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Guide to industrial placements 2023

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Industrial placements are programmes intended for students to take some time and learn about a job or sector instead of studying. It’s a great way for you to develop your professional aptitude and competence and incorporate this into your degree programme. Industrial placements usually take place in the penultimate year of your degree meaning you return to university to complete your final year of studies once your placement is over.

Student working on laptop as part of industrial placement

In many vocational courses, industrial placements are compulsory or highly encouraged. However, many more courses now provide the opportunity to undertake an industrial placement, including business studies, pharmacology and even humanities subjects such as geography and history.

What is an industrial placement? 

An industrial placement, also known as a student, work or sandwich placement, is a fixed-term, full-time role that generally lasts between nine and twelve months. They add an extra year to the length of your degree, making a standard three-year course four years long.

Traditionally, industrial placements were run for students on vocational degrees such as medicine or engineering, but they are increasingly being offered by companies in all different industries to students on any degree programme. By undertaking an industrial placement, you’re equipping yourself with the skills and experience to better prepare for professional work. Industrial placements can be with big UK-based or international companies. However, lots of smaller and medium-sized companies also run industrial placement schemes.

Not only are industrial placements beneficial to you, but they’re also extremely helpful to employers. By having industrial placement students, employers get the opportunity to ensure students are gaining the experience and skills that the industry requires.

Explore industrial placement opportunities.

Industrial placements are not the same as internships! 

You might have thought industrial placements are the same as internships, and although both are types of student work experience and employers sometimes use the terms interchangeably, the two types of experience do differ.

While an industrial placement is part of your degree programme and is usually considered a module, internships are mostly organised externally to your university. Because of this, you still receive academic credits for the year of the industrial placement and it takes place throughout the term time, lasting anywhere between nine and twelve months. Internships, on the other hand, typically last between two weeks and four months and generally take place during university holidays. 

What to expect in an industrial placement

During an industrial placement, you gain full exposure to the world of work including a strong understanding of both the industry and the specific role. An industrial placement helps to build your commercial awareness as well as many soft skills such as conflict resolution, proactivity, productivity, resilience and teamwork. You also develop practical skills to complement the theory gained from a degree which helps you become more employable once your degree is finished. Want to get ahead and start developing your skills for the workplace? Check out the core career skills Academy course.

If an industrial placement is a requirement of your degree course, your university is likely to assess it. This formal assessment may be in the form of completing tasks in the job role or written reports. Even if the industrial placement is optional, you may still be required to create a professional development portfolio.

The benefits of industrial placements 

  • Gaining an understanding of a specific sector and role
  • Increasing your commercial awareness
  • Making valuable industry connections and expanding your professional network
  • Having a break from studying to focus on your career progression
  • Improving your professional experience and increasing your employability
  • Expanding and improving your CV 
  • Increasing your chances of securing a role when you graduate
  • Having a chance to upskill and develop through training courses at the company
  • Developing relevant soft and hard skills to the industrial placement
  • Applying aspects of academia in the workplace
  • Receiving payment and having the potential for subsidised travel and meals
  • Experiencing the application process for jobs and gaining interview practice
  • Having the potential to return for the final year of study with a graduate role already secured

Are industrial placements paid? 

Most industrial placements are paid. The salary will depend on many factors such as the role, location and company, but the average salary falls between £15,000 and £25,000. London-based industrial placements generally pay more. The average industrial placement salary in the UK is £19,000. Whereas, in London, it is £22,000. However, it must be noted that London salaries match the higher rent and living costs. Make sure you know the salary of your industrial placement early in the interview process so you can assess if it’s the right option for you and your needs.

Some industrial placements, however, are unpaid, for example, most NHS industrial placements or industrial placements in the charity sector. In this case, you are still eligible to apply for a student loan, or the company employing you may cover your expenses. During an industrial placement, you still pay some university fees, although most are significantly reduced.

Industrial placement sectors 

It’s a common misconception that an industrial placement is only available for vocational degrees such as engineering. You can find industrial placements in many sectors including:

If you’re not sure which sector you’d like to do your industrial placement in, complete our career path test to find the sector that best suits you.

When to apply to an industrial placement

While the application process for most industrial placements starts in September or October, more become available throughout the year with smaller companies typically starting applications later than bigger companies. It’s common for companies to fill the required quotas before the application deadline, so it isn’t unusual for applications to close before the advertised date. To avoid disappointment, it’s best to start getting your applications in as soon as your second year of university starts and to keep track of upcoming industrial placement deadlines throughout the year.

Browse 2022 industrial placements

How to apply to an industrial placement

Before applying for an industrial placement, make sure that you are eligible. Some industrial placement roles require certain grades and experience, so check these criteria before applying. However, don’t be too focused on any predicted grades that they might ask for because many companies value enthusiasm for the sector and may still consider your application without the required grades.

Once you have chosen the industrial placement you would like to apply to, the application process usually involves multiple stages. It may include an assessment centre and a few interviews after the initial application. These may be in person or virtual, depending on the company and role. Most applications will require a CV and cover letter. Be sure to tailor your cover letter to every individual role and try to get both checked before submitting applications. 

Don’t worry if your first applications aren’t successful. It can take some time to get your application writing skills and interview technique just right! If you want to improve your applications, complete this Bright Network Academy course on application processes.

Can international students get industrial placements in the UK?

Yes, international students can complete industrial placements in the UK. To do this, it’s essential to have a student visa and the industrial placement must be compulsory as part of your university course. The industrial placement must also take up no more than 50% of the overall course length. Before switching to an industrial placement year course, make sure that you have enough time left to add an extra year to your degree in regards to your UK visa. Part-time international students holding a student or tier 4 visa, however, aren’t eligible to do an industrial placement in the UK.

In summary, an industrial placement helps you build out your skills and experience by allowing you to incorporate the theoretical knowledge you gained at university with the practical experience of a workplace. You can get involved with industrial placements with many different degree subjects, not just vocational courses like engineering and medicine, and you can even get paid for the work you do!

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