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Exploring the impact of an industrial placement year on students' competency development: a three-cohort, longitudinal study

Helen Philippa Narelle Hughes (Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Maria Mouratidou (Institute of Business, Industry and Leadership, University of Cumbria, Carlisle, UK)
William E. Donald (Southampton Business School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK) (Organizational Behavior and HRM, Ronin Institute, Montclair, New Jersey, USA)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 31 May 2023

Issue publication date: 8 November 2023




Drawing on human capital theory and sustainable career theory, this paper aims to explore the impact of undertaking an industrial placement on the “Great Eight” competencies as perceived by university students and line managers.


618 students and their line managers across three cohorts (pre-COVID-19) took part in a longitudinal quantitative study. Students completed a three-wave questionnaire at the placement's start, middle, and end. Line managers completed the questionnaire during waves two and three to offer 360-degree feedback. Descriptive statistics and repeated measures ANOVA were applied to the dataset.


The impacts of undertaking a placement were highly variable for different competencies at the sub-scale level, although at the eight-scale level, the nuance was less pronounced. However, students self-perceived that all eight competencies increased between the start and end of the placement. Surprisingly, line managers perceived students' competencies to be higher than perceived by the students.


The value of undertaking a placement is often poorly measured (e.g. satisfaction) rather than competency-based outcomes, which can lead to conclusions that are overly simplistic and difficult to use in practice. Theoretically, this study advances understanding of human capital theory and sustainable career theory by understanding the role placements can play in developing human capital and preparing university students for sustainable careers. Practically, the findings of this study can help to close the university–industry skills gap by informing curriculum and placement scheme design and supporting students to acquire personal resources and signal these to prospective employers as an antecedent to career sustainability.



Hughes, H.P.N., Mouratidou, M. and Donald, W.E. (2023), "Exploring the impact of an industrial placement year on students' competency development: a three-cohort, longitudinal study", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 1218-1233.



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