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Construction industry placements after coronavirus (COVID-19)

Industry placements have continued during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and as we come out of lockdown it is important that more become available to meet demand from T Level students and to create the pipeline of talent required by the construction sector.

Contents:

- The benefits of hosting industry placements

- Myth busting

- Considerations for work placements and COVID-19 safety

Construction industry placement students at Willmott Dixon Construction

The construction sector now has well established protocols for working safely during the COVID-19 pandemic in line with Government guidelines. 

The great news is that most of the considerations that you need when offering an industry placement during the COVID-19 pandemic will already have been addressed following assessments made for how to safely open or keep open your workplaces. 

Find out more about managing risk at work on the Health and Safety Executive website

The benefits of hosting 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 are testing their career choice and who could become valuable members of your future workforce. 

“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

Ways in which industry placements have been useful include:

1. Boosting productivity

Accessing additional resource can assist you in boosting productivity. Students are eager to learn from you and your team.  Supporting their growth and development will in turn support your business, providing extra resource to enable your team to concentrate on ensuring that the organisation achieves and thrives.

2. Developing your talent pipeline

By offering industry placements you have an opportunity to see potential future employees in action. 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, 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, Low Carbon Construction

3. Developing new projects

During the pandemic organisations have had to concentrate on adapting to the guidelines for safe working sometimes to the detriment of innovation projects that would enhance or grow the business.  If you have such projects in your organisation an industry placement student could offer the opportunity to get these moving again.

4. Diversifying your team

An industry placement student can bring new perspectives to your business.  They are young, familiar with new technologies, adaptable and entering a workplace shortly after 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. Offering a placement is a fantastic way to add new, creative, adaptable and diverse talent to your team.

5. Reviewing the requirements of the post COVID-19 workforce

The introduction of an industry placement may encourage you to reflect on your current health and safety processes. Things are changing all the time, and this may provide a welcome review of your COVID-19 safety measures.  This will be supported by the learning provider through the mandatory risk assessment of the placement that they will provide.

Myth busting 

You may well be enthusiastic to engage with T Levels and offer industry placements but others in your organisation may need convincing.  Here are ways to help you to dispel common barriers and myths.

“We don’t have the time or capacity to offer industry placements” 

Even if you can’t offer industry placements right now, there are still ways to engage with T Level industry placements to plan and benefit from future placements:

  • Work with your local provider to understand their offer and begin to design a potential industry placement opportunity and role description.
  • Prepare staff by identifying potential line managers and mentors who may benefit from the opportunity of supporting a placement student.
  • Map the peaks and troughs of your working cycle to try and identify when might be best to start an industry
  • Think about projects or commissions where additional capacity may be advantageous.

“We don’t have enough experienced or qualified staff to mentor industry placements”

Mentoring an industry placement student does not have to be undertaken by the person line managing the placement, in fact it can be beneficial to have distinct separation of the two roles.

Mentoring can provide a great development opportunity for any staff member just beginning or wanting to progress to a supervisory role. The mentoring role can be shared by more than one member of staff. If you have apprentices, they can also be very effective mentors as they are likely to have recent, shared experience.

Mentors don’t need to be from the same skill area or occupational pathway as their students and so can support industry placements from any part of the organisation.

“COVID-safe working practices are preventing us from offering placements”

Social distancing and safe working practices need to be considered but should not prevent industry placements from being offered.

By its nature, construction may require working in close proximity in which case students can be placed in fixed teams, paired with their supervisor or be on the same shift pattern. Their mentor does not need to be part of that team or pairing as long as social distancing is maintained when they meet and if possible, outside.

“Students cannot share our tools”

It is true that COVID-19 safety measures require equipment and resources to be kept hygienically clean to avoid transmission of the virus.  This is no different for a student than for another member of staff and so should not add a burden.

“We struggle to find meaningful work for unskilled students to do”

Additional flexibility has been built into the construction T Level to allow students to spend up to the first 105 hours of their industry placement in an approved skills hub (such as the CITB’s) or employer training centre. This allows students to gain practical skills relevant to their industry placement and hit the ground running when entering the real workplace. This means that they can be a valuable resource to your organisation from the start of their placement with you.

“It is difficult to get CSCS cards for students”

There are CSCS cards specifically for Industry Placements. These temporary cards will last for 3 years. It will be available for learners undergoing a construction related qualification or training programme which requires the completion of a work placement, such as T-Levels or Trainee Skills Development Programmes.

Initially the following card schemes will make the card available from September 2021:

  1. Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS)
  2. Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS)
  3. Engineering Services SKILLcard
  4. JIB Plumbing Mechanical Engineering Services (JIB PMES)

It is important to apply to the card scheme relevant to the construction pathway undertaken by the learner.

For example, a student undertaking a T Level in Building Engineering Services with a specialist pathway in Electrotechnical Engineering should apply to the Electrotechnical Certification Scheme. Identifying the correct card scheme ensures the learner starts off on the right pathway and enjoys smooth progression through the construction industry.

"Can industry placement students do paid part-time work with us?"

If there is an opportunity for the student to do paid part-time work and this is related to the student’s occupational specialism, at Level 3, the hours can be counted towards industry placement hours.

As with all industry placements, students and employers will need to sign an industry placement agreement and agree appropriate learning goals that must be used to measure the students’ progress. In addition, the roles and responsibilities for providers and employers set out in government guidance will still apply.

"What should we do if a placement is not going well?"

If you feel that the placement is not going well and the student is not meeting any of the conditions set out in their industry placement agreement or where you have concerns about their progress, you should contact the provider to agree a course of action.

Providers will be expected to take action to resolve any issues quickly and with full transparency, so students are clear about their areas for improvement.

Considerations for work placements and COVID-19 safety

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Industry placement students would be expected to learn about personal protective   equipment as part of their health and safety training and should be issued with PPE appropriate to their role. As for all employees and contractors, with COVID-19 this training will be extended to include information about handwashing, hand sanitizing and any other industry specific measures such as tool & equipment hygiene.

Students should be expected to maintain PPE appropriate to both allow them to work safely and afford the necessary COVID-19 protection.

Find out more about safe working in the construction sector on GOV.UK

Risk assessments

There may be a need for additional risk assessment depending on the work setting (e.g. working in close proximity to others, dealing with deliveries or visitors) although these have been addressed in the construction sector guidelines for working safely during the pandemic.

It’s important to discuss the risks of COVID-19 with students, parents/ carers and provider’s staff ahead of the placement. This could be evidenced by adding a note to that effect to the T Level Industry Placement Agreement and your training provider will do this for you. Talk to your provider about including a COVID-19 section in the student workbook or industry placement log.

If a student becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms or has a positive COVID-19 test they should return or remain at home and follow the NHS guidance.

The student will still be required to complete their Industry Placement hours and so the education provider will work with you to organise another time for the student to return and complete the planned placement hours before they finish their qualification. If it fits with your business need then this could include weekends or “college holidays” or in exceptional circumstances be added to the end of their learning programme.

If the student’s supervisor is off sick, then try and reallocate their industry placement responsibilities to another appropriate member of staff until they return to work. If it is likely to impact on the nature of the placement, or will be long term, then the education provider should be informed.

Additional information available that relates to keeping employees safe and so is equally applicable to T Level industry placements can be found at:

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