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Manufacturing, factory and science industry placements after coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article provides ideas to help employers to think through and plan for being able to welcome students on industry placements in factories, manufacturing, scientific and research settings whilst considering the journey out of COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-19 and safety concerns on site

Key safety procedures will have been put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within the workplace. 

Students must be fully aware of the company’s safety procedures

You will be responsible for ensuring the student is aware of all safety procedures prior to starting the placement and how to deal with hazards unique to the sector or your site. This can be done by sending out virtual guides or leaflets on what is in place.

This may be the student's first experience of work and so it is good to recap regularly and ensure that if the student works on different sites that updates on safety arrangements are provided for each.

Where many people work in the same space, try to adhere to the government guidance of keeping a 2-metre distance between individuals. Where this is not possible, Plexiglass screens can be used to prevent airborne transmission.

Surfaces, equipment and tools that are regularly used

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advise disinfecting all heavily touched surfaces and equipment on a regular basis, preferably between tasks.

If there are shared facilities such as canteens, toilet, showers, lockers and changing rooms ensure that they are well ventilated and cleaned regularly or between use.

Manufacturing sites are often quite densely populated workspaces. A system must be in place to ensure the factory floors are cleaned as often as possible without disrupting the workflow.

It is imperative that employers ensure surfaces and equipment are cleaned between uses by different individuals, this must be made clear to all members of staff and students.

Staff in this industry often work in close contact

Team members in factories and laboratories are likely to work very closely together. This could be a major risk for spreading infection, to combat this, appropriate PPE must be provided to all staff members and to students on site. This includes, but is not limited to: masks, gloves and hand sanitizing station positioned around the site and at all entrances and exits.

Teams could be separated into “bubbles” and staggered shifts; this limits the amount of people entering/leaving/on break at one time, and also means that if one team were to isolate, the other “bubble” could pick up their work.

Maximising the use of robots

Some companies have managed to use automated robots to transport materials around the workplace. This helps reduce the movement of workers from different areas of the factory, which in turn reduces cross-contamination and the likelihood of viral transmission between workers.

Robotics is a new and exciting form of technology; this is likely to be an area of interest in this industry for the students.

Teams in fixed working patterns stretching resources

Engaging busy staff to provide the required supervision for an industry 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.

By utilising the opportunity of accessing a training hub, manufacturing industry placement students can arrive work-ready, and all students provide additional resource to support current activities or to tackle projects.

“Our first placement started with a hybrid model of block release followed by day release. We had a 3-week block followed immediately by a two-day per week release which was planned for towards the end of Year 1. Our aim with the 3-week block was to build relationships with student, let them find out about our organisation and start to network with staff across the organisation, seeing how we worked as well as the opportunities. We also built into the programme the chance to shadow our apprentices, in similar roles."

"We were able to train our students to carry out basic functions that then released staff to focus on other areas of improvements in their area of work. They became semi-skilled hands that then in the two-day model that followed, could pick up routine tasks under our supervision.”
Jason Phin, Training Solutions Business Manager Siemens plc

Reducing background noise

Shouting and aerobic activity is understood to increase the risk of distributing the virus. By reducing background noise (turning down or off music and re-engineering processes where possible) the need to shout can be reduced.

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