Digital and IT industry placements after coronavirus (COVID-19)


- The benefits of hosting industry placements

- Industry placement flexibilities

- Case study: Royal Albert Memorial Museum

- Myth busting

- Advice from employers who have already offered industry placements

- Considerations for work placements and COVID-19 safety


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 have tested their career choice and so could become valuable members of your future workforce.

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 that extra resource to enable your team to concentrate on ensuring that the organisation achieves and thrives.

  1. 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, thus making future recruitment both time and cost effective.

“At CISCO we have an ‘early careers’ group to nurture talent.  We seek to build a bank of work-ready young people for the sector.  Alongside apprenticeships, Traineeships and Internships our T Level students form an important part of this group. Our aim is to provide a great experience of the industry to encourage their continued enthusiasm to join us or the wider sector later.”
Head of CSR, CISCO

  1. Developing new projects

During the pandemic organisations have had to concentrate on additional considerations and adapt to the guidelines for safe working sometimes to the detriment of 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.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter had purchased a particular software package and not had time to learn about it and how to implement it.  This task become a responsibility for one of their placement students.

  1. 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.

IBM have recognised the huge digital skills gap in the economy. T Levels and industry placements are part of their strategy to give back by helping to close this gap for the UK economy and the sector.  Alongside this agenda they seek to engage a diverse community and specifically attract females toward digital skills as they are currently so underrepresented in this sector.

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

The introduction of an industry placement may encourage you to reflect upon the health and safety processes that you have implemented to date. 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.

Industry placement flexibilities

Digital T Level students can do “route-level” industry placements if specialism placements are not available.

This approach develops skills that are essential and transferable across all digital occupations and provides greater access for employers and students looking for placements.

The routes and occupational specialism options for digital are:

Route Specialism

Digital production, design and development 

Digital production, design and development

Digital business services 

Data Technician

Digital support and services 

Digital infrastructure

Network cabling

Digital support

Case study: Royal Albert Memorial Museum

The museum has a history of working both with students and with their local Exeter College. They are always looking for ways of attracting people to the creative sector and also of increasing the diversity of those they engage.  Digital T Levels provided a good way to support these agendas.

The museum designed 2 45-day placement opportunities, one as a Design Assistant and the other as part of the Digital team supporting all aspects of interactive media. For each placement, the museum worked with the college to design projects and tasks for each placement that demonstrated the wide variety of work available. These attractive placements helped to bring the learning curriculum to life and were attractive to potential students.

The museum was fully engaged with the selection process to ensure that the right students were matched to the roles available. The chosen model was day release.

One of the challenges faced was the difference between the workplace and attending college. The students needed to get used to this different environment but soon went from being quiet and quite nervous to blossoming into confident members of the team.

In one instance, the museum identified a software package that had been purchased but not used.  The industry placement student was able to introduce and train in this package across the team. This is one of the many ways that the value of the placement was realised.  Meanwhile the students gained not only work experience but a real insight into sector as well as the sector.

The museum feel committed to providing these longer, substantial industry placements as the gains for all are so great.

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 are unable to 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.

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

Security must be a consideration, but it is surmountable.  Employers who have offered digital placements recognise this as an area that needs to be planned for in advance.  Gaining access to areas of a site may be an issue, together with confidentiality within some projects.  Ways of dealing with this challenge have been to buddy the student with another team member who is able to always monitor their access and planning elements of work that are not in the highest categories of sensitivity. Discreet projects have been helpful when defining real work opportunities.

“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-19- 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.

If working arrangement require working in close proximity with others in, pairs or working in teams, as with all employees, these pairings and teams should be fixed as far as possible. Their mentor does not need to be part of that team or pairing if social distancing is maintained when they meet and if possible, outside.

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

Students will have been taught a number of basic skills during their T Level teaching and so will not enter the workplace totally “green”. The education provider will make sure that students are equipped with the technical knowledge and skills and will be suitably prepared to enter the workplace. This will involve the development of employability skills and a good understanding of the professional standards of behaviour and attitudes before they go on their industry placement.

By working with the college in advance of the placement they can support student readiness in line with your precise needs to enable the student to ‘hit the ground running’ when they join you.

Advice from employers who have already offered industry placements

The following hints and tips come directly from the employers we have spoken to who have already offered industry placement opportunities in the Digital sector:

  1. Plan early and plan well. The time spent in planning will be repaid in delivery.  The learning provider is able to support the planning.
  2. Start by identifying real and meaningful work that will engage and motivate the placement student as well as adding value for your organisation. Involving teams with this task can make the tasks relevant, useful and interesting.
  3. Communicate to all staff about the potential placement opportunities to raise awareness, interest and volunteers who want to supervise and mentor students.
  4. Embrace the skills and abilities 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. Ensure the opportunities 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 the required attributes such as drive, creativity, problem solving, communication skills and teamwork.
  7. Involve newer recruits or apprentices in the design and delivery of the induction to enable them to really 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.

Considerations for work placements and COVID-19 safety

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Where appropriate, 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.

Risk assessments

There may be a need for additional risk assessment depending on the work setting (for example, working near others, dealing clients, deliveries or visitors) although these have been addressed in the government guidance for working safely during the pandemic in office or contacts centres.

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 or supervisor becomes ill

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.

Part-time work

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 of providers and employers set out in government guidance will still apply.

If the 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.

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