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Where to look for work experience opportunities

Advice on finding work placements – the IET shows you where to look for engineering and technology work experience.

Young professionals Everyone knows that work experience is a great addition to the CV and it really helps to have practical experience alongside a good education.

But where are the best places to find work experience placements? We spoke to specialists from industry and academia to give you a breakdown of where to find the best opportunities.

Placement officers at university career services

University career services are a great place to start your work experience hunt. They will have strong ties with local companies and hopefully be able to put you in touch with businesses that work in the sector you want to specialise in. Companies will come directly to them when they have placements available, so it's one of the easiest ways to find some work.

You might be surprised to discover that these departments often have more roles available than applicants!

“We’ve actually got lots of job opportunities up on our board, often sandwich year placements offering £17/18,000. Often our issue is getting students to apply,” highlights Mark Eslick, College Placements Manager at the University of Brighton’s Science and Engineering Placements Office.

“My advice is don’t be put off by the skills you think you might need or a lack of confidence. Make the application because you’ll invariably be successful if you keep going because the opportunities are out there.”

Contact businesses directly

Gaining work experience is a numbers game, so be sure to speculatively contact a wide selection of firms, sending them your CV and asking about placement opportunities.

“Look at your local area and do speculative approaches, they can really work,” advises Eslick. “If you send out 12, 13, 14 letters maybe two or three will come back and they’ll often be open to meeting, simply because you’ve shown initiative. A lot will say no, but speculative approaches work far more effectively than you might think.”

"A productive avenue for candidates to take is shorter term, more informal work experience, where a candidate can shadow professionals,” continues a WikiJob spokesperson. “These can last for a few weeks and because of the informal nature of these placements many firms who do not advertise for positions such as these will nevertheless be willing to take people on. Therefore a few speculative calls or emails could be a productive way to gain such work experience.”
 
Avenade UK’s general manager also notes that students should apply to both big firms and smaller businesses.

"Students should approach the leading technology and engineering players out there, as they often have the infrastructure to support these kind of ventures. Likewise, at the other end of the spectrum smaller firms are frequently looking for intern support and can provide invaluable experience as well, but finding and contacting these businesses can often be more difficult."

"Most of the large engineering and technology firms offer industrial placements,” continues the WikiJob spokesperson. “UK-based aerospace and defence company BAE Systems offers a range of work experience opportunities including placements for people aged 14-16 as well as 12-month industrial placements for candidates currently studying at university, for example.

"Rolls Royce also offers work experience placements for students aged 14-19, ranging from week-long placements for Year 10 students, to full-time internships for graduates. In the technology sphere, FDM Academy also offer work experience opportunities including placements for graduates, 3M offers industrial placements, while IBM offers a 'Futures Scheme' industrial placement, which can be undertaken over the course of a gap year before or after university.”

These firms will promote such schemes on their company website, so be sure to check these out. Simply head to the recruitment or work with us area of their site to find information on work experiences opportunities they may offer and how best to apply.

Networking

Networking is a great way to find out about opportunities and meet new people, so make sure you attend all the recruitment fairs held locally. Also try to attend any industry events you hear about. The IET's Local Networks regularly host networking events, so keep up to date with the events diary to see what's going on near you.

Personal contacts

"Don't forget personal contacts. Parents and relatives all have friends and associates who work in organisations that may be willing to provide work experience to students and undergraduates,” says the chief executive of the Inspiring Futures Foundation.

Also be sure to take a look at where students in the years above you gained their employment or work experience. "Keep in touch with them as we ask graduates we work with for referrals of suitable candidates they may know of," notes Tharsus’ chief executive.

The IET

Don't forget to make the most of everything the IET can offer. Not only are there hundreds of networking opportunities through IET eventsE&T Jobs is a great place to look for opportunities, plus for a list of the top employers to approach, look no further than the IET's Corporate Partners.

Job boards

It is also worth visiting online job boards regularly to search for new opportunities. Many of these, such as Monster, Qreer and All About Careers post placement opportunities alongside graduate job roles, or even have a dedicated internship search feature.

Other useful websites

There are literally tonnes of useful websites that provide work experience services of one kind or another.

"Gradcracker [new window] is a careers website for engineering and technology students which advertises summer internship and industrial placement year vacancies," notes a City University London professional liaison. 

"The Year In Industry [new window] advertises many high-quality, paid engineering and technology placements for students in their gap year before or during their degree course. There are a number of well-respected websites that the major recruiters will advertise with each year, which include Milkround [new window], Prospects [new window]Target Jobs [new window] and Rate My Placement [new window].

"An excellent place to start is SEMTA [new window] - the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies," continues a spokesperson for Inspiring Futures Foundation. SEMTA supports UK businesses in achieving global competitiveness through investment in skills. Other sector skills councils are listed on the Federation of Industry Sector Skills and Standards [new window].

The Graduate Recruitment Bureau [new window] is a UK graduate recruitment consultancy that specialises in STEM-related work. It offers free one-to-one advice, guidance through applications and personal job listings to students and graduates and its website features work experience, internships and graduate job opportunities.

"The Nuffield Foundation [new window] provides science bursaries of £80 per week for travel and expenses. Successful applicants work with scientists, technologists, engineers or mathematicians on projects that are often part of on-going work of significance to the supervisor. Projects run for four to six weeks and take place during the summer vacation."

Originally published 2011, last updated August 2017