[Be Warned: Long Post Ahead]
Having spoken a little bit about the study abroad portion of my placement, I thought I would today focus on the other aspect to my incredible year: the work component. As I’ve mentioned before, I did what is called a 50/50 placement at Surrey, meaning that rather than taking a full year out to work or a full year out to study abroad (both of which are options available to students!), I chose instead to do both, dedicating half a year to each. This was the perfect option for me because whereas I was definitely seeking to do a work placement (for the invaluable experience it brings – read on!), I also really wanted to take the opportunity of my placement year to go abroad and travel. And while, yes, it would have been possible to get a work placement abroad, as I had a limited time to sort said placement, and being an international student (#VisaStruggles), the process would’ve been quite lengthy and complicated, and not something I wanted to be dealing with while navigating my second year. So, 50/50 it was!
So, what did I do?
For my work placement, I worked as a Research and Commissioning Intern for Surrey County Council (SCC). This role was positioned in the directorate of Children, Schools and Families (CSF) and involved supporting the various functioning’s of their services. This section of the council is tasked with delivering all services pertaining to supporting children and young people in terms of welfare, justice and education. My work involved completing projects for various teams within the directorate, most notably in regard to Youth Justice, Quality and Performance, Reparation Schemes and Edge of Care. For two days a week, I also worked as an Additional Learning Support (ALS) worker for LEAP, an educational and life skills programme for young people with learning difficulties and/or challenging behaviours that are not in education, employment of training (NEET). All fancy words aside, there is not a very concise way I could sum up my role in SCC as it involved doing SO many different things and working with so many incredible people on several amazing and fulfilling projects.
In as much as I really didn’t think it would be when I first accepted the job, my work was very closely related to topics I had studied throughout my degree up to then, and so I got to gain extensive practical knowledge to supplement my learning. As well as this, they were also highly relevant to areas of criminal justice that I am hoping to get into post-graduation, namely youth justice and youth justice policy, and I luckily did a lot of work surrounding this. One such task was a report I did on the profiles of young people that had been subject to a Youth Restorative Intervention (YRI) over a certain period in time. The aim of this report was to look for any trends, similarities or differences in this cohort of individuals, and, in particular, to assess for any relationship between been known for offending behaviour and been known to Early Help (EH) or Children’s Services. This entailed collecting data on the demographics, backgrounds and criminal histories of the group, as well as tracking the offending and welfare trajectories of this set of young individuals. A similar offender profile analysis was conducted on the PACE forms on record from January to August (2018), this time looking at the ages, types of offences committed, types of disposals received, and mental and physical health (including substance use and learning disabilities) of up to 250 young people aged 12-17.
I also got to devise a leaflet for young people and for the public explaining the Reparation Scheme Programme, complete several trainings and did several pieces of analytical work, mostly in service of Quality Assurance or in preparation for an upcoming HMIP inspection. Moreover, working as an ALS worker for LEAP can best be summarised as challenging but rewarding. It’s something I never would have thought of myself engaging in but now I am so glad I did as, though it was not without its hurdles, it was highly rewarding, enjoyable, and helpful (not to mention important!). Being a flexible intern and working via projects as opposed to having a set list of job roles meant no one day was quite the same, which I very much loved.
And how was it!?
My time with SCC was characterised by a wealth of invaluable experiences, all of which allowed me to gain a vital glimpse into the professional fields of youth justice and policy as well as an acquired awareness, understanding and appreciation for the institutional practices, frontline work and environments of these jobs. Not only did I significantly develop my workplace and professional skills (all of which are transferable!), but I also grew greatly my technical, field-specific and degree-specific knowledge and skillsets, such as research skills and policy evaluation among many others! On reflection, I realise that all the work I did – no matter how seemingly small or irrelevant – contributed to my growth. While I may not have realised some of it at the time, every single task I did over the placement – and therefore the experience as a whole – has helped shape or improve a particular skill or ability. I did not expect to utilise my academic knowledge and the number of I did skills as much as I did, and so I am glad that that was the case!
Since SCC was going through a major restructure in the time that I was there, this added an extra interesting element to the workplace and to all the projects that I did. It meant that my time was characterised by a period of substantial change – the shifting organisation, structure and functions of the directorate and its encompassing departments meant that job roles and responsibilities were constantly evolving, which only added to my understanding and appreciation for the world of policy in the everchanging field of government.
Would you recommend it? Absolutely!
Having read all that, I got to experience, it’s probably no wonder I wholeheartedly recommend undergoing a placement year! As mentioned, it is the perfect opportunity to gain so much experience into the career of your choice (including developing a relevant and refined skillset and growing a network!) and get a feeler for what life would probably be like once you’re done. You get so much more from your degree once you are able to put your theoretical knowledge into practical experience, and so a work placement is also great for enriching your learning journey. Even if you are not sure you want to undergo a full year of work, or are just not ready to join the adult world just yet, you can still go on a placement if you wish! Studying Abroad has a host of benefits as well – the indisputable best of which is the opportunity to travel. But, besides curating a fire Instagram, there are also several practical advantages to studying abroad! Read more about this in my post on my study abroad experience in Wellington 😊.
One thing I always like to advice is that, whatever your experience on placement, it is – I would argue – invaluable either way. Even if you end up not liking your work, it can still be helpful to have done it and learned that. It is just as good to know what you don’t want to do than it is to know what you do – always try to take low points in stride and learn from them! Taking this year out in between your studies gives you that extra bit of room to figure out what it is you would like to do career-wise and more often than not means you graduate with a clearer picture of this, and hopefully lose the risk of settling for a job post-graduation that you don’t like.
That said, this is not to say that those who do not do a placement year are perpetually disadvantaged. Loads of people for multiple reasons choose to skip a placement and go through with their degree in the usual 3 years, and this is fine too! It’s not only about the opportunities you take but how you use them!
What’s the Placement Year at Surrey like?
The Placement Year programme at Surrey is what sets it apart and is one of the major reasons I chose to come here. This university was the pioneer of it back in the 1960s and it has continuously grown to have a very high focus on employability in addition to academics. That is, at Surrey they are not only looking to provide you with a top-notch degree and quality of learning but strive to ensure you are employable at the end of it. They take employability very seriously and almost every course now has the option to do placement, whether engrained in the three-year course or doable as an added placement year.
As a Surrey student, you have access to the Employability and Careers office before, during and after your placement year whose incredible team work tirelessly to provide students with professional and workplace assistance, including career fairs, workshops, talks and training sessions each semester on stuff like:
- CV and Cover Letter writing
- Interview skills, psychometric/personality tests and assessment centres
- Management, leadership and several other transferable and workplace skills
- Careers advice
- Visas, contracts and other logistical elements to employment (this is particularly helpful regarding full-time, post-graduation roles and/or international students)
These are only some of the services that this office does, to give you a little idea on just the many ways they are able to help! A lot of these workshops or talks also involve representatives from several large companies and organisations, and so you can get to hear from the horse’s mouth what exactly they are looking for. Your Personal Tutor and dedicated Placement Supervisor are also on hand to help you during your placement year regarding any queries you may have, whether related to the job itself, your academic requirements, or the work life.
Aside from such prepared workshops, the office also puts on networking events to allow students to mingle with professionals from various fields and hold regular drop in sessions for anyone to access help with any career or employability related query they may have. Perhaps you have a job interview coming up and want to practice on your interview skills? They could help by conducting a mock interview with you or simply giving you tips for success. Or, you could simply pop into the office with your CV for help getting updated and refreshed or tailored to apply for a particular placement or graduate role. If you attend a certain number of employability events, complete some work experience and actively participate in any clubs and/or societies, then you may also be eligible for the Employability Award which recognises students for engaging in extracurricular activities. Though it does not contribute towards your degree grades, the award is a great way to complement your academic learning and is included in your transcript, so helps you stand out to employers. There is also the opportunity for students to start their own business and receive training, funding and mentoring opportunities via the Student Enterprise Cube.
To finally end this incredibly long post, there is definitely a lot I learned and a lot I am grateful for in undergoing my work placement. If there is anything to take away from my ramblings, it’s that placement = good, Surrey = great place to do it (:
Till next time!