How work-based learning at City is closing employment gaps

SOURCE: Edu Lauton/Unsplash
Work experience programmes give graduates the lift-off they need to start their careers.

By Clara Chooi 

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To the majority of employers, an attractive resume isn’t the most decorated with academic accolades but one that includes some form of work-based learning experience.

Nearly 91 percent of employers say this, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE), with 65 percent wanting their candidates to come with “relevant” experience and 26 percent settling for any kind of experience.

Where once the degree was the golden ticket to a lucrative job in an industry with a promising future, a tight labour market means the tide has turned in favour of those entering the workforce with the full gamut of hard and soft skills. 

For context, it may be helpful to consider how some of the world’s biggest employers – Google, Apple and IBM, to name a few – no longer require applicants to have a college degree. There’s no added perk for those who do, either. Graduates either measure up to the company’s standards, skills-wise, or they don’t, and hence won’t, land the job.


To recruiters, today’s most valued graduate applicants are those deemed “job-ready” or “employable”, a new competency measure now considered to be the most sought-after skill of all, quite often ranking above even technical knowledge.

But “employability” isn’t something a person is born into. For the most part, the traditional curriculum doesn’t teach a student how to become employable.

Of course, university employability teams are now tasked with this duty and digital badges are filling the gaps where academic assessments cannot.

But while these efforts can certainly raise the stock value of today’s graduates, they are in no way an adequate replacement for work-based or work-integrated learning programmes

Work-based learning, which includes any kind of work experience scheme from placements to internships, specific projects, fieldwork or simulations, brings benefits all around to both students and the businesses that get involved. 

Micro-placements at City

City, University of London’s vastly popular micro-placements programme (MPP) is one such scheme.

It’s no wonder why it was named runner up for Best University Initiative at the inaugural Student Social Mobility Awards 2018 and placed in the shortlist for the Most Improved Commitment to Employability at the National Undergraduate Employability Awards 2019.

Speaking in City Matters last year, the institution’s employment engagement adviser Wendy Browne explained why, in the current economic climate, work-based learning programmes like the MPP are so vital.

She said to help economies prosper, universities must play their role in ensuring a ready supply of highly-skilled graduates to fill available job positions.

Kickstarted in 2016, the micro-placement programme was created with exactly this objective in mind.


“The objective is to assist business operations whilst enhancing students’ core employability skills,” she explained in the report. In addition to giving students a leg up in their early careers, the work-based learning initiative also helps forge strategic links between the university and local businesses.

For the programme, candidates go through three months of competitive recruitment where they demonstrate their skills and the level of commitment they will bring to the host organisation. Following that, they will undertake training at the organisation, gaining and sharpening their workplace skills and getting a headstart on their future careers.

Projects worked on during the stint typically last between two and five weeks and can involve full or part-time work, depending on the needs of the organisation involved. All nature of businesses can get involved, from multi-national corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Additionally, employers will receive a certificate of participation from City’s Careers Service and will be invited to an end-of-programme awards ceremony upon the project’s completion.

To date, the work-based learning initiative has helped over 1,800 students at the university. Over the past two years, 130 employers have worked with City on the programme, providing projects for the students to work on. 


For these employers, the benefits of participation are multifold. Not only do they gain access to a pool of motivated and enthusiastic students, they also get to tap a fresh source of ideas and creative approaches to help them solve key business challenges. 

As Browne explains, the selected project can be self-contained or form part of a larger, ongoing initiative to solve a wider business problem.

In addition, businesses also get to contribute directly to their own talent-building process, which could later turn into a recruitment opportunity for them. For example, since the programme’s inception, a total of 20 students have either had their placements extended or were offered permanent roles at the host organisation.

“It’s easy; we do all of the recruitment for you, based on your specific skill requirements. The impact you’ll be making on the student’s employability skills development will be immense, and would be completed at minimal cost,” Browne says.

For student participants, the work-based learning initiative doesn’t just offer them an opportunity to sharpen their technical knowledge in their discipline of choice, it also helps them build on their soft skills by placing them in a real-world work setting.

Through the few months of work, they get to witness first-hand the practical applications of classroom theories and, through personal experience, learn about workplace culture and expectations.

As we mentioned above, employers view this kind of experience as an added advantage in recruitment candidates.


Creating job-ready graduates

Third-year student Kishan Chatwal, (BSc International Political Economy), has this to say about the programme:

“Everyone expects to get a job once they leave university. However, employers want more than just a degree, they want real-life experience and that is why I chose to do a Micro-Placement, so that I could improve the strength of my applications for when I apply for graduate schemes later on in the year.”

For his stint, the 20-year-old Londoner spent four months working as an analyst at Evalucom Consulting – a management consultancy start-up specialising in the health sector. There, he worked on the procurement side of the business, on a project aiming to secure a public contract with the National Health Service.

The experience, Kishan said, gave him a stronger understanding of the UK’s healthcare system and a boost of confidence in handling data when dealing with clients.

Thanks to his work-based learning experience, he said he felt more ready than ever to kick off his career. 

“We have entered a time where getting a job for people our age is becoming increasingly more competitive and job security is much worse than it used to be,” he said.

“A micro-placement is a really good way for you to stand out from the crowd.”

City’s Micro-Placement programme will reopen later in October 2020.