Industry Placement Case Study: The Sainsbury Laboratory Norwich

Last year, The Sainsbury Laboratory on the Norwich Research Park hosted their first two T Level students on industry placements from their further education provider, City College Norwich. The placements were seen as a big success for the research institute with one student recruited as a part-time laboratory technician soon after. The Sainsbury Laboratory will continue to host more T Level students this year with high expectations of what these young people bring to the organisation and others like it. Here, three members of the institute’s senior management tell us about their experience and share their learning with other science employers thinking about getting involved with T Levels.

Business category:  Molecular biology

Industry placement: Science

Benefit to employer:  Pipeline of young people trained in vital technician roles

Us at a glance

The Sainsbury Lab is devoted to the study of disease and immunity in plants. By studying the whole basis of how the plant immune system works, it aims first to understand plant diseases and then to cure them. To do this, the lab identifies genes associated with disease and tries to understand their function. This involves cloning, gene editing, and genetic manipulation of plant species to test plant immunity. It then tries to manipulate the pathogens, bacteria and fungi that cause disease. 

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Nick Talbot, Executive Director and Group Leader

If you walk around the laboratory you’ll see some people working with high-end microscopes or mass spectrometers measuring different protein amounts within infected plant material. Other people will be at computer terminals looking at structures and doing data analysis.

What I hope we’ll gain from hosting T Level students is some enthusiastic young people who we can train to do this type of work. They’ll start in bioimaging, learning microscopy and mass spectrometry. Then by having a series of rotations through the laboratory, they'll pick up lots of different skills that will make them very well qualified across a whole broad range of areas – and that's quite rare now.

Hopefully they will be able ultimately to take on more senior technician roles and progress much further to become laboratory superintendents or senior technicians. These young people are totally essential to everything we're trying to do in science. And I just think if The Sainsbury Laboratory can be an exemplar of this and build that sort of community of T-level students – then great, we'll do all we can.

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Simon Foster, Laboratory Manager

We struggle to find people who are trained in technician roles because until now there hasn’t really been a direct route to pick up those skills. So it’s very attractive to have this opportunity to train T Level students as technicians and give them those skills from the ground. It gives us early access to that pool of people who are genuinely interested in the type of work we do here in the lab.

Given the breadth of work we have here, it’s been good for the students to move around and spend blocks of time in different teams. We’ve been finding that balance between moving around different activities, but also giving them sufficient time in an activity to really get to grips with it and actually to do the work.

Kim Wood, Human Resources Manager

We are very definitely seeing the students coming to us on placement as potential future employees. Obviously it depends on their personal circumstances and the two students that we've got differ slightly. One is interested in going to university afterwards whereas the other one very much wants to get a job and that's why he's jumped at this chance to do his placement with us.

In terms of us identifying people for the future it's really important because the placements allows us to identify potential candidates for roles that we have coming up soon.

I'm also trying to promote the scheme around several other institutes on the Norwich Research Park. It would be really good if we could get a reputation for having T-level placements on site. 

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