Brunel University School of Engineering and Design Michael Sterling building.

The increasing importance of sandwich placements

It's never too early for engineering and technology students to start thinking about building up their skills and experience in terms of employment, reports Brunel University’s Michelle Kavan.

According to a recent report from High Fliers Research, graduates without work experience stand little chance of securing a job despite a rise in vacancies. More than one third of graduate vacancies available are expected to be taken by people who have already worked for a firm while they are studying.

At Brunel University a quarter of our students undertake what we call a sandwich placement. Sandwich placements are typically one year (or two separate periods of up to six months) with an organisation that is directly relevant to the degree being studied, and undertaken at the end of the second year.

There are other opportunities for work experience - part-time work and summer internships, for example - but we generally encourage students and parents at open days to consider a sandwich placement because we know that employers are more likely to employ someone who has worked in industry, as opposed to having not.

The benefits of placements for engineering and technology students are enormous. As the cost of university fees rise students may be tempted to focus on getting through their university studies as quickly as possible but the advantage sandwich placements bring is considerable and also increasing year on year. These include:

Broadening knowledge base

Students' academic studies can be enriched by new perspectives, experience and enhanced skills from their critical reflection on work experience.

Improving study skills

These can be improved through greater self-confidence, motivation, application
and time management when students return to university in their final year.

Developing key skills in the workplace

Evidence of teamwork, communication, problem solving, motivation, enthusiasm, adaptability, improving own learning and performance and organisation; all the skills required by graduate recruiters.  

Enhancing job prospects on graduation

Research has shown that Brunel students who take the sandwich placement option are more successful in terms of their employment outcomes on graduating.

Greater understanding about careers choices and management

More informed career decisions can be taken on the basis of actual exposure to companies and sectors. A work placement lets students “try out” a career role without committing themselves permanently.

Broadening horizons in terms of job role and location

Students can take work placements anywhere in the UK - or even in another country. If the placement is spent abroad students will have the added dimension to their portfolio with in many cases the opportunity to learn a new language and experience another culture.

Earning money while students work and after they graduate

Engineering and technology students can expect a salary of around £15,000 while on their placement, with some variation for placements in London. 2010 Brunel placement leavers earned on average £4,412 more in annual salary than their non-placement peers six months after graduating.


Michelle Kavan is deputy director (Placement) at Brunel University and chair of the Placement and Work-Based Learning Group of the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Service.

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