Hiring a placement student at your small business can bring numerous benefits including access to higher skilled candidates, provide a cost-effective solution to staff shortages, and offer your business fresh talent. Read our employers’ guide to hiring placement students to find out what you need to know.

What is the role of a placement student?

A placement year is a 12-month period taken by a university undergraduate student to work in a chosen area as part of their degree course. It gives the student an opportunity to gain valuable experience in a real work environment whilst they break from their studies. Usually, the student will choose a field that is closely related to their degree. Once the placement is over, the student then returns to complete their final year of a degree but is armed with work experience and practical know-how when they hit the employment market after graduation.

Placement roles are dictated by the business and where a gap exists. You will need to identify the area where you need extra resources and ensure that there is enough work to occupy a full-time employee for a full 12 months. Be mindful of the fact that this is a learning experience for them and that the role needs to fulfill this and offer enough professional development experience.  It is not a work experience placement.

Small business benefits

Aside from the cost-savings of hiring a full-time graduate, there are numerous other benefits for small businesses:

  • Access to higher skilled individuals: as a placement student is already half-way through a degree, your business will have access to a potentially higher-level candidate than if you were potentially employing someone else on the same wage.
  • They can bring fresh ideas to the table: particularly if they are studying a subject closely related to your business, as they will be equipped with the latest thinking in that field.
  • You will be adding to your business’s CSR credentials by assisting students to become more employable in the future.
  • Access to potential future staff: many placement students return to the employer after their degree to take on a permanent role, which saves recruitment costs and potential retention issues in future.
  • Gateway to temporary talent: this is particularly useful for businesses with project work or who are facing a temporary staff shortage.

Legal obligations

As with employing a permanent member of staff, there are a number of legal obligations you will need to fulfill:

  • You must hold current employer and public liability insurance – placements are not allowed without this.
  • You will be required to complete a brief health and safety checklist for the university and have a written Health & Safety Policy in place.
  • Ensure your working environment makes reasonable adjustments or allowance for those with disabilities. You will need to have undertaken a risk assessment to classify the level of risk to the student.
  • A manager needs to be allocated to take responsibility for the student and their day-to-day activities.
  • An up-to-date contract of employment that clearly states working hours, pay, and benefits plus company policies (such as sickness and holidays).
  • A full job description that outlines the roles and responsibilities.
  • You must pay at least the National Minimum Wage.
  • Report any concerns or issues to the university.

How to find a placement student

Once you have finalised the job description and salary, you can start to advertise your vacancy. Remember that placements start in June through to September and run on average for 12 months, so you will need to start advertising and recruiting around November in order to secure a candidate.

We recommend that you look at the following options for advertising your role:

  • Rate my Placement – this is one of the main job boards students use.
  • The university’s own job boards – particularly if you have identified a university/course which is closely aligned to your business.
  • Job sites such Indeed, Total Jobs etc.
  • Your own website – and share via your social media channels. Encourage your network to share (particularly on LinkedIn).

Be sure to sell the benefits of working with a small business as you will be competing with large corporates to attract candidates. Many students actively look for small businesses as they feel they will be offered a more hands-on role where they can learn more than a larger corporate scheme. However, this is a USP and needs to be promoted in all your advertising.

Interviewing and selection

When selecting candidates, it’s important to look at their experience and motivation for approaching your business. Can they drive? Will they need to travel? Consider the practicalities of what they will be required to do and whether they are best placed for this.

Take a look at our blogs ’10 best questions to ask in an interview’ and those to avoid.

Induction and onboarding

This is the most important part of the process, and getting this wrong could mean your placement student feels unsupported and unhappy in the role. Plan the first week around getting to know the business, its processes and their role within the wider context. Read our onboarding tips for more guidance.

You will also need to:

  • Appoint a manager who will take responsibility for liaising with the student and the university.
  • Ensure the student has access to a mentor throughout the entire placement.

Managing development

Remember that the role must provide the student with learning and opportunity for development and that they are not a work experience placement. This means having a full development plan in place with objectives and outcomes identified at the start. Not only does this mean they will get a fulfilling experience but your business will benefit from the results. Get in touch if you would like advice on setting up a personal development plan.

What to do if the placement is not working

There will be occasions for whatever reason that the placement is not working. This could be down to expectations from both parties. In this instance, you should:

  • Talk to your student – understand why issues have arisen and how they can be resolved.
  • Talk to the university/placement officer to inform them of the situation
  • Create a plan to address the issue, this can form part of their development plan and should include areas in which to improve with actions.
  • Monitor progress – keeping the dialogue going.
  • Treat them as you would any other employee, remember that they have the same rights.

At the end of the placement

You are obliged to report back to the university on the student’s progress during their time at the business and this will have been agreed from the outset. If the placement has worked well then consider offering another student a role bearing in mind the timings.

Tips from our own placement student, Chris

We asked our very own placement student Chris Conlan what his advice would be to businesses looking to hire a placement student.

• It is as much about selling the business to the candidate as it is the candidate to the business – make sure to include things such as culture, benefits, etc. Remember that candidates are not just applying for your business so time frames are very important.

• Think about what the business would like to get from their student and why they are hiring a placement student.

• Make the recruitment process visible to the candidate so they can manage their schedules.

• Remember for a lot of candidates this is their first job and their first time doing interviews so make them feel comfortable. The feel of a job is very important to a candidate.

• A clearly defined job description is essential that details what they will be doing and what is expected of them.

If you think a placement student could work at your business, download our ‘ Placement-student-checklist.pdf (651 downloads ) ’ checklist.