Students Staff

Work placements and Work Based Learning

The facts

  • Graduates who have had no previous work experience at all are 'unlikely to be successful' during the selection process and have 'little or no chance' of receiving a job offer for their organisations’ graduate programmes. (High Fliers 2015).
  • 31% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations – either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work. (High Fliers 2015).

Your guide to work placements

  • So what is a work placement?

    As part of your degree, you work in an organisation for an agreed amount of time to gain experience and develop professional skills to make you stand out from the crowd when you're applying for jobs.

    A work placement also allows you to learn more about a particular sector, company or job role, and apply your academic knowledge in a practical working environment, giving you ideas of what you want to do as a future career. During the placement your experience and study combine into an integrated package where your practical work and academic study enhance each other. You can show employers that you can use your subject understanding to add commercial value, and demonstrate you can deliver on challenging projects that meet client demands.

    It is really important to get professional work experience before you graduate, more and more organisations are now offering work experience opportunities. Research by High Fliers (2015) found that over four-fifths of the UK’s leading graduate employers are offering paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates during the 2014-15 academic year – an unprecedented 13,049 paid work placements are available.

  • How can a work placement benefit me?

    • Make your application stand out when applying for jobs
    • Apply your academic knowledge directly to the work place
    • Enhance your professional and interpersonal skills
    • Learn more about a particular sector, company or job role
    • Prepare you for your future career

  • What type of work placement can I do?

    Many large companies and organisations offer nationally advertised work placements with excellent development opportunities.

    Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) are increasingly taking on placement students, offering the chance to undertake a wide variety of opportunities, including:

    • Placement year (equivalent of a year’s academic study, between 30-52 weeks carried out between the penultimate and final year of your undergraduate course)
    • Termly placements (equivalent to an academic term of 12-15 weeks which could be part-time or combined with academic studies)
    • Vacation placements/internships (short term placement taken during vacations)
    • Projects (negotiated pieces of work, either group based or individual, usually carried out in third year of undergraduate study)

  • How do I get a work placement?

    You'll need to find your own placement by applying for vacancies. When you're looking for a work placement it's useful to research creatively. Identify your key skills and don't restrict yourself to the obvious sectors, as many other industries will offer work placements that match your skills.

    Your Faculty Placements Manager, Department and the Employability and Careers Centre will support you and help you with every step of the process. They can give you advice on things such as CVs, applications and interview techniques.

    Finding a work placement

    A number of websites advertise national work placements of varying length:

    Other opportunities

    • UROP - placements for undergraduates to assist academic researchers

  • We'll support you on your placement

    Our Employability and Careers Centre and your department, school or centre work with you on identifying and securing placements.

    You will be allocated an Academic Supervisor who will keep in contact with you throughout your placement and will give you advice on your academic assessments.

    Your Placement Supervisor will be a member of the organisation you are working for and will help you manage your day-to-day work and support your learning and development.

    Your Faculty Placements Manager can provide more information about placements for the particular course(s) you are interested in, and will also be available to help and offer advice to you and your Placement Provider throughout your placement.

    All provide support whilst on your placement, ensuring that you get the most out of your experience.

Work Based Learning

Work Based Learning (WBL) is the term for learning through placements or “live” projects provided by an organisation or client. A “live” project is one that meets a real need and is set by an external organisation. Organisations or clients include companies, government bodies, charities, community groups, entrepreneurs and university departments, other than a student’s “home” department.

WBL travel costs

If WBL is integral to your module you should be able to claim back the costs of any travel required to complete that placement or project. Please check with your module supervisor to ensure that the activity is eligible before making any travel plans.

Some schools/departments may direct you to utilise the online travel expenses claims system. This system allows you to upload tickets/receipts and claim back any money you’ve spent on travel for integral WBL. The system is accessible via MyEssex and you will only be able to access it if you are studying an eligible module.

Please note: Although they contain integral WBL, Placement Years do not qualify for travel expense reimbursement.

WBL travel expenses are not always fully reimbursed for practice placements (placements in Physiotherapy and throughout the School of Health & Social Care) and separate arrangements exist for these courses through NHS bursary schemes. For full details on eligibility for practice placement travel expenses please contact

Placement stories

Government students reinvigorate Essex for Challenge Project placement. from University of Essex on Vimeo.

Work Placements - My Journey with Cancer Research UK from University of Essex on Vimeo.

I'm an employer

Can you offer our students a work placement? Find out more.