Dealing with challenges

Contents

Introduction

The role of the employer is central to any T Level industry placement. You’ll want to know how hosting an industry placement will work, and you’ll want to feel prepared. Being aware of, and thinking about, the challenges that other employers have faced, is all part of that preparation.

Here are the common concerns and challenges faced by employers. With the help of their advice and experiences, you can shape your industry placement so that you and the T Level student get the most from it.

Practical solutions to common concerns - why you CAN offer an industry placement

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

There are specific things that you can do to limit the time commitment for your organisation and make sure that an industry placement is manageable. 

For instance, you can:

  • Work with your college or school (learning provider) to find ways to collaborate and share industry placements with other employers.
  • Discuss ideas for projects that provide meaningful and relevant activities for students, in a safe environment, with more limited supervision.
  • Think about hosting T Level industry placements alongside schemes you may already be involved in, such as Apprenticeships, to streamline your approach, create a meaningful placement and add capacity to your workforce.

If you are not able to offer T Level industry placements now, there are steps you can take to benefit from industry placements when the time is right. 

You can:

  • Talk to your local learning provider. Find out which T Levels your local college or school offer and with their help, begin designing a delivery approach, role description and application process that you can use in future.
  • Prepare your staff. Identify staff in your organisation who may benefit from having the opportunity to act as a line manager or mentor. Building staff commitment by clearly communicating the strategic vision behind offering industry placements. 
  • Consider the timing. Map the peaks and troughs of your business over time to identify when might be the best time to start an industry placement. 
  • Identify opportunities. Think about projects where an industry placement student could provide useful additional capacity.

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

Mentoring an industry placement student does not have to be done by the person who is line managing them. In fact, it can be beneficial to have a distinct separation between the two roles.

The table below shows the different duties carried out by line managers and mentors

Line manager

Mentor

Set work tasks

Navigate the organisation

Manage timelines and progress

Ask questions from different angles

Assess work performance and outputs

Believe in the student's ability and potential

Communicate within and across teams

Be a sounding board

Conduct work reviews and appraisals

Impart useful knowledge and experience

Motivate and support day-to-day achievements

Provide encouragement and support

Ensure healthy and safe working practices

Identify and work towards career goals

There is no fixed model for filling the role of industry placement mentor. It's flexible and can be adapted to work best for your organisation.

For instance:

  • Mentoring does not have to be done by senior or very experienced staff. It can provide a great development opportunity for any member of staff who is just beginning or wants to progress to a supervisory role. 
  • Apprentices can be very effective mentors and are likely to have shared experience with the industry placement student. Offering an Apprentice the opportunity to mentor a student on industry placement adds a valuable, additional dimension to their experience and skill development. 
  • Mentors can be from different skills areas or disciplines to the student, so can be drawn from across your organisation.
  • The mentoring role can be shared by more than one member of staff.

“Many of our people are working from home. How can we support an industry placement?”

Involving supervisors and learning providers in planning will help to make sure that the appropriate supervision for an industry placement student is in place, even with hybrid and remote working. Here's some approaches you could consider:

  • If staff are rotating their presence on-site, they could share day-to-day supervision so that the student can complete their placement hours.
  • Advise your learning provider of the days of the week when you can offer on-site supervision, so that they can work to arrange the timetable accordingly.
  • Assign Apprentices and junior staff as workplace mentors.

Delivery guidance and understanding placement delivery models

If you plan to host industry placements in Construction, Digital or Education and Childcare T Level courses, you'll want to know about any specific requirements that have been put in place.  

You can find the most up-to-date T Levels industry placements delivery guidance on GOV.UK.

“What meaningful work can unskilled students do?”

Effective planning of an industry placement is critical to maximising the usefulness of the experience for the employer and the student. As the employer, you need to feel in control of this agenda. Developing a strong relationship with your school or college is essential to ensure the success of the placement opportunity. The learning provider will be a valuable source of support with planning.

Your learning provider will work with you to identify the kinds of tasks that a student can do. This may involve looking in detail at entry-level roles in your organisation and seeing which tasks would be suitable for students to begin developing their skills. This analysis will then help you to define a project which an industry placement student can work on to make a meaningful contribution. The learning provider will also support you to identify the most appropriate industry placement delivery model that suits the needs of your organisation.   

Also, keep in mind that the student will be developing relevant skills and knowledge as part of their taught T Level course, so that they are suitably prepared to enter the workplace. They will not be coming to you totally “green”. In advance of the placement, the learning provider will want to find out from you what your exact needs are, so that they can put relevant preparatory learning in place. This will include the development of technical skills and knowledge, employability skills and a good understanding of professional attitudes and standards of behaviour. That way, the student can ‘hit the ground running’ when they join you.

In many workplaces, students under 18, may face restrictions on what they can do for reasons of safety and wellbeing. This means that students on industry placement may be limited to certain activities and using certain equipment and may need full supervision. 

Work taster activities

T Level students can do a maximum of 35 hours of work taster activities. These experiences help the student make a more informed decision about their future and allow you to assess a student's suitability before committing to a placement. These count towards their total placement hours, provided they are relevant to the student’s learning objectives.

“What if we want to offer a student part-time work?”

If there is an opportunity for the student to do paid part-time work, that is relevant to their course, the hours can count towards their industry placement hours.

The roles and responsibilities for employers set out in government guidance will still apply. And, as with all industry placements, students and employers will need to sign an industry placement agreement. This sets out what the student will learn and how progress during the placement will be measured.

“Security is key in this sector and introducing students is a high risk”

Security and confidentiality are key considerations in some industries. These concerns must be taken seriously but can be resolved. Employers who have offered placements in organisations where security is paramount, recognise this as an area that needs to be planned for in advance. 

Ways of dealing with this challenge include:

  • Buddying the student with another team member who can monitor their access.
  • Planning elements of work that are not of the highest categories of sensitivity.
  • Creating discrete projects that reflect real work opportunities.
  • Applying the same protocols as you would with any new member of staff, for example, asking the student to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“What if the placement isn’t going well?”

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

Learning 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.

Advice from employers who already offer industry placements

The following hints and tips come directly from employers who have already offered industry placement opportunities:

  1. Plan early and plan well. The time spent in planning will be repaid in delivery. The learning provider can support the planning.
  2. Start by identifying real and meaningful work. Activities that will engage and motivate the placement student and add value to your organisation. Involve teams in this task to make the work relevant, useful and interesting.
  3. Communicate to all staff. Talking about potential placement opportunities will raise awareness and interest and can identify volunteers who want to supervise and mentor students.
  4. Embrace the skills and abilities that the students bring. Talk to them about processes, new technologies and ways of potential improvement to engage their creativity and increase the value provided to all.
  5. Emphasise culture and employability skills as well as the technical and practical skills as this is an important area of work readiness preparation.
  6. Think about the student that will best fit your organisation and develop a person specification that highlights your required qualities, such as drive, creativity, problem-solving, communication skills and teamwork.
  7. Involve newer recruits or Apprentices in the design and delivery of student induction to help engage the new students on a similar level.
  8. Understand that the first time you offer placements will be the hardest. After that, your planning and experience will make everything so much easier.

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