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In this paper we explore how the ‘employable’ student and ‘ideal’ future creative worker is prefigured, constructed and experienced through higher education work placements in the creative sector, based on a recent small-scale qualitative study. Drawing on interview data with students, staff and employers, we identify the discourses and practices through which students are produced and produce themselves as neoliberal subjects. We are particularly concerned with which students are excluded in this process. We show how normative evaluations of what makes a ‘successful’ and ‘employable’ student and ‘ideal’ creative worker are implicitly classed, raced and gendered. We argue that work placements operate as a key domain in which inequalities within both higher education and the graduate labour market are (re)produced and sustained. The paper offers some thoughts about how these inequalities might be addressed.