Common questions about Legal, Finance and Accounting industry placements

This article looks at some of the questions that employers offering industry placements in this skill area have been facing, with potential solutions for you to consider.

Finding the right students

I understand that students need to do meaningful work and develop their skills during their industry placement? How will we find right students who will be able to do meaningful work?

The starting point is a clear specification for the student, including:

  • what your organisation does, its values, and anything else which might help bring your work to life for the student e.g. types of contracts, service, products and your client base.
  • a short role description for the placement, what’s going to be involved, listing projects, activities, responsibilities, and expectations.

Ask the school or college you are working with for:

  • students’ course content, what they will be learning and when. Ideally, placements will be timed to fit with the course so that skills learned in the classroom can be put into practice when you need them.
  • what specialist or technical skills they have already developed (for example, using office-based software like Office 365, Sage, web-page creation).

You might ask the school or college to have students prepare evidence of their skills, such as projects or accounting software they have been using, to let you match their skills to your work.

You may also consider running a short recruitment process appropriate to your organisation, which could, for example, include an interview.

You can offer students up to 35 hours of work taster activities which provide them with the opportunity to better understand the industry and help them make a more informed decision when choosing which specialist area to study. Work taster hours are also a good opportunity for you to assess students’ suitability before committing to a placement.

Time to supervise

We don’t have time to supervise a student.

You could begin by allowing students to observe and work alongside your staff. This gives you a chance to get to know their capabilities and interests and allows students to understand the way you work. Over time you will be able to give them work to do that will make a more significant contribution to your business.

There are also potential, direct benefits for supervisors and mentors, such as the opportunity to develop management skills. This may be especially valuable for those in technical financial or legal roles who may not often have these opportunities.

Some employers have devised schemes that acknowledge and possibly reward line managers or mentors who work with students, recognising that the employee has developed their leadership and management skills.

We recruit apprentices and host graduate placements

We recruit apprentices and also host graduate placements. How will industry placements fit alongside these and do we need them as well?

Industry placements can be part of a multi-pronged approach, creating a future talent pipeline alongside apprentices, graduates and others.

Graduate placements and industry placements can often dovetail nicely in terms of the types of work students can do and the contributions they can make to your organisation. Graduate placement or internship students are usually older than industry placement students, and often undertake work needing higher levels of knowledge or skill. Industry placement students will be able to carry out tasks at technician level, so for example, industry placement students could carry out tasks alongside accounting technicians and paralegals, such as research and preparing documents.

Industry placements offer an extended opportunity for you to get to know students and can be an ideal step into your full-time apprenticeships opportunities. Students who complete an industry placement can be ideal recruits to entry-level, full-time roles, after they have completed their course.

Many organisations also find that apprentices make excellent mentors for industry placement students, giving students support from someone closer to their age and giving apprentices experience of guiding and developing others.

Operating outside of normal working hours

Our projects are 24-7 and operate outside ‘normal’ working hours, sometimes with project participants in other parts of the world.

This sounds like an ideal opportunity to expose students to modern ways of working. When you’re planning the industry placement, talk to the student and their school or college about how flexible they can be. It is fine for students to work outside normal working hours, but they should not work beyond the maximum legal working hours for a young person. A person who is under 18 can’t work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.

Where employers and providers feel it appropriate, and where students agree, they can be involved in flexible and modern working practices on a case-by-case basis. The school or college should be satisfied that their and your duty of care for the student is being met at all times.

Where students are involved in projects or tasks internationally or linked to other overseas financial markets or clients, look at ways to ensure they are fully briefed and have the right supervision.

Capacity to host a student

As a small organisation I might not have the capacity to host a student for the full 315 hours.

Industry placements must focus on developing up-to-date technical skills and knowledge, by offering experiences of real-life job role and work pressures. Students will be contributing to your business over an extended period of time.

At the start of placements, your time and resources will be needed to get students up to speed, but as students learn and develop, they will add to, not lessen your capacity. If you can plan, activities for students before they arrive for their industry placements, they may be able to work independently more quickly.

One alternative is that you can share a placement with one other employer to make up a complete placement of at least 315 hours. Both employers would agree appropriate projects, tasks and activities that support the student’s development objectives.

You could, for example, offer a placement with an organisation in your supply chain or, perhaps a customer or a partner, or an outsourced function. This may be particularly helpful where some workplace activities are more restricted in your organisation, compared with others due to for example specific data protection or client confidentiality restrictions.

Accountancy firms typically have many small business clients and could identify a small business that might benefit from an industry placement student. A split placement between an accountancy firm and small business could offer very different but valuable perspectives.

If you do not have a partnership where you think this might work, ask the school or college you are working with if they can facilitate a shared placement.

Mistakes in our industry could be high risk

We are a highly regulated industry; students need to know the basics. Mistakes in our industry can be high risk.

The school or college will work with the student to develop core knowledge, for example, around the Companies Act, or tax legislation and regulations or how public sector organisations operate.

As part of their core knowledge, students may have learned about:

  • the difference between advice and information
  • regulated and non-regulated products
  • regulatory safeguards to protect users
  • anti-money laundering legislation
  • confidentiality clauses
  • data protection

Initially, you will need to be cautious, but as students gain experience and as they apply their classroom learning, you may find that their contribution becomes valuable and that you can rely on them to deal with more important tasks.

Time getting students up to speed

When students arrive, we’ll have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed with our company and our systems.

For many finance, accounting and legal roles, there will be a basic level of training and workplace preparation required before new personnel can make a meaningful contribution.

This could be, for example, be familiar with particular accounting software, or an understanding of regulatory frameworks, such as those of the:

  • Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
  • Council for Licenced Conveyancers
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Prudential Regulation Authority
  • Financial Reporting Council
  • The Pensions Regulator

There may also be opportunities for you to help prepare students in advance by providing links to online, digital and eLearning resources for induction or running a short session with the students in advance, to get them up to speed before they arrive.

Talk to the student’s school, college or other provider to look at ways in which they might sequence course content to get the student ready for your workplace.

Confidentiality could limit the technical content

Data protection and confidentiality restrict tasks learners can be given and may limit the technical content of some placements.

It’s important for placement students to understand the risks and implications of managing sensitive data, in the same way as it is for all your staff. Induction, training and supervision is essential.

Talk to the school or college about your concerns and identify, in partnership, which tasks and projects an industry placement student could do.

You may find there is still plenty of opportunity for a placement to work without the need for access to a particular system or data set.

Alternatively, you could draw up a confidentiality statement for the student to sign. While it is not legally binding, it could give you peace of mind and affirm to the student how important confidentiality is to your business. This statement could cover:

  • maintaining strict secrecy in respect of the business affairs of your organisation and clients
  • not revealing confidential information about systems and programme design
  • not using data for personal gain
  • using computer equipment and accessing the internet only when authorised and only for official
  • your data protection procedures as a result of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the consequences of any breach

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