Meet Richard Lee
Richard Lee is a commissioning engineer at Atritor Ltd, manufacturers of drying and pulverising equipment for the mineral, chemical and food industries. He regards his university work experience placement as instrumental to getting him to where he is today.
“I studied a BEng in electrical and electronic engineering and my work experience placement was for RWE Npower at Littlebrook Power station for 13 months,” he says. “I gained a range of technical skills including reading and interpreting electrical drawings, as well as a basic understanding of a very complex industry. I developed professional skills such as time management and effective communication, and I realised what I was – and wasn’t – looking for in my career.”
Richard was left in no doubt that his work experience gave him the advantage when applying for jobs after university: “My current employer has always been very clear that my hands-on practical ability and understanding was one of the main reasons I got a job. Without work experience, I would like to think I would have found a job. However, it would almost certainly have not been anything as exciting as I do now.”
Having reaped the benefits of work experience himself, Richard is keen to see other engineering students do the same: “The transition from education to industry is huge and most students do not realise this until it is too late. With a placement in industry, students gain a broader engineering skillset, whilst also learning about how business actually works.”
Meet Joe Claessen
Joe Claessen is a Project Engineer (Mechanical and Electrical) at the company where he did a work experience placement as a student, Flare Products Ltd. He can’t emphasise enough how beneficial the placement was for him, although he acknowledges that securing a work experience placement can be challenging.
“Flare Products builds Waste Gas Burners for the Anaerobic Digestion (AD) industry, including sewage plants, waste incineration plants and AD plants on farms,” Joe explains. “On my placement there, I started in the factory working with the fabrication team, learning about both the mechanical and electrical sides of the product. I then moved to the engineering team where I learned more of the design and business operation side of things.”
Joe was given opportunities to put theory into practice, undertake specialist training and received a job offer at the end of the placement. “The job offer took a lot of stress out of the final year,” Joe says. “My grades improved, my knowledge grew and I gained many contacts within the industry.”
However, he admits that finding the placement was the toughest part: “A few other students on my course did not get a placement, even though they wanted one. This included students who were achieving 2.1s and 2.2s.
“The main problem is competition,” He explains. “Our placement department encouraged us to visit sites such as gradcracker.com, where big name engineering firms place adverts for placement students. These adverts are nationwide – the amount of competition you have to get one of these jobs is phenomenal. Even our internal webpage, listing the most recent opportunities, was pounced upon by most of the engineering students in my faculty. I really think that effort should be spent on trying to convince companies to offer more opportunities to students.”
Meet Michael Tayler-Grint
Michael Tayler-Grint is a Electronic Engineer at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. He undertook several work experience placements as a student, and was particularly impressed by the University of Warwick’s system of helping students secure placements.
“I took three summer placements at a software house in the holidays, following my first three years, and a year placement doing electronic design between the third and fourth year,” Michael says. “As a result, when I graduated I knew I wanted to do electronic design and I had some practical experience that I’m sure helped my applications.”
Michael credits his university with helping him to find, or at least pointing him in the direction of placements: “My summer placements were all with the same company, which I found through university careers fairs. For my year in industry, I ended up going through The Engineering Development Trust’s Year in Industry (YINI) scheme.”
“I knew there weren’t that many companies at the Warwick careers fairs which offered electronics roles,” He continues. “So rather than limit myself to choosing from a few companies, I let YINI staff find me a placement. Although the university wasn’t directly involved in finding the placement, the fact that we were given a lecture slot that explained it was an option, encouraged me to look into it.”
Michael doubts his search for placements would have been as successful without the input of his university: “The fact that the careers fairs happened early on in the academic year encouraged me to apply early. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have thought about looking for placements until after the exams.”
He concludes: “I believe all universities should offer at least this level of support to students looking for work experience, and universities should stress how useful practical university work experience is when applying for graduate jobs.”