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Is it right for me?

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While hiring a student is outside the scope of the Specialist Skills Support Programme, it is worth considering starting with a student placement or internship enabling your business to experience working with students prior to long term employment. A student placement or internship may create links to permanent graduate employees, in which case these graduate employees would be able to take part in the Specialist Skills Support Programme's graduate networking opportunities. We have provided some useful information and advice in the sections below about recruiting students, should this be of interest to you, and there is more support available related to this from the Unviersity of York's Careers and Placements team.

When exploring the possibility of recruiting a student or graduate into your organisation, there are a number of factors to consider, including the benefits that they might bring, the advice and support a university can provide, and the different ways you might engage a student or graduate with your business.

The following tabs are intended as an introduction to what’s available. To investigate the actions you should take to progress your plans, see ‘How do I go about it?’ 

Why should I hire a student or graduate?

While you could consider hiring a school leaver or, at the other end of the spectrum - an experienced hire, the new graduate option provides you with a useful middle ground. Someone who combines keenness and a fresh perspective with ambition and higher level skills, and doesn’t have the same salary expectations as an experienced individual.

There are several categories of university student or graduate that you might consider employing, each potentially bringing different advantages to your business.  

Current student 

If you’re considering graduate recruitment, taking on a current student for an internship or placement is a good way to explore the possibilities on a temporary basis. 

You can expect a current student to bring their curiosity and desire to learn, alongside a range of skills that academic learning will have already instilled in them – including time management, research skills, problem solving and self-motivation. To find out more about the skills a student develops while at university, read the QS Top Universities blog on five soft skills you develop while at university. The University of Leeds library also provides a more detailed summary of academic skills.

In this case study from the University of York, the employer explains why they choose to employ student interns and how they benefit from them.  

International student 

Recruiting an international graduate in the UK requires an awareness of detailed rules and regulations, many of which are subject to change. In April 2021, the International Student Employability Group created this useful guide for employers

Utilising the skills and experience of an international student is much more straightforward. Their cultural knowledge and language skills could benefit your business in a range of ways, from developing international marketing materials to providing insight into an overseas business market for potential import/export activities. A recent employer of two international student interns explains, their ‘outstanding commitment has enabled us to begin development of a reputation as a trusted advisor to Chinese firms investing in the UK.’ 

The University of York’s page on international talent offers further suggestions. 


Graduates want to create a strong impression in their first graduate role, learning about your business and bringing a new perspective, so recruiting the right person can be an enriching and developmental process for you too. As this will often be their first career role, you have the opportunity to teach them and help them to become the employee that you need.

The Graduate Recruitment Bureau describes 7 benefits of hiring graduates, ranging from affordability to an injection of new perspectives. 


If their subject of study is relevant to your business, postgraduates will clearly have a deeper knowledge. But they also have additional skills and experience to draw on, for example from independently managing their own research project. The University of Edinburgh describes what postgraduates gain from their studies in more detail, and the University of York postgraduate talent pages explain what a postgraduate student has to offer an employer.

Why would they want to work for an SME?

Much of the online discussion about graduate recruitment tends to come from, or refer to, large corporate recruiters, so you might assume that most graduates find work with those companies. It is true to say the SMEs are often overlooked by students and graduates hunting for jobs, but this is largely down to lack of awareness as they don’t have recognisable names or offer high profile graduate schemes.

But this is changing. Graduate career experts at Prospects conducted a survey showing that over a third of students and graduates who were looking for work, hoped to work for an SME.

Employee engagement specialists Sodexo Engage, focused their results on the millennial generation (those born between 1980-2000) who by 2020 were predicted to make up 50% of the workforce. They found that 47% of those surveyed viewed SMEs as the ideal business size to work in, and expected SMEs to offer a friendlier company culture, more individualised attention, and ideas to be treated more equally.

Millennials expect SMEs to offer a friendlier company culture, more flexible working hours, more individualised attention and for their ideas to be treated more equally. These are all important elements for a generation who value meaningful motivation, social interaction and good relationships with superiors.

Generation Z is largely still in the education system, and most current students and new graduates will fall into this category. Research is ongoing about their workplace characteristics, but some early observations include an entrepreneurial outlook, a need for financial security (perhaps due to growing up during a recession) and a strong desire to make the world a better place. Like their millennial colleagues, Generation Z will also favour the closer knit company culture offered by an SME.

The support available within a university

If you’re thinking of recruiting a student or graduate, there are multiple ways in which a university can support you. A good place to start is the careers department website at the institution(s) you are thinking of targeting, which will usually have a dedicated section for employers.  

Some universities have a webpage specifically outlining support for SMEs, including the University of Birmingham, Durham University, and University of Hull. These pages provide a useful overview of what might be possible.

Advertising your vacancies

Most institutions have their own vacancy database, which students and graduates can log on to. You can use these to promote graduate jobs, part-time jobs, volunteering opportunities, internships and placements, and even fellowships and apprenticeships – usually free of charge.

Yorkshire Graduates, which is managed in partnership with the region’s university careers departments, is another useful platform for vacancy advertising, although there will be a charge for their services.

Access to students, through events and activities

There are numerous opportunities to engage with students throughout the academic year, building your profile and learning more about the future graduates you might recruit. These include:

  • Attending recruitment fairs – both in person and virtual
  • Delivering skills workshops aligned with your expertise 
  • Running competitions and challenges
  • Being an assessor for student skills awards or other initiatives
  • Introducing your brand through pop-ups on campus
  • Offering projects for students to work on as part of their degree studies or as an extracurricular activity
  • Becoming a career mentor
  • Offering insight days where students can visit your business to get a feel for the culture.

Different universities will offer varying activities and opportunities, but as a minimum there will usually be a recruitment fair of some kind and a programme of skills workshops or employer presentations.

Providing internships and placement support

If you decide to recruit an intern through a university-led programme, there will be support available – ranging from pre-selection support and interview facilities on campus, to on-site supervisory visits and awards ceremonies at the end of the programme.

Placements are usually offered across a range of academic departments, with some institutions offering all students the choice of a centrally overseen placement opportunity. Again there are many ways in which the institution can support you, including provision of a dedicated contact, visits, and assessment and evaluation. 

You can explore internships and placements in more detail in the next section.

Internships and placements explained

interns outside council offices


An internship is a fixed period of work experience, usually taking place during a university holiday period, although some part-time internships might run during term-time. They are offered to current students, or sometimes to new graduates, who are looking to build their skills and experience.

An internship offers you an opportunity to assess a student or graduate’s capabilities, and many employers end up recruiting student interns once they graduate.

Typical tasks are project based, and might include conducting research, updating a website or creating a social media marketing campaign. 

Most university careers websites will have a dedicated webpage that explains the process. Examples that provide FAQs and further detail include the University of York’s York Internships, and the University of Sheffield’s recruit a student or graduate. While the details and logistics may vary between institutions, these pages provide a useful overview of what’s involved. 

If an intern is classed as a ‘worker’, they are entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage. GOV.UK provides further details and definitions on their employment rights and pay for interns page. Different institutions will have varying guidelines, for example recommending higher rates of pay for postgraduate students or those with relevant subject specific skills. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growth in virtual internships, ie those that can be conducted remotely. The Open University has been an early adopter of this format and provides a helpful snapshot, including feedback from students and employers. The University of York provides a handy set of hints and tips and project examples.


A placement, also known as a sandwich placement, placement year, industrial placement or year in industry, typically lasts for 9-12 months and is usually related to the student’s subject of study. They are often undertaken at the end of the student’s penultimate year. However, there can be many variations, as you can see in Teesside University’s employer guide.  

Placement provision may be led by the academic department involved, but a central department such as the careers team or employer engagement team, might also take the lead.

If a work-placement is a compulsory part of their degree studies, the employer is under no obligation to pay the student. However, if the placement is optional and has a broader employability perspective, the student will be entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Many institutions will recommend that all placement students receive payment, including a higher rate of pay for more specialist, technical roles. This will also enhance your reputation as an employer.

The University of Essex provides a handy Placement Provider Guide (PDF , 265kb), which will give you a useful insight into what might be involved in recruiting a placement student, and Sheffield Hallam University provides some interesting case studies to show how local businesses have benefited from placement student input. The University of Newcastle’s Guidance for employers – recruiting a placement student also provides a useful overview.

Knowledge transfer explained

The University of Cambridge describes knowledge transfer as "a term used to encompass a very broad range of activities to support mutually beneficial collaborations between universities, businesses and the public sector."

Knowledge transfer is key remit for UK universities, and most institutions will have a dedicated department. There is a significant body of literature exploring knowledge transfer and collaboration between higher education institutions and SMEs, but the focus for the information in these pages is on student and graduate engagement.

A particularly relevant scheme is the knowledge transfer partnership (KTP), which brings together: 

  • a UK-based business of any size or a not-for-profit organisation (including social enterprises and charities)
  • a knowledge base, which could be a university, college, research and technology organisation or Catapult centre in the UK
  • a suitably-qualified graduate, with the capability to lead a strategic business project

Each year, more than 300 graduate vacancies are advertised through this route.

The GOV.UK website provides a detailed overview of what KTPs are and how to apply. shares a useful blog post about what a KTP can do for you, including helping you to develop new products, embed new skills and improve the efficiency of your business to increase profits.

If you visit the websites of the universities that interest you and search for knowledge transfer partnerships, you will usually find a dedicated page, including an information booklet or short introductory video, eg University of York, University of Hull, University of Bradford, Leeds Beckett University.

Degree level apprenticeships explained

Degree apprenticeships are designed in partnership between employers, professional bodies and universities. They offer the apprentice the benefits of a higher education qualification alongside a salary, practical experience and employment skills. 

Completing a degree apprenticeship can take 2-5 years, and apprentices spend 20% of their time on study and 80% of their time at work.

From an employer’s perspective, they offer an opportunity to upskill staff, either existing or new recruits, and some universities will support you in recruiting apprentices.

Teesside University has a really useful webpage, which includes short videos and a downloadable guide explaining more about what a degree apprenticeship is, how it works and the benefits to employers.

Each university will offer a programme of apprenticeship courses, but these are being expanded all the time. Programmes can cover a range of sectors from business management to engineering and nursing.

The Office for Students also provides a useful overview of degree apprenticeships, including advice on how to recruit, and the funding and finance available.