The power of placements

Sandwich courses can offer invaluable experience to students in various disciplines across the sector. These placements allow students to spend a full year in industry before they have graduated. We caught up with some of the students, graduates, and employers from Harper Adams University to find out the power of placements.

The student perspective

Telford and Wrekin Council student and civil servant Ben Holloway

Placement: Ecology and Green Infrastructure Assistant at Telford and Wrekin Council

Education: BSc (Hons) Geography and Environmental Management, Harper Adams University

I began my placement year with Telford and Wrekin Council in September 2021. Over the 12 months to follow I developed my skills, confidence and became an integrated part of the Ecology and Green Infrastructure team. I undertook a wide array of work, from desk-based planning responses to protected species surveys.

Within a short time, I was responsible for managing an ecological data search service offered by the team, responding to planning applications and reviewing management plans for the 13 Local Nature Reserves declared at that time. Over the summer I worked on several protected species surveys for internal and external clients. Based on the skills and knowledge gained in the first years of my degree I was able to lead a project to develop the local authority strategy for Biodiversity Net Gain.

This was very beneficial experience. It allowed me to apply my skills and gain confidence in my abilities. Working with people and organisations outside of the authority also provided an opportunity to network with professionals in the ecological and planning communities.

On reflection, there’s not much I would change about the placement year. The breadth of work undertaken and level of responsibility I had was beyond my expectations. A placement student can certainly become an asset to any workplace as the knowledge I had already gained at university certainly gave me a good grounding.

The placement gave me the experience and confidence to move forward in my career. As I look to begin a permanent position in the team, I’m very grateful for the opportunity by Harper Adams and Telford and Wrekin Council.

Yorkshire Water public health scientist Lucy Batty

Placement: Catchment Technician at Wessex Water

Education: BSc (Hons) Countryside and Environmental Management, Harper Adams University

During my placement year I helped to improve the water quality in boreholes across the Wessex Water region, specifically focusing on nitrates. I worked alongside farmers within the catchment area to install cover crops and increase nitrate monitoring.

I had many great experiences from my placement year, but collecting and analysing soil and water samples was a particularly useful skill I developed. It really helped me during my final year at university when I completed my Honours Research Project, where I investigated changes in land use on nitrate and phosphate river concentrations. Another highlight was working on a cover crop trial with the local college. It allowed me to develop skills in collaboration and negotiation.

One important benefit of my placement year was that I made many great connections at Wessex Water, who I am still in contact with. I also had the chance to attend Cereals (a large agricultural conference), representing the WaterUK stand where I met representatives from other water companies in the UK.

A placement year absolutely flies by so it’s important to seize every opportunity that comes your way. My main takeaway was how much I learnt. It was great to go back to my final year at university with a fresh perspective and a new set of skills. Wessex Water were so welcoming, and this encouraged me to remain working in the water industry after I graduated. I’ve since worked in roles for both Anglian and Yorkshire Water.

Student Jenna Churchill

Placement: UK Native Species Conservation Placement Student at Bristol Zoological Society

Education: BSc (Hons) Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Management, Harper Adams University

During my placement year for the Bristol Zoological Society, I worked in the native species team, a division of the Conservation Science and Education department. Conservation experience is sometimes hard to secure, so having been successful in my application, I knew that this year in industry was going to be extremely valuable.

Throughout the year I developed many practical skills in habitat management and on restoration projects and species surveys. The surveys I undertook were bird, bat, badger, reptile, dormouse, water shrew, invertebrates, and botany. I took a particular interest in great crested newt (GCN) surveys and aquatic ecology. As a result, the team encouraged and supported me and I’m now in the process of writing my dissertation based on the data I collected.

The southwest, white-clawed crayfish project was one of the main areas of focus for me on the placement. I worked almost daily with this protected species at the hatchery, onsite at Bristol Zoo. I also went out in the field, where we would undertake invasive species management as well as reintroducing captive bred individuals. This was very rewarding and one of the highlights for me.

One of the takeaways I have is meeting likeminded people within the industry and working with each member of the native species team. Everyone I met was so passionate, friendly, and inspiring and I learnt something from everyone.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I got more than I expected from the year in industry. Though unpaid I would take this opportunity again as the society and the team provided me with so much support. They really helped me with my personal and professional development working towards a future career in the environment sector. I’m very grateful for the opportunity and would recommend it to anyone looking for conservation experience.

The employer’s perspective

Wessex Water catchment adviser Hannah Martin

Placement employer

Hosting a placement student is valuable to Wessex Water as it brings in new talent to the company with fresh ideas and an eagerness to learn. The student is exposed to our industry which broadens their horizons and opens doors to a future career.

It can also offer development opportunities to employees to be able to manage a placement student, either as a line manager or managing their day-to-day tasks. It can be really rewarding, especially when the student goes on and pursues a career in the industry they completed their placement in.

Students who make the most of their placement ask lots of questions and have a “can-do” attitude. They also have a willingness to learn and try out a wide spectrum of work and jobs.

For the employer, as well as finding out what they enjoy, it’s just as important to find out what they don’t enjoy. If there is an opportunity for a student to have some ownership of a piece of work or a project, that’s great as it gives value to the student.

Fortunately, we have had many positive experiences from hosting placement students and not many problems. In the grand scheme of the job, a year is a relatively short period of time. We find that once the placement student has settled into the job and is fully self-sufficient, it is usually nearing the end of their placement.

One challenge we have found is if a student is having to move away from where they live to undertake the placement, it can be difficult to find them suitable accommodation.

Do's and Don'ts


  • Make your placement student feel welcome, it can be a daunting experience starting a job in potentially a new area and a different environment to university
  • Make them feel a part of the team, if they have moved to the local area, advise them on places to go things to do, so they feel at home
  • Give them some ownership of a project or a piece of work, to give value to their experience
  • Make sure they experience a wide spectrum of work – that way they can see if there is something that they particularly enjoy, or more importantly that they don’t


  • Worry about hand holding, students become relatively self-sufficient and benefit from a structured progression into a role
  • Forget that most sandwich courses are supported by the university, and they will guide you in taking on a placement student so that you both have a productive experience

The educator’s perspective

Harper Adams University senior lecturer in soil and water management Dr Lucy Crockford

Placement tutor and lecturer

When I started working at Harper Adams University, I noticed a real difference between the students who were in final year and those that were pre-placement. Yes, they were older but the depth of reasoning they brought to their assessments and even their exams was nothing short of remarkable.

I remember as an environmental science student myself, I was encouraged to find relevant and useful employment during my summer months. Now I realise the wealth of knowledge I gained from my relatively short periods working for the Forestry Service (Coillte) in Ireland and the research laboratories at NUI Galway. But to have had a full year would have served me well in finding employment upon graduation.

The skills and knowledge gained in industry becomes invaluable when in competition with other graduates for that all important first job. However, I also think that I served an important purpose for my various employers, keeping the day-to-day functioning going for other more established colleagues.

As a tutor, I’m always proud to visit an employer and find that the student has exceeded their expectations. In most cases, students complete grounding but important repetitive actions to ensure the smooth running of an organization. They are often rewarded for their diligence as they move through their placement with more responsibility and more ownership of their work.

As a placement tutor it’s my role to ensure that the student is making progress and that both parties are getting a good return on their investment. Students invest time and often quite a lot of their own money into their placement year (between fees and living costs). Employers must allocate resources, whether that is work shadowing in the early days or, and we very much encourage this, a stipend for the student working for them.

We are all invested in the smooth running of the placement and many of our employers have continued to take placement students on, over decades. As a university, we are so enamoured with the placement year that it continues to be central to our courses developed during our recent curriculum review (Harper Forward). As a university, we employ placement students as well.

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