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Industry placements in different workplace settings after coronavirus (COVID-19)

Every workplace setting is different and will have already adapted to provide a safe working environment for all staff and customers after coronavirus (COVID-19).

These individual plans, procedures and risk assessments are unlikely to require much, if any adaption when welcoming a student into your workplace.

Contents:

- The benefits of offering industry placements

- Reviewing the requirements of the post COVID-19 workforce

- Key COVID-19 safety measures

- The stages of an industry placement

The benefits of offering industry placements

Offering industry placements can create a win-win situation for all involved. Students get the opportunity to learn skills and gain real experience of work, try out the role and add exciting content to their CV. You, as the employer, benefit from a talent pool of young, enthusiastic individuals, who have tested their career choice and so could become valuable members of your future workforce.  We have been talking to employers who are supporting industry placements. This is what they have to say about the benefits they have found from offering an industry placement during this time.

Developing new projects

During the pandemic, all organisations have had to concentrate on additional considerations and adapt to the guidelines for safe working.  They are reporting that certain work or projects that would enhance or grow the business have fallen by the wayside. If you have spotted such opportunities or areas of potential development in your organisation, like them, you can gain the time, enthusiasm and knowledge available from a student on an industry placement to get these projects moving again.

There are several projects that we want to develop, core staff have not had time to do this.  These projects provide an exciting opportunity for a student to own an element of development whilst contributing to the organisation’s progress”
Wendy Belfield, InTandem

Boosting productivity

Accessing additional resource can assist you in boosting productivity. Students are eager to learn from you and your team, and enthusiastic about the curriculum route they have chosen. 

Supporting their growth and development will in turn support your business, providing that extra resource to enable your team to concentrate on ensuring that the organisation achieves and thrives.

“The COVID challenge has brought about an unexpected positive. The senior team have recognised their own resourcefulness and aptitude for agile team working in the face of adversity.  They have conducted full skills audits to ensure contingencies are in place for all eventualities moving forward. They can clearly see how a pipeline of new talent will augment the business.” 
Jill Nieuwoudt, Nicholas and Harris

Developing your talent pipeline

By offering industry placements you have an opportunity to see potential future employees in action. By investing at this time, when we are all facing a turbulent employment market, you will promote loyalty from your students.

They will recognise and value your investment in their learning and skills and this is very likely to be repaid in loyalty to you and your sector, thus making future recruitment both time and cost effective.

“The payback will be the development of a talent pipeline for LCC, and their suppliers.  Sending our students to supply partners as part of their placement will give a rich understanding of the state-of-the-art products LCC use, the green credentials and the attention to detail required throughout our supply chain.” 
Bridgette Farrow of Low Carbon Construction

An industry placement student can bring new perspectives to your business. They are young, familiar with new technologies, adaptable and entering a workplace during the recovery period following the COVID-19 pandemic and so not fazed by requirements that may seem strange to existing staff. 

They are also supported by a learning provider with up-to-date resources including the latest information on COVID-19 safety.  Offering a placement is a fantastic way to add new, creative, adaptable and diverse talent to your team.

“Young people are being particularly hard hit by how the pandemic has disrupted the job market. So, it is important for employers to continue to ensure opportunities for young people to join their organisations – including those with a wide range socioeconomic backgrounds, who can bring different knowledge and ideas to the table”
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Reviewing the requirements of the post COVID-19 workforce

The introduction of an industry placement may encourage you to reflect upon the health and safety processes that you have implemented to date.

Things are changing all the time, and this may provide a welcome review of your Health and Safety measure considering COVID-19 requirements. This will be supported by the learning provider through the mandatory risk assessment of the placement that they will provide.

The Government recognise the importance of the industry placement within T Levels and from May 2021 all employers offering a placement will be able to attract an incentive of £1,000 per placement for up to 20 placements per region. 

Key COVID-19 safety measures

For the safety of all in your workforce you will have implemented COVID-19 safety measures. The key aim is to avoid transmission; minimising contact between people by maintaining social distancing. 

When talking to employers there are many considerations and interpretations of COVID-19 safety.  Here are a few reminders of the adaptations we are all considering:

Risk assessments

To protect our teams, full risk assessments are required that consider COVID-19 safety.  Your learning provider will also need to complete their risk assessment before placing students on placement.

Publicising the risk assessment and measures in place has been proven to help employees feel more secure in the work environment

Track and Trace

All staff, including your placement students, will be required to sign in and provide correct personal details needed to successfully complete track and trace. All employers need to store this information in accordance with the GDPR legislation.

This process and the wider implications of GDPR may be a useful area of focus for research and project work for your student.

Reduced teams, limited personnel and home working

Engaging busy staff to provide the required supervision for a placement student may be a challenge and they will need to understand the strategic vision behind offering placements. 

Effective planning, involving supervisors, will be essential to gain a shared understanding of the roles, responsibilities, opportunities and challenges. With planning, and in collaboration with your provider, way to plan and provide support may include:

  • having contingency plans in place for more than one supervisor to support a student in case of a need to isolate or to cover home working days
  • having apprentices or more junior staff act as workplace mentors, developing them and ensuring that more senior staff are not over-stretched
  • working with your provider to consider opportunities to collaborate and share placements with other employers
  • discussing project ideas to find ways of providing meaningful and relevant activities for students to perform in a safe environment with limited supervision.

Limiting numbers of people on site.

Some employers are splitting staff into working teams which both limits exposure within groups and provides potential contingency cover if one team suffers infection and needs to isolate.

Planning access and supporting safe movement around your buildings and facilities

Pinch points for buildings tend to be around access and exit points and breakout areas. Assessing numbers of people needing to arrive at one time, leave at one time or take breaks will provide a focus for managing peaks of social interaction. 

Making larger premises follow one-way routes, assessing meeting room capacity and applying clear signage of maximum numbers in any small spaces will be required. Small spaces may include locker rooms, lifts, stairways, entrance and exit doors and rest rooms.

Staff will be aware of these measures, but visitors will require information on arrival to ensure that they can follow your requirements for safely moving around the premises.

Try:

  • providing an online induction in advance of joining the organisation to enable new starts, including placement students to understand the safety requirements even before they arrive
  • staggering shift patterns and start and finish times, lunchtime breaks, and coffee breaks help to avoid high numbers in one area at any one time
  • making routeway markings durable to ensure that instructions remain clear, and signage does not get corrupted
  • regular reminders of important information as this may be the student's first experience of work

Daily infection control measures

The key Government messages about regular hand washing or sanitising, wearing masks when in close proximity and maintaining 2 metre distancing whenever possible are at the heart of daily routines. Added to this, employers are carrying out temperature checks on arrival for both staff and visitors, providing appropriate PPE and ensuring people are trained in its safe use. 

Your procedures for Track and Trace need to be widely communicated and students need to understand their responsibility of what to report, how to report and when to report any potential contacts or symptoms.

Try:

  • avoiding hot desk arrangements and enforce clear desk policies to aid easy cleaning
  • carrying out practices, akin to fire evacuation rehearsals, for procedures to follow if a person becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms whilst at work or receives an alert that they have been in contact with someone who has had a positive test result

Manage transmission risk where people cannot be 2 metres apart

Realistically people may not always be able to remain at least 2 metres apart. Guidelines acknowledge that 1 metre distancing may be a fallback position. 

Measures that employers have put in place to ensure safety of staff when they are working together include moving desks apart and placing people back-to-back or diagonally opposite one another rather than face to face, erecting screens between workstations, increasing ventilation by opening doors and windows, providing face masks and visors for when people need to move around a building. 

Ensure heating systems are serviced and cleaned to ensure that they are circulating clean fresh air.

Reinforcing cleaning processes

Office cleaning regimes have been assessed and, in some cases, increased to ensure that all areas, particularly those with high levels of contact such as door handles, light switches, keypads and keyboards are regularly cleansed. 

Consider soft furnishings and remove any unnecessary items that could harbour germs. The additional cleaning materials resulting from such cleaning need careful disposal and so increasing the frequency of emptying bins to dispose of such waste may be required.

Uniforms and PPE

If staff are required to wear uniforms there is a need to ensure that these are available, accessible, clean and changed into at work.  Additional changing areas may be required to ensure social distancing can be maintained while staff change into their uniforms.

Consider changing uniform cleaning regimes and introduce in-house cleaning of uniforms to help ensure enough uniform and PPE is available, clean and accessible within the workplace. If the student needs to wear PPE speak to the college to ensure this is planned in advance of the placement start date.

Communicating with staff

We are all in this together and team members, including placement students will be able to consider safety and suggest ways to promote safe working and efficiency. 

Being open, sharing the risk assessment, communicating transparently about updates and ideas staff will take ownership for and contribute to ensuring all safety requirements are in place and working effectively.

Try:

  • COVID-19 safety assessments as a useful project area for your industry placement student
  • creating videos for staff on everything from arriving to work safely, moving around the office and desk policies
  • constant updates to help remind everyone of the basic safety measures required and avoid complacency

Team meetings and discussions

Carrying on the functions of the organisation, collaborating within and between teams may need consideration when applying COVID-19 safety measures.

We are all having to consider different ways of working when communicating in large groups. Technology is playing a huge role in supporting team communication in a safe environment and reducing the need to meet in person with large teams. 

Students may find it difficult to speak up in such settings and so their line manager may need to consider methods of ensuring students feel engaged in these more daunting settings. 

Having an advocate or mentor to speak to may enable the student to build their confidence when communicating in larger groups ensuring that their knowledge, expertise and opinions are not lost. In addition, consider buddy systems offering placement students access to a buddy who may be close to their age and therefore who the student may feel more able to approach with questions or concerns.

The stages of an industry placement

When you are taking on an industry placement student you will go through many of the same considerations as for any new members joining the team.  The student will be young and may have limited experience of other workplaces but in general should be treated very similarly to other new team members. 

Pre-engagement

Just as you would when recruiting for any vacancy you will have procedures in place.  Additional support would come from the learning provider supporting the student’s learning curriculum. They will want to carry out a health and safety risk assessment prior to any student recruitment. This is a great resource for your organisation.

The learning provider will then provide you with a shortlist of candidates for you to meet.  The provider will have already spoken to them all about the COVID requirements in your sector. Providing as much information about the industry placement opportunity will help them to select the best possible shortlist of student candidates for you. 

Meeting the candidates and carrying out an interview is important to satisfy yourself that the student will be a good fit for your organisation and offers the student great insight into the opportunity available. Whilst face to face interviews are not out of the question if social distancing and COVID security is maintained, video interviews are now a commonly used medium that students are quite familiar with.  

Face-to-face interviews

If you prefer face to face interviews, here is some guidance:

  • Use the largest room possible to ensure enough area to maintain at least 2m distance between everyone.
  • Control the number of people within the area, only essential staff should be involved and keep the size of the interview panel to a minimum.
  • Provide clear instructions in the invitation on where the candidate should arrive at and where they should wait.
  • Ask panel members to bring their own pen. Provide large envelopes or folders so notes can be placed in these before being returned to the Chair.
  • Clean the candidate’s seat and desk between interviews, including any seat in the waiting area.
  • Ensure door handles are cleaned between interviews.
  • Hand sanitiser or hand washing facilities should be readily available to everyone.
  • Ask each candidate to bring their own bottle of water to the interview or have some bottles of water in the room. Avoid using shared jugs of water.
  • Ensure that there is no shaking of hands when greeting interview candidates.
  • Consider the seat configuration to ensure that social distancing can be met when accessing and leaving the interview room.

Video interviews

If video interview is your preference, then consider the following practical tips for remote interviews:

  • Let candidates know as early as possible that their interview will be conducted remotely, and what software will be used, to ensure they have access to these facilities and understand how to use them.
  • Send candidates a "how to" email with information on how they can access the platform you are using.
  • If possible, have a pre-interview check with participants while they are waiting to be interviewed. This will allow you to deal with any problems and keep interviews flowing.
  • Find a quiet space to conduct the interviews, put your phone on silent and mute your computer's notifications, these can cause distractions if they go off during the interview. Inform candidate that they should also find a private and quiet space for completing their interview.
  • As a panel member, pay even more care and attention to your body language in a video interview than you would in a face-to-face interview, as in your home environment it can be easy to forget that the candidate can see as well as hear you.
  • Consider online recruitment and safeguarding. Who will carry out the interview? Are they DBS checked?  Will an adult (parent/provider) also be present to safeguard the interviewee and the interviewer. Think about your policy and procedure in advance and if in doubt raise the question with your learning provider to ensure that the process is appropriate.  

Planning the industry placement

The planning of the placement is critical and you as the employer need to feel in control of this agenda. A strong relationship between you as the employer and the provider is essential to ensure success of the placement opportunity, which is more substantial that other work experience opportunities that you may have offered. The provider will be an excellent resource to support planning.

When considering COVID-19 and placement planning the following considerations come to mind:

  • Industry placements cannot be virtual and so the model for the placement will need to be planned to match the onsite working pattern of the person that is supervising the placement.
  • If specific safety equipment is required there may be support available through the provider, this may include IT equipment (specific to the student to minimise transmission), access to specific IT programmes such as CAD packages.
  • Considering how the student will travel to and access their working sites will need to be considered as part of the planning and recruitment realities. 
  • Digital communication between workplace sites is the new reality and working in this way will need to be appreciated from day 1 for the student. This will need to be outlined in the induction and onboarding process and emphasised throughout the learning opportunity.

Induction and onboarding

  • Before the student can begin work on their placement, a risk assessment must be carried out to ensure they can remain safe in their role. This assessment must be up to date to include the latest COVID-19 related precautions
  • The student will need a full induction at the start of their work placement. 
  • You will probably have a standard induction programme but ensure that this has been updated to include COVID-19 security and the student’s responsibility to themselves, their work colleagues and your customers
  • Remember to check how the student will be travelling to work to ensure that they are safe during their travels
  • Track and trace requirements in place will apply to your student/s and you will need to ensure that they are familiar with the procedures and how to report any illness, COVID-19 symptoms and arrangements for self-isolation.
  • If necessary, the student must be provided with the correct PPE for their role before they begin placement. Due to COVID-19, this may also include disposable masks, visors and gloves.

Day to day management

The impact on day-to-day support and management of the student can be impacted by COVID-19 in a variety of ways.  For example:

  • It will be necessary to ensure that the student is working in a COVID-19 secure manner protecting themselves and colleagues. The workplace experience is likely to be very different to their previous school or college experiences and so messages might need reinforcing.
  • The placement model will need to match the availability of supervision onsite and in office. Virtual placements are not permitted and so additional day to day planning throughout the placement will be required to ensure suitable support is always available.
  • It is likely that their workplace will have introduced staggered shifts and break times, in order to prevent congestion in rest-areas. It is crucial that the student is aware of this and understands the times they can take their breaks through the day. These may change as shifts are swapped around within the team. Keeping the student up to date on these is key to keeping them safe.

Completion of the placement

The end of the work placement should not be greatly impacted by adjustments for COVID-19.  However, you will have an opportunity to formally review the progress and achievements of your student. Their ability to understand and fully comply with your COVID-19 safety measures will be an important part of the feedback that you will be able to provide.

Your review, feedback and reference on their performance whilst with you will be an essential and helpful part of the student’s CV and portfolio.

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