Learning on the Job

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The stereotype of the college student, cocooned within the comforting sanctuary of higher education and divorced from the hardships of ‘real’ working life, could not be further from the truth for many students. Work Experience can play a major role in a young person’s preparation for a career. When so many graduates have achieved excellent academic results, the inclusion of valuable and relevant work experience on a CV is often the deal-breaker from an employer’s point of view. For some higher education courses – particularly in the engineering/architecture, business studies, healthcare and hospitality areas – work placement is a compulsory and vital part of the learning process. It offers the student the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they have learned in the classroom to real-life situations and problems.

The unique difficulties of the workplace cannot be replicated in the lecture hall, and only work experience will allow you to evaluate your skills levels in that environment. Work experience is not a one-way street in terms of its benefits; employers stand to gain from it also. It is in their interests to help ensure graduates have the required skill levels to make the transition from education to full-time employment. Moreover, many employers (and students) gain directly from the process by inviting those on work placement to return to work on a full-time basis once they have graduated. So if you end up on a work placement in college, do not feel like you are imposing on the employer. Rather, try to be inquisitive, confident and most important of all, hard-working!

There are many different forms of work experience undertaken by college students, and they certainly need not be part of the student’s course to be relevant to his/her career prospects:Vocational – Many FETAC courses provided by the colleges of further education provide vocation-specific training to students. Industrial Placement – Usually carried out in the third year of a degree programme, in a job relevant to the course topic. It is a valuable opportunity to learn subject-specific skills from professionals who are ‘on the front line’ of your area of expertise. Professional Practice – When studying law, healthcare or teaching for example, students are required to learn and demonstrate their ability in a variety of competencies within the profession. The course-provider will often have links with agencies and companies that facilitate work placements for students.

International Exchange – Many Irish colleges offer students the opportunity to find a work placement abroad, sometimes during the academic year, as is the case with some Erasmus programmes. Other, more adventurous, programmes involve a summer holiday spent working further abroad in places such as South America or Asia. Part-Time Work – This option is not just about earning a few bob for socialising at the weekend. All the basic skills of the work-place can be learned in a part-time position, no matter how ‘menial’ the work appears to be. Those skills can involve time-keeping, communication skills, problem-solving and understanding how an organisation works.

Holiday Work – Rather than sitting around entranced by the extravaganza of monotony that is Wimbledon, why not get a short-term full-time job and earn the cash that will to ease your journey through the next academic year? A position relevant to the course would of course be ideal, but no matter what, the skills you learn will not go to waste. So there you have just a sample of the work experience options available to college students. The practicality and suitability of all options can be investigated by contacting the college careers office on an open day, or by talking to your career guidance teacher in school. Now get to work!


Whichcollege.ie is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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