A period of work placement is incorporated into many of the undergraduate degrees here at UCC. Today’s employers are looking for candidates with both academic prowess and practical work experience. It’s no longer enough to study hard and achieve good grades, employers expect you to have hands-on experience in your chosen industry. The value of work placement includes networking and the chance to put your theoretical knowledge into practice. The Higher Education Authority recognises this value and is mandated to increase work placements in academic programmes over the next five to ten years.
University Express spoke with MSc Human Nutrition and Dietetics student Ciara O’Connor about her work placement at Anheuser Busch InBev in Belgium completed during her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Sciences, to gain some insight into what placement is like for UCC students. Ciara spoke about the work placement process, from her first interview to a typical day working at AB-InBev.
UCC Nutritional Sciences students undertake a 6-month work placement in their third year between the months of March and September. The work placement manager assigned to the programme, liaises with employers to source relevant opportunities. Students are then given a list of companies from which to choose a minimum number of companies that they would be happy to do their placement with. CVs are sent out to the companies by the placement manager and the students wait to be called for an interview. Ciara described this wait as quite stressful saying, “It was about 3 weeks before I landed my first interview partially due to the fact that I had not chosen any of the companies that tended to interview early. Therefore, a lot of my classmates had already secured their placements and I had not even done one interview.” This period is one of the most nerve-wracking for students set to go on placement as Ciara told me that many rumours of “people not securing placements or going for numerous interviews and being unsuccessful” circulated. She was relieved when she was finally invited to an online interview with AB-InBev, a multinational drinks and brewing company with its Global Innovation and Technology Centre (GiTEC) based in Leuven, Belgium. It sounds strange to us now but in those pre-Covid times, the idea of doing an interview via Zoom was unheard of and this was Ciara’s first online interview. The placement manager put Ciara in touch with past students who had done their placement at AB-InBev for online interview tips and general advice, which she said was “incredibly helpful.” Ciara describes this experience of going through the recruitment process online as “a blessing in disguise” as it set her up well for her Master’s interview which was pushed online due to the pandemic.
Ciara was told she was successful just two days after her interview and she immediately set about preparing for her move abroad, she tells me that she found her work placement manager, Clodagh Kerr, to be a huge support during this time: “My work placement manager was a great point of contact to have going through the placement process to act as a link between careers and my college course. I linked in with Clodagh on numerous occasions between securing my placement and leaving for Belgium as she provided me with all of the additional information and documentation for undertaking work placement abroad. I have to say she was incredibly helpful with any questions or concerns I had.”
Once in Leuven, Ciara was appointed to the Global Sensory and Consumer Science team as their Sensory Intern. Her role was to organise sensory testing sessions. All of AB-InBev’s products must go through the sensory testing process in order to find out how the product ages, what temperature it should be stored at and whether it needs to be stored in a brown or clear bottle.“A typical day for me would involve organising and attending meetings with various other departments that wanted to work with the sensory department, run sensory panel sessions with new alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that were being developed, management of product shipments that were used in the sensory sessions and working on various project presentations” said Ciara. In terms of her knowledge in the area of sensory science, Ciara was lucky “I completed a module on sensory science a few weeks before going on placement which gave me some base knowledge into the area but I learned most of what I know now on the job itself.”
Speaking on the culture at AB-InBev, Ciara describes it as “Quite relaxed. The dress code was very casual, it was an open-office environment where the managers and interns would sit at the same desks and there was an open bar every Thursday to get to know your colleagues.” This was a great opportunity to network and Ciara told me that she secured references from the people she worked with. While her placement was not hugely relevant to her end-goal of becoming a dietitian, Ciara explained to me how she benefitted in other ways, “I really do think that my placement gave me lots of other skills such as good people skills, time management, initiative and overall a huge confidence boost in my abilities.”
“For anyone that has the opportunity to go abroad for placement I would recommend it 100%.”
For more information on gaining work experience; CV and interview preparation; or job searching hints and tips go to the Careers Website. The Careers jobs portal promotes both graduate and summer placement opportunities and the UCC Works Award is another great forum which enables you to develop your employability skills.