Student internships and placements are an important part of engineering education. The experiences gained are broad and varied with engineering placements and internships covering a spectrum of industries. Often the key learning experiences from these internships and placements are not integrated in to the student experience when they return to university. The Engineering Academy is currently unique within the Faculty of Engineering in that all of its students are provided with the opportunity to undertake a placement or internship during the summer months. Providing an ideal focus to initially understand the engineering student placement/internship experience and together with the students co-develop mechanisms for maximising the benefits of internships, integrating key learning experiences in to the Engineering Academy student experience. Following implementation in the Engineering Academy the opportunity for transferability across the faculty of engineering and wider university will be investigated.
Qualitative and quantitative data was gathered from students undertaking placements and internships. Three main data collection data methods were used:
Key themes investigated their experiences including the process of application, experiences during the internship, feedback from the company, skills learnt during the internship, university support, benefits, advertising, skills transferred to the academic year, potential improvements, communication and general comments about the EA.
Findings can be summarised by highlighting 12 main benefits and positive experiences and 12 main areas for improvement surrounding the EA student internship and placement experience:
1) Some students applied skills in their internship that they had learnt within university modules that year or would be learning in the future. This gave them great initial experience using the programme within an industrial environment a) Other skills that were implemented by students are as follows
i) A knowledge of material selection and structural elements
ii) Risk Assessment Programmes (RAPs)
iii) Permit Systems
iv) COSHH Assessment
v) AutoCAD (learnt while at college)
vi) “Significantly improved” CAD ability
vii) Practical skills that allow students to work successfully within industry e.g.
(1) Engineering related calculations
(2) Safety Standards
(3) Communication Skills
viii) Formulating Design Guides
ix) Report Writing
2) Working as a team was a skill most students developed more within their placement than at university. Some students felt they had mainly worked independently on projects within the university thus far so the opportunity to work within a team was going to vastly improve their job prospects and prepare them for a real-life working environment.
3) Students who enter first year of university after college have been recorded achieving higher grades than those who enter in second year. It would be a recommendation that this route should be encouraged more in the future.
4) Some students had a mentor during their placement. The mentor was able to provide constructive feedback on areas the student could improve on at university, to return to the placement next year, having remarkably progressed.
5) Students had a wide range of how they perceived the quality of their placement. Irrespective of this most students understood that the experience was going to be of benefit to them in the future.
6) Students agreed that industrial placements give you a vital insight into the ways in which you should conduct yourself within an engineering workplace.
a) “Working in the industry is brilliant, you just don’t get that experience at university”
b) “a real taste of the industry”
7) Some students were excited about learning completely new skills within their industry placement. a) “Everything I am learning is new information”
8) It is a healthy transition in ‘bridging the gap’ between one academic year ending and one beginning. a) “time to make that transition in experiencing real-life engineering work rather than making cocktails”
9) Students supposed that their peers did not apply for placements as they found them intimidating and thought that they themselves lacked the required experience. However, many students who worked with the university as their first placement agreed it had given them the confidence to apply to other companies in the future.
10) People are available to talk to during university placements and, with the exception of periods when mentors are on holiday, they are very approachable and supportive.
11) The interview process was a great learning experience.
12) The student’s being allowed access to university facilities, clubs and societies and the gym etc. whilst being enrolled at college really helps to make the EA more inclusive. It allows EA students to socialise with their peers from the beginning of university. Improving the isolation issue EA students face when they join in second year. a) “if it wasn’t for football in first year, my social situation would be very different, I am very grateful”
Areas for Improvement:
1) Limited communication between the mentor, university and the student
2) Remuneration expectations were not made clear to students or advertised clearly
3) Almost every student stated that university was a huge step up from college and this may contribute to the “drop out” rate
4) The method used to advertise the internships are released is not effective. Students were unaware when the internships would begin to be released and when they would terminate, some students were delaying application in order to apply to 'better' companies coming later.
5) Set student expectations at the start- some students presume they will be given an opportunity with bigger, better companies
6) Students felt independent and detached from the EA with little support
7) Some students were not assigned mentors – a prerequisite for the EA to function as intended
8) A majority of placements were for second year students, leading to a gap in the progression pathway for third year students who may not have applied or been sponsored by a company the previous year
9) Students who do not apply for a placement in second year do not have the confidence or believe they do not have adequate experience or skills to work in an industrial environment at that stage
10) EA students do not integrate well with other students. They fail to make the initial connections with other students in first year due to their enrolment in college, this isolates them and makes them feel insecure during their first year of university
11) The application process for placements is not sufficiently challenging and students are not gaining any experience in real life assessment centres
12) Feedback from the company the student is placed with is either limited or is not provided at all – in this case, the student is unaware of anything they could have improved on or anything they were perceived to be good at; this makes the placement unfulfilling for the student
An interactive presentation tool has been developed. The aim of this tool is to raise students awareness of the benefits they will gain from undertaking a placements and internships and also a clear understanding of common pitfalls they should avoid to maximise the benefits and learning impact from their placement. To maximise engagement and make it easy to follow this has been presented in the retro board game theme of a snakes and ladders see figure below. It is recommended that this is adopted by the Engineering Academy as a communication tool for all students undertaking a placement in the future.
The next steps are to integrate the findings within the Engineering Academy this session and to identify opportunities for transferring lessons across the faculty of engineering and wider university.
Students were involved at the core of all aspects of the project. A current student Kate Murdoch undertook the work as a student intern i.e. developing the methodology, collecting and analysing data, developing the snakes and ladders interactive presentation. Engineering academy students were involved extensively in the collection of data i.e. mobile survey, semi structured interviews and focus groups.
Avril Thomson (firstname.lastname@example.org), DMEM, Faculty of Engineering