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Common questions about Engineering and Manufacturing 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.

Where do industry placements fit?

Apprenticeships and work experience are well understood in engineering and manufacturing roles, but how do industry placements fit in?

Industry placements are different to work experience and apprenticeships. A work experience placement (normally for a young person who is 14-16 years old, taking place over 1-2 weeks) will typically involve low level tasks and may or may not lead to a career path as a technician or engineer. An apprentice is with you full-time as an employed member of staff, with at least 20% of their time off-the-job, learning and training to become competent in their job role.

An industry placement lasts for a minimum of 315 hours (45 days), this period can be longer and organised over 2 years. The placement offers you, the employer the opportunity to assess potential new recruits. They also allow young people (16-19 year olds) to understand the workplace, to develop technical skills and to identify engineering and manufacturing training or roles they might want to pursue in future. Industry placements could be part of a multi-pronged approach, creating a future talent pipeline alongside apprentices and graduates. 

Finding the right students

How will we find the right students? What can industry placement students contribute to our organisation? Will we be told about students’ work readiness, their interests and skills set prior to the start of a placement?

Finding the right students is an important two-way process – what you can offer as an employer, alongside the interests and skills of students.

The starting point is to identify a clear specification which shows the student that you want to offer industry placements and that you have embedded this approach into your talent pool development process. For example:

  • what your organisation does, its values, and anything else which might help bring your work to life for the student - for example, types of contracts, services, products and your client base
  • a short role description setting out projects, activities, responsibilities, and expectations reinforcing that this is a well thought through and established process

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 CAD software; welding skills; electrical fault finding), alongside workplace readiness training

You might ask the college or school to have students prepare evidence of their skills, such as products they have designed or built 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.

Additional checks

We may need to carry out additional checks with students before the placement, for example, a colour perception test if they are working with wiring?

It is important that your expectations are understood by students joining your organisation on industry
placement. For example, if you operate random drugs testing potential students should be made aware.

You will need to work with the college or school to identify and select students that will fit your organisation and workplace. You should have an agreement between your organisation and the student and between the college or school and your organisation. This way and in advance, you will be able to make clear the requirements and responsibilities of the placement.

Consider running a recruitment process appropriate to your organisation, highlighting your requirements.

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, equipment and systems

In many environments, induction for industry placement students is identical to full-time staff induction. Many organisations use online, digital and eLearning resources for induction, which could be suitable for students and which could be done before they start a placement within your organisation.

You could also offer relevant pre-briefing information about your organisation. To better prepare students:

  • visit the college or school for a Q&A session with prospective students to explain how you work
  • work with the college or school to recruit students who are likely to fit in with your ways of working or seasonal workloads

The college or school will work with you before the placement so that all three parties (you, the student and the college or school) understand their responsibilities and expectations are aligned. This will be reflected in the Industry Placement Agreement, agreed by you, the college or school and the student (the college or school can share the agreement template with you to review in advance).

There are also direct benefits for supervisors and mentors, such as the opportunity to develop management and mentoring skills. This may be especially valuable for technical staff who may have had limited experience.

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.

Making a contribution

We operate in high risk environments which would need students to be constantly supervised,
and so it is unlikely that students will be able to make a significant contribution in many engineering settings.

Look for meaningful activities where students can add value and limit their access to the more hazardous areas of your business.

It may take some time to identify tasks that are suitable for students, that can contribute to their learning and development and that are not too much of a draw on their mentors, supervisors and managers productive time.

The sorts of tasks that students might be able to carry at first, not involving machinery and equipment, could for example relate to:

  • familiarisation with work procedures, for example, pre-delivery inspections and service and maintenance schedules
  • reviewing engineering or technical data sources, specifications and documentation
  • interpreting plans and drawings and identifying technical information, materials, and methods
  • confirming project outcomes and requirements
  • verifying the technical design data is compliant with context, function and specific requirements
  • setting out specific requirements in terms of resources, raw materials, costs, outcomes and timescales
  • gathering project delivery information and data
  • assist with routine maintenance including updating of records after maintenance has been completed
  • ordering of components and/or spares for maintenance or production tasks

As per standard practice with new employees and apprentices in any engineering occupation, you should begin by allowing students to work alongside staff carrying out these activities. 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 may be able to give them more hands-on work to do that will contribute directly.

Where students may not get the opportunity to develop particular skills, for example operating particular machinery, flag this up to the college or school to look at other ways this might be built in – perhaps in a different (safer) context.

Hazardous workplaces

Engineering sites can be dangerous. There may be health and safety restrictions on the technical tasks learners can undertake. Can we allow 16-18-year-olds access to our live sites? How can we make sure students are safe?

In the first instance, ask the school or college for course content and how health and safety is included. This will give you an idea of which projects and tasks are most suitable for an industry placement student.
Conversely, inform the school or college of the health and safety elements that are encountered or specific within your business so that a proactive approach can be adopted by the school or college.

By understanding health and safety course content, you can look at the tasks and projects that need doing on site, and risk assess each one to decide which are low risk and could be suitable for students.

You can also think about your site induction process and if this needs to be tweaked for the projects and tasks industry placement students will be doing.

You will need to identify a supervisor with the right health and safety experience and knowledge, to oversee students’ work, especially in the early phases of a placement.

Adding variety to placements

Because we can’t allow students to work in hazardous environments, we’re worried that it will be difficult to find things for students to do that are low risk and not mundane or repetitive.
Are there other ways in which we can add variety to the industry placement?

You can share a placement with 1 other employer to make a complete placement of at least 315 hours. That would allow the student to experience and learn with two organisations and gain perspective on different aspects of your industry.

Both employers would agree appropriate projects and activities that support the student’s development objectives. It may be that you can offer a placement in partnership with a lead or sub-contractor that you’re working with on a specific project.

For example, a student could be on placement at a civil engineering construction, where you will be on site as a sub-contractor for just a few weeks. It could be that the placement student works and learns from you during your time on site and then returns to complete their placement with the main contractor.
For more information, see sharing industry placements with other organisations.

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