Thursday, 29 May 2014

#PlaceNet14 in Review

Between 21-23 May, Trustees, Members and Presenters gathered for the PlaceNet Annual Conference. #PlaceNet14 was held in the Leeds Marriott Hotel with a delegate list including representatives from 28 universities. In addition to regular attendees were a number of fresh faces, new to PlaceNet or having recently joined the industry. For the first time, the conference was sponsored, thanks to the Cogent Placement Service.

Following a welcome speech from PlaceNet Chair Matthias Feist, which included the announcement of the 4 July event in Coventry, the conference got underway with the first of several pitches from presenters to the floor. This was a new innovation for the conference, in which presenters from parallel sessions were given a couple of minutes to provide an overview of their topic before delegates voted with their feet. First up there was RateMyPlacement who talked about student engagement, while in the break out room were representatives of Sagar Wright discussing their experience as a small company of working with a university placement office to stage an assessment centre to recruit interns.

Martin Edmondson of Gradcore addressed the conference to offer insight into engaging with small and medium sized employers, before Charlie Ball from HECSU discussed DLHE, and how the work of Placement Officers impacts on employment outcomes. Delegates enjoyed an impromptu drinks reception courtesy of Sagar Wright before dinner, while the evening networking session sponsored by RateMyPlacement proved very popular. There was even time for a bit of television celebrity spotting, with Mr Tumble posing for 'placement selfies' with delegates.

Thursday saw the conference hall filled to capacity with the addition of day delegates. Dr Lorna Warnock kicked off proceedings by giving a very interesting presentation about how York University has been developing PhD internships, before sharing a competency framework that has been created to break down for employers what they can expect when hiring undergraduate, masters or PhD students.

The first 'pitching contest' of the day saw PlaceNet Trustees Mike Grey and Sarah Sheikh go head to head with Faizan Patankar from the Career Geek Blog. While Mike and Sarah offered an insight into international placements, Faizan shared his perspective on the use of social media in engaging with students. Speaking as a former intern and international student, he explained how an effective use of technology could help break down barriers for international students in accessing careers services. Faizan also talked about different social media platforms and offered examples of good practice.

In the afternoon session, Jo Chester from Cummins who hire 150-170 placement students a year, gave a recruiter's perspective on writing CVs, highlighting that there is no perfect formula but it is vital to target both the employer and the role, while a cover letter is the opportunity to demonstrate enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Pauline Maden from Cogent talked about the Cogent Placement Service, the background behind its creation and goal to reverse the trend for reducing numbers of placements in the life sciences sector.

Rounding off the afternoon was James Waring from Nicholas Associates who provided an overview and then a demonstration of the All Together work placement software. James and his colleague Charmian Roberts had also been on hand throughout the day to speak to delegates during breaks. Thursday's networking session left attendees shaken not stirred receiving a course in cocktail making in the 1871 Bar. Dinner followed in Bibi's restaurant  while evening drinks were provided by conference sponsor Cogent

The final day of #PlaceNet14 got underway in a rather light-hearted fashion. Trustee Alex Elkins compered a session on When Placements Go Bad, during which he recounted anonymised anecdotes submitted by delegates of when a placement had ended in unusual circumstances. Prizes were awarded to Emily Timson for most prolific conference tweeter, while Martin Perfect lived up to his name and was rewarded for making the best cocktail during the Thursday social event.

The important business of the day got underway with the PlaceNet AGM, in which accounts were presented and Trustees Matthias Feist, Jan Fielding, Virginia Goodwill and Sarah Sheikh were re-elected for a further three years. The conference was brought to a close by the PlaceNet Chair who thanked presenters and delegates for attending, and praised the work of the organising team for putting on a great conference.

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