Prior to placement
Manage your budget
If you are working while studying placement hours may affect your employment and you will need to plan for this. You may, for example, have to cancel shifts or take unpaid leave to meet your fieldwork obligations. If this is likely to cause you serious financial difficulties speak to your education provider well in advance to learn what support, if any, is available in your circumstances.
Find out what is expected of you
Make sure you read your fieldwork placement handbook or manual before your placement begins. This may sound like obvious advice but who hasn’t put a lengthy document aside ‘for later’, or agreed to terms and conditions without a second thought? The manual tells you exactly what your education provider and host agency require. This may include reflective report due dates, appropriate work wear, host agency hours of operation etc. Read the handbook carefully to help you deliver a good first impression and avoid preventable mistakes.
Recognise a bad placement
This relates to the previous point and you should know what to expect in a placement. You are undertaking fieldwork to help you develop your professional practice skills and your responsibilities should be at the relevant and required skill level for your qualification. Case work, for example, does involve paperwork but you should not end up as a de facto admin assistant or receptionist. Manual work and personal care work should not make up more than 5% of a diploma level placement. If you believe that you are being assigned work that is not relevant to your course or below the skill level required report it to your fieldwork placement officer.
Keep in contact with your education provider
Your education provider will assign a fieldwork placement officer who is the liaison between you, the agency and the education provider. They will visit you on site at least once and also keep in contact via phone or video depending on the circumstances. Find out when and how these visits will happen as well as how to contact this person if a problem arises; they are a valuable resource to you when on placement. Getting this information before you start your placement can reduce stress later.
Listen to instructions
Again, this may seem obvious, but placements take place in real workplaces that provide services to real and often vulnerable clients. There will be times, especially early on, where your supervisor may want you to sit in on a client interaction and simply observe. Fieldwork should never be purely observational, however, watching experienced staff manage complex situations can help improve your own practice. At other times, and particularly as your placement progresses, you will be expected to participate and even demonstrate initiative. If you are unsure if you are supposed to join in or just observe, ask.
You are not expected to know everything straight away and asking questions actually demonstrates your eagerness to learn. Having said this, be thoughtful in when and where you ask questions – directly in front of a client may not be appropriate so make a written or mental note to ask later. It is also perfectly human to forget things, so if you need a reminder ask someone, no matter how embarrassed you may feel. For simple questions though first check any induction material the agency has given you, your personal notes and the organisation’s library of policies and procedures that you would have been expected to read.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Remember a placement is an extension of your learning; mistakes will be made and that’s okay. If something does go wrong, it is important to let your host supervisor know and try to understand how it happened and can be prevented in the future. You are working towards becoming a professional, but no one is judging you to that standard yet, so be kind to yourself.
Reflect on your experience
Relate it to the theory that you have learned so far in your course. Think about the impact of practice on clients, the effects of such things as social exclusion, racism, and the denial of human rights. Think about ethical practice and how you will deal with dilemmas when you are an autonomous worker in the field.
Avoid comparing your experience to that of other students
Some students have placements that go beyond their expectations and others will find themselves placed within service fields, or with agencies and supervisors, that do not suit them well. While course providers do their best, naturally some placements will work out better than others and afford greater opportunities. Sharing stories with one another can be a great bonding and learning experience but don’t get too caught up with what other students are doing. Focus on embracing your own experience and getting as much out of it as you can.
When it’s over
Continue to reflect on your placement
You would have been doing this throughout your fieldwork but stopping to debrief once it is all over can give you another perspective on things. Your reflective reports will likely prompt you through most of this, but you should also reflect personally and honestly about your performance and your expectations. This will help you prepare and possibly alter your approach for your second placement later in the course.
Use your experience to apply for work
Once you graduate make sure to highlight your fieldwork experience on your resume and during the recruitment process. Whilst it is not industry experience, your fieldwork can be used to show you have already developed key skills. Think about examples that can show your value to a potential employer. This is also a great way to prepare for interviews – recruiters often rely on behavioural questions when hiring people new to the field. You may be asked to give an example of when a client rejected your advice, or a situation when you were under pressure and be asked to describe how you managed the situation.
Maintain your industry connections
Having contacts in the sector can be a huge advantage when it comes to a starting a career. The people you worked with whilst on placement may be able to offer you advice, mentorship, or even provide a reference or recommendation for you in the future.
Remember that fieldwork is as integral to your qualification as learning theory and will provide you with insights into where your future career may lie.