• Taking a placement year in industry

Thinking of taking a placement year? The Student Room talks to one student currently spending a year in industry

This feature is sponsored by University of Surrey

Taking a year in industry is a great way to make yourself stand out in the job market. Once you graduate you'll not only have a degree, but will also have the benefit of relevant work experience on your CV.

For that reason, many universities offer courses with placement years. We spoke to Helen Piggott, 24, who's currently taking a year in industry as part of her civil engineering course at the University of Surrey.

Her year-long professional training placement is at civil engineering firm Tony Gee, and she hopes to ultimately work as a chartered civil engineer.

“When I started my degree course I wasn’t particularly bothered about doing a placement year as I was older than most of my peers and already had some industry experience,” says Helen.

“However, once we heard from students on placement or who had just finished, I became convinced it was the best thing to do for my career development and to give me some practical experience to consolidate all I had learnt at university.

Placement years are an integral part of the University of Surrey's undergraduate degrees

“I decided to do a placement because of the added employment likelihood after graduation – I am now sponsored by my placement company throughout my course and unless something goes drastically wrong I will be offered a position here upon graduation.”

Getting a headstart
Helen’s placement has given her a leg up in the job market – and she’s also found her role at Tony Gee has come with more hands-on responsibility than she might have expected.

“I have been surprised by how much trust and responsibility was given to me so early on,” she says. “I have also been surprised to find how valued you are, as I was concerned before starting that a student may be considered a burden or a chore, whereas I have found it to be the complete opposite.

“I am currently involved in several rail-based projects, with mixed levels of responsibility and mixed-size projects.

“It has varied between working on drainage network designs for small embankments to being responsible for fencing, signage and access designs on large multi-million-pound projects.

“As I progress through my placement I am being given more responsibility and require less input from my supervising design engineer, as well as being given more complex projects to oversee.”

Plenty of support
There’s no doubt Helen has been expected to hit the ground running, but she has had plenty of back-up – both from her placement employer and her personal tutor at the University of Surrey.

“My placement employer gives me regular feedback and has no issue with my tutor visits taking me away from my work as and when they need to. They are happy to speak to my tutor and give regular feedback about my progress and performance.

“They have given me specific training on my development objectives already and have sent me on two training courses to achieve the necessary qualifications to allow me to go out on site.

“They are reviewing all my quarterly reports for university prior to submission and giving me feedback and points for improvement in them to help me achieve the best grade possible.

“They organise regular lunchtime seminars to teach us about new products and techniques or share experience. They took all the students on a week-long trip around the country to see their projects and teach us about the individual challenges of each of them.

“They treat you as a graduate engineer. Although it might feel as though you are being thrown in at the deep end at first, it is immensely beneficial and helpful because you are immediately a useful working part of the team, and the amount you learn from the word go is huge.

“My personal tutor has emailed me on a regular basis and given me one tutor visit already. I have regular updates from the professional training administrator and have a schedule of when my next visits will occur for the whole year.

“I received fantastic support from my faculty in getting a placement and that has continued now that I have it. It’s something I feel is beyond helpful and extremely beneficial to all.

Give it a go...
Having already enjoyed such a positive experience on her placement year, it’s no surprise that Helen is keen to encourage other students who might also be considering a year in industry.

“If you are even slightly interested in the idea – go for it! Placements are hard to find so you need to be putting yourself out there because it would be a real shame to decide you did want to do one after all and not be able to do it because you didn’t start early enough.

“If you really aren’t sure then organise a summer placement between first and second year to see how you find that. If you enjoy it you know to do a placement year; if you don’t then you have only lost eight weeks of sitting around the house – and you’ve probably earned some money too!

“My placement so far has been invaluable. It has given me an idea of what direction I want to head after graduation, which will help me choose my modules at university from now on. It has enabled me to start on the road to chartership, and it has taught me so many useful skills I can’t even list them all.

“The experience will tell you more about your subject than a hundred lectures and will challenge you in ways you’ve never experienced before. The confidence you get from solving a real problem, worth real money, on your own, is huge.”

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