June 21, 2024

Can technology help bridge the gap between study and employment?

Author: jess.moore@jisc.ac.uk
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Launched in 2018 with investment from Jisc, the Placer app does just that – and it’s been nominated for the UK Top 100 Social Entrepreneur Index.

How many graduates does it take to change a lightbulb? Four. One to design a nuclear-powered bulb that never needs changing, one to write an essay on the significance of lightbulbs in the 20th century, one to choreograph an interpretive dance on the theme of darkness, and one to call an electrician.

It’s a bad joke but it illustrates a point: graduate recruiters often highlight the void between skills and experience. While most students emerge from higher education (HE) with a solid academic grasp of their discipline, all too often they are not deemed ‘work-ready’ by prospective employers.

The value of work experience

Great effort has gone into addressing this problem in recent years. Within universities, strengthening links with industry has made undergraduate study more relevant and meaningful while also helping young people develop contacts in their chosen sector.

Students find that work experience placements are increasingly important too, giving them the chance to explore careers that may suit them, to learn how to take the initiative and collaborate in the workplace, and to build a CV that stands out from the crowd.

Creating opportunities

Placer can help. Matching students with work experience opportunities, the app began with a real problem and some solid research.

Four years ago, the social entrepreneur David Barker was working with the National Centre for Universities and Business to explore how tech might help address problems in graduate employment. He picked up on the 2013 government FutureTrack research, which found that students who gain work experience during their time at university are both more likely to get a better degree result and less likely to be unemployed or underemployed. David says,

“The problem was, there weren’t enough placement opportunities for young people. We needed to innovate a new model.”

Making a positive impact

What emerged is an app and platform that partners with universities and engages employers of all sizes, locally and nationally, to publish opportunities for work experience. These range from insight days to summer internships and full years in industry. David comments,

“We aim to give all students in HE access to meaningful work experience to increase their employability and business network.”

Initially funded by the Cisco Foundation, Placer won further investment from Jisc and Unite Students in 2017. The app went live with six universities in October 2018, featuring employers including the BBC, Unilever, Sage, and HSBC.

Placer now has plans for expansion, looking to bring in more universities and work with a greater number of SMEs. It’s going from strength to strength. As well as attracting support from ambassadors Peter Estlin, Lord Mayor of the City of London, and membership bodies the Institute for Engineering and Technology and the Creative Industries Federation, Placer Ltd has just been nominated for the UK Top 100 Social Entrepreneur Index.

“We’re delighted to see Placer gaining recognition for making a positive impact on students’ lives and graduates’ employability,”

says Sue Attewell, Jisc’s head of change.

Shining a light on societal problems as well as practical ones, David describes the company’s ‘triple-bottom-line’, of growth, profit, and doing good. We want to prove to employers the value UK graduates can bring to their business, and help students of all backgrounds find meaningful work.”

Find out more about Placer on their website.

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