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Practicals and Project Work at a Company: Career Building Blocks during your Degree Course


Gaining practical experience during your degree course is not only interesting. It often also opens up a direct route into a professional career. There are different ways to experience life at a company during your degree course - through project work or a practical, for example.

Praktika und Projektarbeit im Unternehmen: Karrierebausteine im Studium© peepo - iStockphoto.comStudents can make preliminary contact with the world of work through practicals or project work
A 2011 study conducted by the Higher Education Information System (HIS) entitled "Hochschulabschlüsse im Umbruch" ("University degrees in transition") revealed that around one fifth of all university graduates found their way into their first professional employment through practical experience gained during their course. According to the study, this is the case for an above-average number of engineering and natural science graduates but also for psychology and educational science students. The reason for this is clear: potential employers are able to acquaint themselves with the students. If the cooperation proves promising, the offer of a job often follows.

Use practical experience gained during your degree course - through project work, for example

The first step into the company is normally through a practical. Depending on the degree programme, mandatory practicals that are integrated into the timetable may be compulsory. The practice orientation is often particularly high in engineering and economic sciences. In some subjects, a practical or project work is also mandatory in combination with the final thesis. Should this be the case, contact is often established with companies that students are able to use to their advantage. As a rule, though, they are free to choose the company. The aim of this early cooperation between universities and companies is for students to apply the knowledge gained during their studies to real-life situations. Depending on the university, this practical phase during the degree course is known as "practical", "project within a company", "practical professional project", "project work", or "practical work". The emphasis is on implementation and written development of the project. Students will find details of the scope and duration of this work phase, the credit points awarded, and the assessment criteria in the study regulations of their department. Practicals and project work are often scheduled for the final phase in the degree course when students have successfully passed all examinations for the previous semesters.

Show self-initiative

Particularly students for whom the study regulations do not require compulsory practicals or project work should complete voluntary practicals to gain experience. For those planning to write their final thesis at a company, a practical beforehand is the perfect opportunity to familiarise themselves with the staff, the work climate and internal processes at the company. In contrast to compulsory practicals, voluntary placements must be completed during the semester holidays. Moreover, commensurate pay and pro-rated holiday leave are obligatory here. While a work contract is not mandatory, it is certainly beneficial to both parties to record the practical conditions in writing. The brochure prepared by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research entitled "Praktika - Nutzen für Praktikanten und Unternehmen" ("Practicals - the benefits for trainees and companies") provides a good overview of the rights and duties in addition to sample contracts. In a study by the Stifterverband, Cologne Institute for Economic Research and Higher Education Information System (HIS) entitled "Mit dem Bachelor in den Beruf" ("Career start with a Bachelor's degree"), both students and companies often criticise the brevity of the practical phases during Bachelor's degree courses. Particularly for Bachelor's students, ambitious timetabling means voluntary practical experience often leads to a delay in their studies. Room for improvement exists in many degree programmes.

Supporting a company as a working student

Another option to become a part of everyday professional life at an interesting company is a position as a working student. Working students work a maximum of 20 hours a week; only during the semester holidays, they are allowed to work longer. In contrast to other student jobs, this role is degree-relevant. Unlike trainees, working students work part-time, often for longer periods, and are in all cases paid. The hourly wage is between 8 and 14 Euros. Due to their student status, working students are not required to make social security contributions, though they normally have to pay into the state pension scheme. One further important difference to practicals and project work is that working students do not work on a specific project, but rather gain insight into different areas of a company over an extended period.

Varied practical experience in different companies will allow you to establish which direction you wish to take before completing your degree. What's more, working in a company during the degree course often gives rise to an opportunity to write your final thesis there - and this provides a further stepping-stone for direct entry into a company.

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academics :: November 2013