Making work experience work in construction



The importance of giving construction students access to hands on experience on site helping them get job ready by developing their skills in a real life working environment is universally accepted.

So why do some companies still shy away from offering work placements and, where work placements are offered, how can you make sure that both employer and students get the most out of them?

Andrew Barlow, Work Experience Coordinator for Leicester College, is clear that he’d like to see a ‘step change’ in the number of construction employers willing to offer work experience placements. He points out that work experience is a great way for firms to encourage more young people into construction, raise their own company profile, and recruit new employees. Furthermore, some placements give the employer the chance to carry out what’s effectively an ‘extended interview’ before making a job or apprenticeship offer. 

The further education college, which has undertaken a major programme of work placements with Stepnell this year, has brought in a number of measures to encourage more employers to get involved with its work experience programme, including greater support for employers before, during and after the work experience placements.

Careful planning and preparation and the management of expectations on both sides has also been a key part of the programme which has seen Stepnell providing up to 50 week long placements for Leicester College construction students this year. Students worked on a new build project by Stepnell to create a new Motor Vehicle Workshop at the College, as well as a scheme at the city’s De Montfort University creating a new conference venue.

The right fit

Ensuring a good match between the student and work placement is always essential for work experience to work out, says Andrew Barlow: “There has to be a direct correlation between on and off the job training so that the work experience complements the student’s current programme of study. The student must fully understand their role in meeting employer expectations in areas such as health and safety and time keeping, while the employer must also be clear about their responsibility in providing opportunities for the learner to develop their skills in the work place.”

As well as being carefully selected, students are given a briefing by Stepnell on the rules and requirements on site in advance and also receive a full induction from the site team. A member of the site team is appointed to be their mentor once the placement begins.

Stepnell Best Practice Manager Karen Ryan says a major benefit of the Leicester College programme has been the protocols which have been developed to coordinate the essential paperwork, including the students’ personal details, risk assessments and the necessary insurance cover. That perceived administrative burden can be a major disincentive for construction firms to engage with work experience, she points out, along with the time needed to manage students on site.

Stepnell has developed a work experience pack for each student which compiles all the necessary risk assessments, health and safety and trade related questionnaires which must be completed by the student as well as providing a record for the student’s time on site where their experience is logged and feedback is given on their performance.

Stepnell has also provided additional support from an administrator who works with the student and site team to ensure that all the paperwork is completed. The administrator also liaises directly with the College to ensure that any problems that might arise, such as non-attendance, are quickly identified and resolved.

Stepnell is now working with Leicester College to look at other ways of further promoting placements to other construction firms. We have a strong record of delivering work placements for both school and college students as part of our commitment to encouraging more young people into construction. Stepnell has previously led the Minster College training initiative in Herefordshire which saw 1,500 students from local schools and colleges gaining experience of a live construction site.

The company has historically recruited new staff members through placements and is likely to make job offers to some of the Leicester College students, but building its own workforce isn’t the main motive, stresses Karen Ryan: “For us, it’s more about getting the message out and raising awareness. It’s perhaps never been more important to let the next generation know more about our industry and the opportunity it offers for a well-paid, technically challenging and rewarding career.”

If any Leicester based company is interested in finding out more about work experience, please contact Andrew Barlow at Leicester College - email or call 0116 224 2097.

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