Surprise and sense making: undergraduate placement experiences in SMEs

Andreas Walmsley (Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)
Rhodri Thomas (Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)
Stephanie Jameson (Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Publication date: 1 June 2006



This paper seeks to explore undergraduate placement experiences in tourism and hospitality SMEs, focusing on the notions of surprise and sense making. It aims to argue that surprises and sense making are important elements not only of the adjustment process when entering new work environments, but also of the learning experience that placements provide.


In‐depth interviews were conducted with 20 students who had recently completed a 48 week placement.


The paper finds that the surprises students encountered were not as dramatic as the literature on organisational entry suggests. This is partially explained by students already having gained substantial amounts of work experience prior to the placement. A number of SME‐characteristic employment experiences were confirmed while others were questioned.

Research limitations/implications

Further detailed research is required that takes a more holistic account of the placement experience in order to understand more fully the impact of placement on learning and career choices.

Practical implications

The paper raises important questions about the value of undergraduate placements in an age of mass higher education where many students work part‐time.


An apparent lack of reflection hindered the sense making process, which raises questions as to whether placements are achieving their potential for experiential learning.



Walmsley, A., Thomas, R. and Jameson, S. (2006), "Surprise and sense making: undergraduate placement experiences in SMEs", Education + Training, Vol. 48 No. 5, pp. 360-372.

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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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