Don’t be deterred by contractual obligations

Employers – Are you thinking about starting a placement scheme? Great! Are you worrying about the long-term commitment? Don’t!

Organisations considering running a program of undergraduate placements sometimes worry that it will be a long-term commitment. Such fear can completely destroy any prospect of creating a placement scheme. It’s good to remember that these things don’t have to last forever.

Man Signing Contract

[Image courtesy of]

When I first went to university as an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to find an employer running a placement scheme. They agreed to employ and train me in my holidays for four years as an undergraduate trainee, paying me for a total of 18 months before I graduated. My first training manager made only one stipulation – there was no commitment. He was not bound to offer me a permanent position; and I was not bound to return as a graduate. That struck me as odd, particularly as other potential employers were more demanding, insisting that I return to them for at least a year after graduating. So I asked him why he was so relaxed about it. It was an interesting story.

He had joined the RAF at the age of 18, lured by the prospect of travelling the world. In return for the unparalleled training they would give him, he was required to sign up for 12 years’ service to Queen and country. Over those years he enjoyed every minute of his dream job and never wanted it to end… but deep inside him a clock was ticking, counting down the years until he had met his 12-year commitment. So when he was eventually free to leave, he resigned his commission and left. He always regretted that decision. It had been the wrong one – resulting solely from finally being free from a contractual obligation. Recognising that the circumstances had led him to take the wrong decision, he vowed never to impose such a restriction on others.

Placements don’t need to be a two-way commitment – at least not in a contractual sense. Some trainees may feel morally obliged to return; some may even feel it’s the most convenient thing to do. Either way it needs both parties, student and employer, to be comfortable with the arrangement. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Organisations which provide placements for students can gain in several ways:

  • An additional pair of young hands brings energy, enthusiasm, ideas and youth.
  • Having younger people on board can boost existing staff and give them opportunities to mentor and lead.

There is an endless supply of students to replace those who choose to go elsewhere on graduation – just as there is an endless supply of more experienced employees to replace those who leave for any number of reasons. Contractual obligations are unlikely to help.


Feel free to comment on this post – I’d be interested to hear your views.
Inixiti – Improving graduate employability. Click here to visit the website.


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