BackFor teachers: how to coordinate a successful placement programme
Four big tips on how to run a successful placements programme.
This guide is taken from the Know How Library, a tool on the Unifrog platform. Not sure whether to take the ACT or the SAT? Or how to give the perfect Oxbridge practice interview? The Know How Library is an easily searchable library of 100s of expert guides for both students and teachers, covering every aspect of the progression process. It is included as standard for Unifrog partner schools.
Everyone agrees that a good placement (or work experience, work shadowing, internship) can be transformative for young people. Here are tips on how to run a successful placement programme.
Using the Unifrog Placements tool
The first of our big tips is to use our Placements tool. And if you are using it, here's how to make the most out of it.
The first thing is to understand that this tool is designed to help with the administration of placements after the placement has already been agreed with the employer. After this is done, the student gets the ball rolling by adding a new placement in the Placements tool; from then onwards the system does the running for you, making each person in the chain fill in the right form at the right time.
It's super important that students enter the information about the employer, the placement, and the parent / guardian accurately. For some critical information (e.g. the start and end dates, the employer's email address, the parent / guardian's email address, we don't let the student make edits after they click ‘Finished'. This is for safety reasons - once a student has clicked ‘Finished’ the system emails the next person in the chain, so if the student were able to edit important information, it could happen that the next person in the chain would be agreeing to things that have become out of date. So: if important details are wrong, or need to be edited, the student has to delete the placement, and start again.
We've created a letter to parents to launch a placements / work experience programme - edit it as you wish!
The second of our four big tips is around how to motivate each party that's involved in placements.
For students we think the pitch is: get real life experience which might be interesting, might help you decide what you want to do with your life, and will likely be useful for all your subsequent applications.
For parents the pitch is: this could be very useful for your child, and you can really help both in possibly finding a placement, and in getting your child ready to be successful on the placement. When it comes to finding placements, parents don’t need to be well connected to ask someone to host their child - they just need to be polite and actually do it.
For employers the pitch is less straightforward, but there are still great benefits for them: possibly eventually hiring someone who they’ve previously hosted, offering management experience to a junior member of staff, and giving people that work at the employer a sense that their organisation gives back to society.
Our third big tip is around finding high quality placements. Many schools consider that this the hardest part of running a placement programme.
It would be great if all schools had an enormous address book of fantastic local employers delighted to host work experience, and also an amazingly well connected parent body who easily find their children's placements, and even pass on keen employers for other children.
In most schools the reality is somewhat different. Here is some best practice:
It's what not where
It can be disheartening trying to find a placement at a very prestigious employer if you don't already have contacts there, and there are some work environments which will almost never say yes, for example cybersecurity companies or the emergency departments at hospitals. A valuable thing for students (and parents) to realise is: what you do on a placement is more important than where you do it. For example, every employer now has to deal with cybersecurity (so you can get first hand experience of this sector almost anywhere), and you can learn about healthcare when work shadowing in lots of non-hospital environments, e.g. at a care home.
In an ideal world: students should think carefully and laterally about what they want to learn on their placement, and they should also communicate it in advance to the employer.
Students being proactive
Proactive students can generally secure work placements for themselves. They need to think carefully about what sort of employer they are interested in, do some research online to find contacts, then send emails and make phone calls.
Some schools make time in the school day for students to learn how to write a good cold email, and find employer contact details online. This is probably one of the most transferable skills these students will ever learn at school!
Communicating with parents
Every parent body is different, but most parents will be able to find good placements for their children if they are motivated to do so. If they are employed they can contact their own employer, or they can ask a friend’s employer.
Many schools now start the process by sending a letter or email to the parents, inviting them to a virtual information evening about placements.
You can maximise the chances of parents being successful by:
- Communicating with parents early;
- The parents being clear on the benefits to their child of doing a placement;
- The parents being clear on the parameters (mainly when the placements should happen and for how long they should last);
- The parents being clear on the next steps (i.e., their child needs to iron out the placement details with the employer, and then use the Unifrog placements tool to get things started).
Building employer links
There’s a long list of reasons why it’s difficult for a school to build good links with employers. Nonetheless some schools have brilliant employer links which result in all sorts of great things like talks in assemblies and hosting placements.
Some best practice includes:
- Having one person on the teaching staff with protected time to build links with employers (even having a little scheduled time each day to write and respond to emails, and make phone calls, is really helpful);
- Accepting that not all interactions between employers and students have to be in person;
- After an employer hosts one of your students using the Unifrog placements tool, their contact details (including whether they are up for hosting further students) are saved on the ‘Placements contacts’ page (on the teacher side, go to Manage and then ‘Placements contacts’). For employers who you're hoping will one day host a placement, keep a contact list of employers, e.g. a Google spreadsheet, perhaps structured along these lines:
Notes on lead
Contact for lead
Best to message via twitter as well as email. AK
24 Nov 21. Asked about hosting placement. AK
Reliable responder. Always copy in when messaging Elon. AK
24 Nov 21 copied in to above. AK
Dealing with the legals
The last of our four big tips is to do with the legals behind coordinating a placement. These are more straightforward than many people think, and you shouldn't let worrying about them put you off from running a placements programme.
Essentially: in most countries, a student on a placement is considered the same as a normal employee, and the employer’s normal policies (i.e. Risk Assessment, Health & Safety, insurance, and data protection) should cover them. The employer should check their documentation to make sure that it is appropriate for having a young person at the workplace.
In terms of who is responsible for what: it's the employer’s job to make sure that they have the right policies in place, and the school needs to take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the employer is acting responsibly. On the Unifrog placements tool, we explain to the employer exactly what policies are required, and the employer has to confirm that they meet all these requirements.
Out of an abundance of caution, the system instructs the employer placement lead to email to the school / college placement coordinator a copy of their Risk Assessment and Health & Safety policy if any of these apply: the student has special needs, illnesses or injuries that might affect the placement, it's the employer's first time hosting a placement, or the workplace is above low risk.