Making Work Placements Work

by | Aug 17, 2012 | People

Today marks the last day of a year-long placement for Rob Thomas, an undergraduate studying Business Management at Northumbria University, who joined the St Astier team in September 2011. Looking back over the last 12 months, I can say that the whole experience has been very beneficial not only for Rob, but for St Astier.

I have often felt a little reticent at the prospect of taking on such a long term placement. The company has undertaken a number of brief work experience placements for entry level site positions where we could easily absorb the increased demand for supervision and instruction of new and unskilled workers in the short term. After all, basic site activities require a minimum of instruction and supervision in order to ensure that the worker can be productive. However, a graduate calibre worker was a completely different proposition.

How motivated and reliable would a gap year student be in return for little direct compensation? I think the answer lies in the quality and quantity of the work available: making cups of tea, photocopying, filing paperwork or generally being under-utilised would be a colossal waste of time for the intern and a missed opportunity for the business. When left unchecked bored people quit and I think that the chances of such a dreadful outcome can be amplified in work placement situations.

My main concern was whether we could provide a rewarding and useful experience whilst balancing an increased investment of time and resources from various members of the team against the potential benefit to the company. I think we got the balance right.

The decision to expose Rob to as much of our operations as possible has really paid off. He has been involved in all aspects of working with the Contracts team, including pricing small jobs, building pathology, and quality assessments. He has been involved in HR & Training duties, developing an in-house training regime for site personnel. He has also played an important role in our Marketing activities where he has undertaken a marketing research project, helped prepare and launch our new website and made valuable contributions to our blog.

Lessons We’ve Learned

Whilst we’re not ready to repeat the process again just yet, we’ve learned a few useful lessons throughout the project.

  • Meeting with the candidate prior to a placement to discuss their expectations, what they’d like to get out of the placement and what you can realistically offer is essential.
  • Project based work where there are opportunities to solve real world problems for the business are most beneficial for both parties. However the extent to which these projects can succeed will not only depend upon the ability of the intern but also on the resources, support and guidance made available by the management team.
  • Involving internal department heads well before any placement to brainstorm opportunities and discuss those ‘nice to do’ projects that you’d otherwise struggle to get around to is a good way to kick-off a feasibility study. Short projects worked best for us and facilitated far easier agreement from departments in terms of time and resource commitments.
  • Getting an ‘outsiders’ perspective on the business and its practices can help break through group-think and lead on to new insights and avenues to explore. This is hardly a new concept and is usually the domain of expensive consultants but the impressions of a bright young mind are nevertheless of great value.

We’ll Miss You Rob

All of the staff and site operatives have passed very positive comments about Rob’s willingness to learn, his adaptability and his insight. We will all miss his easy going nature and his positive attitude. So, on behalf of everyone here at St Astier I’d like to wish Rob the very best of luck in his final year and in the bright career that will surely follow his graduation.