Is it possible to get your degree and enhance your experience with a year in industry? Well at CCCU, you can. Read Katie's experience with her placement year. 

Right now, there’s a bit of debate on whether going to uni is pointless these days. With an increased emphasis on apprenticeships, we’re sure it’s a topic that’s come across your radar, especially if you’re thinking about what to do after school or college.

But what if we told you that you could have the best of both worlds? That you could live the incredible uni life and gain the experience and skills needed to propel you into the workforce? That yes, not only can you finish uni with a new, shiny degree but you can also walk away with direct experience in industry and additional qualifications to add to your CV?

Sounds like the dream, right?

Well, this is the case for third year student Katie who is finishing her degree in Computer Forensics and Security. After her second year, Katie took a paid placement year, which enabled her to gain first-hand industry experience with the world-leading IT and business consulting company CGI.

Here Katie shares her experience with CGI and how it’s set her up for a rewarding career afterwards.

Learning how to navigate the workplace

“Working at CGI was a real learning curve. Learning how an international company navigates in so many different areas was an eye-opener. They range from cybersecurity, which is what I’m interested in, to business process management and IT infrastructure services.

“I was on the Early Careers programme where a range of people work together on projects that are specifically designed for placement students and new graduates.

“It was great working with other people as it taught me how to work with a team, which is such an essential skill in the workforce.

“Our particular project was working for the RNLI, and our theme was to create an educational tool. The brief was open to interpretation, so it gave us the space to get really creative. So, we created a virtual reality programme that helped to train young people to spot hazards in the sea. Our team created everything from the backend code to the frontend visuals.

“But it also taught us about the project life cycle and how this is implemented in the workplace. We also had to present our project to senior management to show our progress. This was one of my main focuses, and it taught me essential skills such as communication, how to present, and how to interact with the senior team.”

Support to continue learning

Not only did Katie gain vital experience to showcase on her CV for when she starts to apply for graduate jobs, but she also gained an extra qualification and is now a certified data analyst.

“There were a lot of certifications that I was offered by the company. I took a data analyst course that was all paid for by CGI. We were encouraged to learn more during the placement so I took advantage of gaining a certificate for free.

“I also work-shadowed a lot and travelled to Reading to shadow someone who worked in digital forensics specifically as there wasn’t much of an opportunity to interact with this area in my office in Chippenham.

“There was just so much flexibility at CGI. We weren’t thrown into the deep end, but rather we were supported and challenged enough to really gain that first-hand industry experience.”

The importance of transferable skills

“My placement year taught me so much about life – about what it’s like to work in an office and how to act in a professional setting. It’s something I’d never experienced before. Not only did I move away on my own to a place which I knew nothing about, but I learned how to overcome my anxiety and be confident in the workplace.

“These transferable skills are what employers are essentially looking for because they can teach you the industry skills from scratch. But having those transferable skills, like teamwork and time management, is what’s going to make you employable.

“I also learned what I enjoy in the industry, which has helped me focus on which graduate jobs I want to apply for and which career path I want to focus on. And the entire application process for placements is very similar to applying for graduate schemes, so I feel much more prepared compared to some who didn’t have a placement year.”

An abundance of opportunities at university

“Knowing that I was going back to uni after my placement year was great because I realised how much support and opportunity there is. When you’re at uni, opportunities are made so accessible. You can’t get a job with just a degree these days; you need that extra edge. And there’s so much at CCCU that you can do.

“So, this year I’ve joined three societies. I just really want to get stuck in and enjoy my last year. It’s a lot of hard work but with my degree and my placement year, I’ve learned so much and I definitely feel prepared for life after graduation.

“My advice to future students is to get involved with as much as you can at uni. And persevere. Applying for placement roles can be tough. It’s competitive out there. But just keep persevering and you’ll get to where you want to go.”