Common questions about Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care industry placements

This article looks at some of the challenges that employers offering Agriculture, Environment and Animal Care industry placements are facing and possible solutions.

Specific technical skills

A lot of our work demands specific technical skills to operate machinery and/or work with animals. How can we be sure that the student will have useful and relevant skills?

The starting point is a clear specification for the student, including:

  • what your organisation does, its values, and anything else which might help bring your work to life for the student, such as what typical tasks and activities look like
  • a short role description for the placement, what’s going to be involved, listing tasks, activities, and responsibilities. For example, a stately home landscape contracting organisation would send information on the correct techniques for the use of their specific tools, equipment and machinery and how to maintain and safely store and use them.

Ask the college or school you are working with for students’ course content, what they will be learning and when. Ideally, placements will be timed to fit with the course so that skills learned in the classroom can be put into practice when you need them.

You might ask the college or school to have students prepare evidence of their skills, such as tasks and projects they have completed or portfolios, to let you match their skills to your work.

Work with the college or school to identify and select students that they think will fit your organisation. Consider running a recruitment process appropriate to your organisation, which could be from formal and structured, to informal and light-touch.

Ask students for a CV – perhaps offering them a template to complete, so that they can describe their technical skills and not undersell themselves.

Capacity to host a student

As a small organisation I might not have the capacity to host a student for the full 315 hours.

Industry placements must focus on developing up-to-date technical skills and knowledge, by offering experiences of a real-life job role and work pressures.

Students will be contributing to your business over an extended period of time and, although initially your time and resources will be needed to get students up to speed, as they learn they will add to, not lessen, your capacity. Effective planning and scheduling of activities for industry placements students, some of which can be shared in advance, will mean that they could work independently sooner.

One alternative is that you can share a placement with one other employer to make up a complete placement of at least 315 hours. Both employers would agree appropriate projects, tasks and activities that support the student’s development objectives.

It may be that you can offer a placement with another organisation that you’re working with in your supply chain or perhaps a customer or a partner or an outsourced function, allowing students to experience two aspects of the industry.

If you do not have a partnership where you think this might work, ask the college or school you are working with if they can facilitate a shared placement.

Time getting students up to speed

When students arrive, we’ll have to spend a lot of time getting them up to speed with our business and providing practical, hands on training.

In many environments, induction for industry placement students is identical to full-time staff induction. Many organisations have written induction programmes which could also be shared with students.

You could also offer relevant pre-briefing information about your organisation, perhaps visiting students at their college or school before the placement. For example, a poultry farmer planning to offer industry placements could provide information and standards about health and safety, biosecurity legislation and regulation, codes of practice and a summary of the end-to-end operational process. This could be worked into the curriculum so that students would arrive well prepared and ready to work.

For some placements a work-taster session may well be very helpful, so the student knows what to expect.

The college or school will work with you before the placement so that all three parties (you, the student and the college or school) understand their responsibilities, expectations are aligned and all will be in a position to sign an Industry Placement Agreement.

Ready for the workplace

What if students are not ready for the workplace, or the physical demands of the role?

Firstly, as part of their transition to the world of work, it’s going to be important that students are aware of the standards you expect and of the professional behaviour, language, communication you expect. You could:

  • visit the college or school for a short Q&A session with prospective students so you can explain how you work and set expectations
  • consider if it would be possible to offer a work taster opportunity to allow the student to visit the workplace before the placement starts and see what will be required in practice
  • work with the college or school to recruit students who are likely to fit with your ways of working
  • use a job description to describe the activities students would be undertaking explaining exactly what is involved, indoor/outdoor, physical or not. This will provide an insight into the role for the student.

Time to supervise

We don’t have time to supervise a student.

You could begin by allowing students to observe and work with your staff. Try starting with a smaller number of day release sessions to get the learner settled into your routine and ways of working. You could then bring them in for a longer block where they can be more independent, having got more used to the workplace. Over time, energetic, enthusiastic students with a growing technical skill set, should be able to make a significant contribution.

There are also direct benefits for supervisors and mentors, such as the opportunity to develop management skills, which may be especially valuable for technical staff who have had limited management experience.

Some employers have devised schemes that acknowledge and possibly reward line managers or mentors who work with students, recognising that the employee has developed their leadership and management skills.

Seasonal work

Our work is often seasonal and weather dependent - when the conditions are good, we work. How will that fit with the timing of student’s classroom time and their examinations?

This sounds like an ideal opportunity to expose students to the realities of working in the industry. When you’re planning the placement, talk to the student and their college or school about how flexible they can be.

Industry placements can be flexible to cover seasonal or weekend work, although you’ll have to work with the college or school to balance your workflow with their need to schedule classes and to plan class sizes.

Understanding and getting used to flexibly delivering work and tasks and the consequences of this will be vital learning for students aiming to work in the industry.

Transport in remote areas

We are set in a rural location with limited or no public transport facilities, how will a student travel to and from work?

The college or school you are working with might provide student transport, especially if you’re offering several students an opportunity on the same site, so talk to them in the first instance.

Another way to get students to site is to arrange to take several students from an agreed centralised and suitable pick-up point.

Safety and risk

Our workplace has many dangers and hazards. It’s just too risky.

You will be responsible for the health and safety of students whilst they are on industry placement with you and you will also need to identify a supervisor with the right health and safety experience and knowledge to oversee students’ work, especially in the early phases of a placement.

You will need to check the student is old enough to use equipment before giving them training. For example, handling chemicals and fertilisers may be subject to specific regulations and guidance.

Ask the college or school for course content and how health and safety is included. This will give you a better idea of which projects and tasks are most suitable for a student on an industry placement. By understanding health and safety course content, you can look at the tasks and projects that need doing on site, and risk assess each one to decide which are low risk and could be suitable for students.

You must provide a safe working environment and ensure adequate induction and suitable training. For example, a small waterway environment protection organisation wanted students to work in a team clearing culverts and tunnels in the path of a land drain. Full and specific training for working and operating in confined spaces was provided to all staff including the student and a risk assessment was documented.

Specialist or protective clothing may also be needed for some tasks. The college or school you are working with in some cases may be able to provide the equipment the student needs, or tell you the sizes of the student so you can make sure your spare PPE will fit.

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