Photo: Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons

In the context of graduate job applications increasingly demanding years of relevant work experience, the pressure to find summer placements builds year upon year. And yet, arranging real world work experience can prove difficult and time-consuming, particularly if left to the last minute when revision makes conflicting demands on students’ time.

The St Andrews Career Centre’s Work Shadowing Programme aims to make the process of arranging placements as easy as possible. By pooling the expertise of hundreds of St Andrews Alumni, the scheme offers a diverse and international range of work shadowing opportunities open exclusively to applications from St Andrews students.

The Saint spoke to Sam Ross, the student in charge of the scheme, about why the Career Centre is encouraging St Andrews students to spend their summers shadowing professionals. Ms Ross explains that work shadowing, which is usually a shorter commitment than an internship or work experience placement, is the perfect “opportunity to try something new which might change your mind as to which career is best suited to you.”

Last academic year, the Careers Centre ran two versions of the Work Shadowing Programme, both of which proved popular among students. The Winter programme included work shadowing opportunities taking place during the Winter Break and received 389 student applications. The Summer programme received over 750 applications, an increase that was matched by the rocketing numbers of host applications from St Andrews Alumni. This summer, the Careers Centre advertised 174 unique Work Shadowing opportunities. Ms Ross expressed excitement about this upward trend continuing into the next academic year, commenting that she is “pursuing a lot more businesses over the summer so hopefully this number increases further!”

One startling aspect of the list of Work Shadowing opportunities listed on the Career Centre’s website is how international a scheme it has become, appealing to students no matter where they go home for the summer. Twenty-one different countries participated this year and while the majority of opportunities on offer came from across the USA and the UK, others came in from more exotic regions including Trinidad and Tobago, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Jennifer Bone, a fourth year Italian and Philosophy student, took full advantage of the international reach of the programme. Ms Bone’s decision to apply for a placement at a British School in Athens, Greece, stemmed from her experiences on her year abroad in Italy working as an English Language Assistant through the British Council. She explains, “during this time, I discovered that my favourite age group was that of the younger students in first/second year and so I decided that, at the end of the placement I would like to try out helping within a primary school too in order to find out whether it was something I would consider as a career possibility.”

The experience of working in a school abroad has proved invaluable to Ms Bone, who says that “it added to my understanding of the differences in teaching styles throughout the world, as well as opening my eyes to the many exciting career opportunities available abroad.”

During Ms Bone’s Work Shadowing placement, she not only observed staff at Campion Junior School but was also able to assist in many different classes with a wide range of age groups. Ms Bone is grateful that she had the opportunity to chat to other staff about their teaching experiences, which she notes “helped me to have a better understanding of the amount of preparation that goes into their class ideas and projects created throughout the year.”

The Work Shadowing Programme is a fantastic way to connect with St Andrews Alumni in their chosen career paths. These paths are wonderfully varied, resulting in opportunities to shadow everyone from the Start Manager of GB Rowing Team, to the Fife Councillor and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, to the Resident Lighting Designer for the New York City Ballet, alongside more conventional careers such as doctors, bankers and lawyers.

It is the St Andrews connection that makes the Work Shadowing scheme special. As Ms Ross notes, “paid internships are not the only important work experience you can get – it’s great to meet up with alumni to see how far they have come and to expand your network.” Ms Bone’s experience is testament to this. She was “made to feel extremely welcome” by her host, Judith Whitehead, Head Teacher at Campion Junior School, who even invited Ms Bone “to stay at their house for the duration of the placement and see some great parts of Athens [and] make new friends while there too!” Ms Ross also knows of students who have kept in contact with their hosts and been given references by Alumni they have met during the programme.

The scale of a Work Shadowing placement arranged through the programme depends on the individual opportunity, ranging from a day spent at a company to weeks of work experience in the Summer. Even if an application does not result in a placement, the Work Shadowing programme has led to other useful opportunities for students, including Skype calls and email Q&A sessions.

Ms Ross also knows of unsuccessful applicants to Work Shadowing opportunities at private investment firm Cairngorm Capital who she says “were [instead] offered to spend a day with them working on their CV”, adding that, “this was greatly appreciated by both me and the students.”

The Careers’ Centre has succeeded in making the Work Shadowing Programme useful to students regardless of their interests and year group. Commenting on the variety of this year’s Work Shadowing opportunities, Ms Ross says that “most interesting really depends on your preference but for me the most interesting ones were start ups — though they weren’t offering opportunities shadowing professions that appealed to me, it was interesting to see how well the companies were doing and where the hosts were a couple of years after their graduation. It was also great to see a lot of medicinal opportunities (even though I faint at the sight of blood) and to see a response police sergeant in Fife offer to participate.”

The breakdown of student applications to the Summer programme shows that it is certainly not only for sub-honours students. Only 143 of the 753 applications came from first years, although as Ms Ross notes that this is understandable as they may “want to make the most of their time at home after a year away.” 37 student applications came from postgraduates, while the majority of applications came unsurprisingly from second and third year students.

Whether you are looking to test out a possible career path or to gain contacts and seek out advice from professionals in your preferred field, the Work Shadowing Programme is an invaluable and easy way to gain experience.

More information about upcoming Work Shadowing programmes can be found on the Career Centre’s website or at https://www.facebook.com/workshadowing/. Further inquiries may be sent to Sam Ross at workshad@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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