(How) Do work placements work? Scrutinizing the quantitative evidence for a theory-driven future research agenda

While supervised work placements are increasingly popular in higher education, evidence regarding their effects on career outcomes remain somewhat sparse and atheoretical. The aim of this systematic literature review is to evaluate the effectiveness of placements for career outcomes and to identify any underpinning core psychological processes and to offer a theoretically grounded framework for future research. Drawing on transition theory (Schlossberg, 1981) and career construction theory (Savickas, 1997), we argue that supervised work experiences are central transition experiences that enable social learning processes and trigger changes in a person's identity development as a professional, thereby increasing career resources and employability which in turn affect future career outcomes positively. We screened 2394 systematically selected abstracts across several databases and disciplines. Only quantitative studies that either offered a control-group or a longitudinal design were included, resulting in an in-depth review of 40 studies, applying a rigorous evaluation protocol. Placement participation elicits an overall positive (but small) effect on career outcomes: Graduates who completed a work placement found employment more quickly. Work placements also changed students' perceptions of self-efficacy, their knowledge, skills, and attitudes. We suggest that these changes could be seen as indicative of the proposed social learning processes and identity changes that positively affect career resources. Our review points to several gaps in the literature, and building on existing career theories, we develop a theoretical model and offer new avenues for future research to integrate the heterogenic field of placement research and inform career research in other areas.