Managing young people who are new to the workplace
Students on industry placements are moving out of a school, college or other training environment they know and into one that’s new. It could be their first time in a workplace.
How to make an industry placement a good experience
Recognise it’s a change
Going to work for the first time can create a mixture of confusion, anxiety and excitement. Everyone handles it differently – some take it in their stride, others need more time and support.
Watch how your student is settling in and be ready to help. Be patient.
You could consider whether the student would benefit from carrying out projects in small teams with their peers outside your organisation, working alongside another employer or professional.
Experienced workers know how important it is to be professional. But students may not know how to conduct themselves at work.
They’ll need to learn the basics such as email etiquette, how to approach colleagues and customers and when to take a break. And they might need help to navigate more touchy subjects like handling emotions, mobile phone policy and dress codes.
Start off well
The first few days are crucial. It’s worth spending some time at the start of the placement, so students feel they’ll get the support they need to carry out their placement role. They’ll quickly become part of the organisation, once they understand how things work.
Remember this may be their first time working in any business. If they continue to struggle, remember that the school or college is also there to provide advice and support.
Give them a good supervisor
Students learn a lot from having a supervisor who enjoys developing students’ skills and building their confidence.
Someone who’s willing to spend time with them, is a good communicator, isn’t worried about providing frequent feedback and is open to ideas and suggestions is ideal.
Find them a mentor
A mentor can help to integrate students into the organisation by sharing first-hand knowledge and experience. Mentors provide a different type of support than a supervisor does – more focused on learning than performance.
Good mentors can become a valuable sounding-board for students. People who’ve had a few years’ experience and are not too far away in age from the student can make great mentors, as can staff who are rather older, and who have more workplace experience.
Find out more about effective mentoring for industry placement students
Students can soon go back into their shells if they feel uneasy or overwhelmed. Make them feel part of a team. Tell them they can ask questions whenever they want.
It’s good to be curious in a new environment – that’s how everyone learns. No matter how obvious the answer may seem, how does anyone know something until they’ve learned it for the first time?
Students get a huge amount out of being told how they’re doing – what they do well, and where to improve.
Give them lots of feedback as they navigate new tasks and responsibilities. They will appreciate it and learn from it.
Providing formal feedback as part of the mid- and end-of placement reviews set up by providers will help to ensure all are aware of progress, and the alignment with wider learning goals.
Provide plenty of variety
Many students thrive on variety and change. They may learn best and be most productive when working on short-term tasks. If they’re part of a project team, think about breaking the work down into smaller tasks.
You could consider delivering the placement jointly with another employer, so that they experience a wider variety of work and working environments. You could also collaborate with other employers within your supply chain or employer network, by arranging for students to spend part or all of their placement time with partners or subcontractors.
Keep an eye on the workload
Students don’t always know their limits. They might be keen to take on new projects and responsibilities. Or they may feel they can’t say ‘no’.
Watch out for signs of overload, and keep in mind that students may not yet have learned how best to manage their time or prioritise their work. Supporting the student will be a team effort.
Set a good example
Students learn most from what they see and do, not from what you say to them. They’ll view the people around them as a model, copying behaviours and actions.
As they start to learn the norms of workplace behaviour, they’ll take on positives and negatives from whatever they observe. Recognise their malleable nature and help as much as you can to shape them in positive ways.