Supporting students' health and wellbeing on placement

Introduction

For some students, a T Level industry placement will be their first time in a workplace. This can be exciting but can also make students nervous, anxious or overwhelmed about this important part of their course.  It is therefore important that students are properly supported so they can feel good about their placement. 

Various sources of evidence suggest that young people’s health and wellbeing has been significantly impacted due to the pandemic, so it’s especially important that employers understand how they can support students on industry placements.

This resource is a brief introduction to help you as an employer begin to understand some of the major health and wellbeing issues for young people, how to identify signs and what are the important considerations to help you support students whilst on placement.

Why is this important?

The Youth Index conducted by YouGov, measures young people’s happiness and self-confidence levels across a range of areas, from their working life to their physical and mental health. This year’s report, which surveyed 2,180 16-to-25-year-olds across the UK, found that:

  • one in four young people (26 per cent) admit they feel ‘unable to cope with life’
  • half of 16 to 25-year-olds (50 per cent) say their mental health has worsened since the start of the pandemic
  • more than half of young people (56 per cent) ‘always’ or ‘often’ feel anxious
  • a quarter of young people (23 per cent) do not feel confident about their future work

The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2021 report produced by NHS Digital and the Office for National Statistics, also reports on the toll the pandemic has had on young people’s health and wellbeing. Over 3,500 children and young people have been tracked over the last five years. In the recent findings, it found that the likelihood of a probable mental disorder increased with age. Among 17- to 23-year-olds 52.5% have experienced deterioration in their mental health since 2017, with only 15.2% experiencing improvement. There’s also a noticeable difference in gender. The research found that indicate that 24.8% of young women and 10.3% of young men aged 17 to 22 years were identified as having a probable mental disorder in 2021.

What are the main health and wellbeing issues that are impacting on young people and how can you identify signs in the workplace? 

One of the most important things you’ll need to provide students with is a safe working environment. Your organisation’s standards and policies will apply to students in the same way as any other member of staff and will take account of physical or mental health or wellbeing. It’s essential that providers and employers work together to support student welfare during industry placements. 

Mental health problems can affect a student's energy, concentration, dependability, mental ability and optimism, and as a result can hinder their performance. So, what does research suggest is impacting on young people’s health and wellbeing and how might you be able to identify signs? Research acknowledges that mental health and wellbeing of young people was declining before the pandemic. According to the British Medical Journal (March 2021), between 2004 and 2017 depression, anxiety, and self-harm increased.

Depression

For young people, feeling low sometimes is a normal reaction to events that are stressful. It is when these feelings continue over a period of time and start to impact on normal daily life, that it can become an illness. This illness is called depression.

Anxiety

Anxiety has been found to be one of the most common causes of distress in young people. Depression with anxiety is currently the most common mental health condition in the UK with over half of young people who have anxiety, also having depression. As a result, symptoms of anxiety and depression may not seem different as there are many similarities.

Self-Harming Behaviour

Self-harm is when a young person does something to internally hurt themselves. Sometimes it is a way for young people to show others that they are struggling. Every case is different, but there are some common behavioural and physical signs that suggest a young person may be self-harming.

What can employers do to support a students’ health and wellbeing whilst on placement? 

The main responsibility for supporting students is the provider. All colleges and schools will have a central team that help support students’ health and wellbeing. This will usually include academic mentors or personal tutors and more specialised colleagues that will oversee safeguarding and health and wellbeing of students.

Some students may have additional learner or learning support requirements and that would have been discussed at enrolment with individualised plans being put in place. A student can also apply for learner support with financial bursaries going towards travel expenses, course materials, equipment (including PPE) and lunch costs. Learning support will be available to students with mental health, emotional and learning difficulties and in some cases to those who need further help with their literacy, numeracy or language.

Based on the experiences of current T Level industry placement employers and providers, the following prompts might help you support students’ health and wellbeing before and during their placements.

Pre-Placement & Induction 

Understand the demands of the T Level

Understanding the students T Level and industry placement learning requirements and what they are aiming to achieve is important. The demands of a T Level course on young people are significant. Students will also have to balance the demands of their industry placement alongside academic study, completion of set assignments and maybe even caring responsibilities and paid employment. You’ll need to be aware of any impact on their physical or mental wellbeing as they arise.

Identify a work-based mentor or appropriate task manager /supervisor

As well as identifying an appropriate staff member to manage or supervise students, one of the most effective strategies is for employers to also assign a work-based mentor. This could be someone who has experience in training others within the specialist area. The mentor will support the student and be part of the formal link between you and the provider. This can help identify health and wellbeing concerns and prompt communication with the provider who can signpost or access more intensive support.

Student safety

Have appropriate safeguards in place to provide a safe working environment for students. This may include relevant basic child protection and safeguarding training supplied by providers through employer forums.

Reasonable adjustments

Be aware of any reasonable adjustments required by students and keep these under review during the placement. This could include students with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs).

Contact list

Keep an up-to-date contact list that should include your main point of contact and if possible, designated safeguarding lead and students’ academic mentor or personal tutor.

Get to know your student

Invite students to the business premises or if not possible, host a virtual tour and introduce them to the team to ease their transition into the workplace. This will also be a good opportunity to introduce the student to their work-based mentor or manager/supervisor.

On Programme 

Student induction:

Develop a thorough induction programme to ensure students are suitably introduced to the workplace. This should cover clear expectations and health and safety requirements whilst on placement.

SEND student access needs

Keep under review any reasonable adjustments required by students with SEND.

Student assessment planner

Students will have personal assessment planners. Having a copy of this can help employers understand when stress points throughout the course could be.

Student progress review meetings

Hold regular review meetings with students to assess their progress and provide them with regular feedback to help improve their performance.

Placement issues or concerns

Raise and report any concerns with providers about students’ attendance, behaviour, or performance on the placement. There may be something going on in their life externally that no one is aware of.

More information

This resource is only a prompt and an introduction to some of the issues you might face. It’s very important that if you have any concerns regarding a young person on industry placement, that to speak to your direct provider contact or a member of their pastoral or support services team, for professional advice. You might also find it valuable to look at Young Minds, one of the UK’s leading charities that support young people and their mental health. They have available online resources to help young people access support and for employers to identify signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and self-harm.

The content in this article is for information only and does not constitute advice. It’s your responsibility, supported by your college, school or training provider, to comply with any legal duties that you might have.

 

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