In a highly competitive technology skills environment, student work placements offer a low-risk recruitment strategy for firms looking to access the best junior engineering talent coming through university. This summer, CW is partnering with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and the UK Electronic Skills Foundation (UKESF) to encourage more organisations within our technology community to consider taking on one or more work placement students.
The shortage of skilled talent coming into the technology sector is not a new story for anyone – especially not for recruiters. And now, with artificial intelligence, IoT and big data offering productivity savings and new revenue streams in industries as diverse as utilities, construction, life sciences and finance, the demand for high quality STEM skills is accelerating among traditional tech firms and ambitious “vertical” sectors alike. The latest figures from Engineering UK’s 2018 report predicts an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 skilled individuals, and a graduate level shortfall of 22,000 per year (2014-2024).
There is a critical shortfall in engineering skills across qualification levels and core and related engineering occupations. Given the supply of engineering talent coming from the educational pipeline through apprenticeships and higher education, we estimate there to be a shortfall of between 37,000 to 59,000 in meeting an annual demand for 124,000 core engineering roles requiring Level 3+ skills. Within this, we expect a graduate-level shortfall of at least 22,000 per year.
There is so much that the technology industry needs to do to continue to grow and diversify its skills base, ranging (to name but a few) from co-ordinated school engagement to work experience programmes and blind recruitment processes. Committed to addressing this issue, the UKESF is a not for profit whose mission is to encourage more young people to study Electronics and to pursue careers in the sector. Led by CEO Stew Edmondson, the team works collaboratively with major companies, leading universities and other organisations to tackle the skills shortage in the Electronics sector. A number of CW’s members are already engaged with their programmes, including Arm, Qualcomm, IC Resources and Plextek.
UKESF would like to see more engineering firms offer student work placements and supporting undergraduates in their professional development, so that when they graduate these students are equipped with work-ready skills and experience.
“We firmly believe that we, as an industry, need to do more to support those studying at university. The IET reports that only 37% of respondents to their survey on Skills & Demand in Industry provided work placements to engineering and technology students. This is disappointingly low percentage; investing in undergraduates to give them practical real-world experiences that complement their academic studies is a real ‘win-win’.”
Stewart Edmondson, CEO of UKESF
Placements are a mutually beneficial process that offers invaluable return to both employer and student. For the business, placements offer a low-risk talent pipeline through which you, secure in the knowledge of an individual’s performance and capabilities, can offer graduate contracts; it also creates opportunities through which you can train future managers (line-managing a work placement student is a great first step on the managerial ladder), and it ensures that your organisation plays its part in nurturing the future of the UK’s engineering skills base.
The placement students recruited from Anglia Ruskin have been of the highest calibre and have given Aseptika a boost in skills, creativity and have been great fun to work alongside. The input and hard work of the placement students has supported us in launching new products and achieve ever higher regulatory standards that will benefit the business in the long term. The success of the placement scheme in its first two years has helped to make it an integral part of Aseptika's recruitment strategy and we have every confidence that these young professionals will use to their advantage, the real-world learning gained, which will help them fully achieve their potential in combination with their University education. We are delighted to see that the student industrial placements with us significantly boosts their levels of attainment when they return to complete their final academic year.
For the student, it is a second-to-none experience for developing skills, experience, self-awareness and professional goals before being fully immersed in business-life post graduation.
What is a student work placement?
A number of engineering courses at universities across the UK, including at ARU, offer students a 4-year degree option within which the undergraduates are expected to spend one year (typically the third) outside of the classroom putting theory into practice, before returning to the classroom for the final year. For this placement year, students are given tasks in line with their skills and experience, they are supported in their professional and personal development by the business, and they are paid (national minimum wage at the least, but many firms offer more generous packages).
Placements at ARU are a minimum of 38 weeks long, and Sarah Stokes from the Placements Team at ARU is always available to both employers and students for support throughout the process.
“Supporting students with their work placements is such a rewarding experience. At the start there are the highs and lows of making applications and supporting students through the interview process followed by the nerves and anticipation of watching them go out and start a new role. It is when students return to university after completing their placements where you see the real difference; increased confidence, motivation, professionalism and a more ambitious outlook. It really is a visible transformation and an invaluable experience as far as we are concerned.”
Sarah Stokes, Anglia Ruskin University
This year, ARU have been seeking placements for the following subject areas:
Computer Gaming Technology
Business Information Systems
*recruitment for this course staring form September 2019
Other routes to supporting students coming into STEM jobs are available, for example the UKESF Scholarship scheme which supports organisations in delivering impactful work placements over a summer rather than a full year.
UKESF Scholarship Scheme
The UKESF Scholarship Scheme connects the most capable Electronics undergraduates with sector-specific companies for summer work placements and offers them an annual bursary and a personal development workshop. For the business, the team at UKESF manages the whole application and screening process in order to allow companies to mentor the electronic engineers of tomorrow. Of the 50 scholars who graduated in 2017, 72% were awarded a first class honours degree.
View from students
Feedback from students who have been through a work placement programme is overwhelmingly positive. The undergraduates value the experience for the confidence it has given them, and for the process’ ability to demonstrate the relevance of what the students have learned in the classroom.
“It made me feel confident because it made me realise that I do know what I’m talking about and everything I had learnt at university in the last two years was applicable. They started to let me do more tasks unsupervised and now I have people coming directly to me for help.”
BSc Network Infrastructure and Security student
While the experience is not easy, the students learn rapidly what behaviour and performance is expected of them, and they flourish under the supportive management of the organisations who employ them – as well as through the support of the team back at the University who keep tabs on what their students are doing!
“Starting work at [my placement company] was the steepest learning curve I have ever experienced. It very quickly helps you realise what you do know, and more importantly what you don’t know. The work placement has given me an experience that you just can’t get from uni on its own.”
BSc (hons) Computer Science student
Students recognise that spending a year on a work placement boosts their employability above that of their peers and opens doors to the best jobs in the industry, both through strong CV evidence of work experience and through the soft skills developed during their time in an office environment that can shine through at interview.
“It has opened many doors for me. I’ve matured professionally, boosted my soft skills immensely and gained a corporate character. I’ve made many new connections and life-long friends!
I’ve also grew as a person – I started doing things that used to intimidate me, started leaving my comfort zone more often and got to explore the life in the “Silicon Valley of Europe” - Cambridge.”
BSc (hons) Computer Networks student
Students on work placements value the respect that they earn among their teams during their year in business, and enjoy the opportunity given to them by their management to own tasks, working autonomously to deliver impact. The qualities implied in the student feedback demonstrates how responsible and ambitious many of the students coming through ARU’s courses are.
“From the beginning of the placement I was fully integrated into the team, not just treated as a student, and came to be trusted with tasks which may have had real impact for the category. The team I worked with were fully supportive of my development and there are many opportunities available if you ask for it… The placement has been a great learning experience both in and outside of the role and I would fully recommend participating in a placement year.”
BSc (hons) Forensic Science student
What can you do about it?
If you think that your business might be able to offer a student placement, Sarah at ARU or Stew at UKESF are available for a conversation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like us to facilitate an introduction.
CW will be working with ARU and UKESF to raise awareness of work placements. At CWIC 2019, UKESF will be presenting the award to the student winner of their “Radio Frequency Engineering & Communications Competition” and we encourage all delegates to meet with the finalists to find out more about the insightful work that led to their nomination.
“It was fascinating to hear what people outside of university thought of the work I had been doing…It is encouraging to see that companies are prepared to dedicate time and money to run this competition as I believe it shows a willingness to invest in the future of the RF industry and will hopefully encourage more students to consider doing their major projects in this area.”
Max Landles, UKESF RF Competition Finalist
Meanwhile CW will be welcoming ARU students to events throughout the year. If you see a student, we encourage you to ask them about their studies and professional goals! Who knows, they could be your company’s next best hire 😉
CW Business SIG event on 8 October exploring what a business needs to do to be attractive to the upcoming generation of technology leaders.