working for an organisation.

Businesses are in a great position to tap into this well-educated talent pool, many of which are ever eager to add to their CVs. However, some companies are unsure about how to get the best from students and make the placement process provide business benefits too.

Some businesses may feel like work experience can be a drain on time and resource and often placement students are there to pick up support from the team and simply offer an extra pair of hands. This method however can lead to the placement student feeling distant from the team and a lack of enthusiasm about their role.

The best way to combat this is to invest in learning and development and offer responsibility over tasks and projects to get the best from the student and maximise the benefits for the team and the company — even beyond the placement’s duration.

Establish a learning and development plan

Young people often have incredible amounts of drive and enthusiasm. Bringing them into organisations through internships or for a year in industry gives senior members of staff extra support, often leading to significant impact on their team’s productivity and increasing efficiency. However in addition to day-to-day support, organisations should utilise the students’ time to take responsibility for new tasks. At Gazprom Energy we offer placements in our marketing and finance divisions to help support with implementing initiatives like customer loyalty. We plan to take this a step further in the coming years, by rolling out a new programme which will cover 12-month work placements, summer and short term internships, experience days and apprenticeships.

In order to get the most from the placement students we invest in their development in the same way we would any other employee — each of them agrees a personal development plan with their line manager and they are offered internal and external development opportunities to support their career progression.

Their learning is then solidified when they are given responsibility for a specific task or role.

Ensure the role isn’t restricted to day-to-day support

With our placement students in marketing, we give them responsibility for the effective management of their own tasks like evaluating competitor campaigns and websites and to formulate recommendations on how we can differentiate our brand. Having responsibility for projects like this help to ensure that the placement student feels like a valued member of the team rather than simply being there to offer general day-to-day support.

If what you’re offering is a static administration role then you’ll find that placement students lack engagement and any investment made in their development is more likely to be lost as they complete their degree and look for a role elsewhere. Conversely, offering too much responsibility without effective development or guidance from within the business can lead to the same result.

Using the year to aid entry-level recruitment

Contributing to their career development by giving them specific projects and training also makes your business an attractive place to work in the long-term. By continuing contact with students throughout their degree, we’ve seen the investment in development return to the business with placement students taking up full-time jobs after graduation.

For us the process works like an extended job interview with comparatively low-risk — we can be more confident in someone’s performance over the course of a year versus over the course of a two or three day interview.

These kinds of placements are then, in effect, a long-term recruitment initiative. Organisations like RateMyPlacement.com, where placement students rank their year with a business, have helped to publicise Gazprom Energy among students. We were ranked as the UK’s 15th top medium sized business to offer placements and we expect that the number of applicants we receive for an assessment day, as well as those staying on after graduation, will be bolstered by this.

In order to get the best out of these initiatives, businesses should consider what function they would like a placement student to fulfil outside of general administration and an extra pair of hands for the team. While that can remain part of it, the vast majority of the role should be responsibility for a specific project or task, with development to supplement growth. Balancing both and ensuring that the placement student is getting the most from the business is also the point when the businesses is also set to gain the most from the student.