Recently, I sat in (virtually) on the final presentation for one of my industrial placement students. They had just finished their year in industry, working at DCA Design, between the second and third years of their engineering undergraduate degree.
I was really impressed by the quality of the work, how they answered my questions about the work and the responses of the managers when I discussed the student’s performance during the year. This led me to reflect on industrial placements and why they’re such a good idea.
Placements are great for the students in three main ways: personal development, academic development and business acumen.
It might sound cheesy, but industrial placements give students a chance to grow! They learn and improve their interpersonal skills, which are crucial for operating in the ‘real world’ where engineers have to interact with stakeholders and customers. Students get a chance to learn all those keys to social interaction in a workplace in a low-risk environment – everyone wants to see them succeed and produce great work.
In my student’s case, the managers commented on how their presentation skills had improved and how much more confident they were when presenting. (Which is even more important for virtual presentations, when non-verbal audience cues are absent!)
Students also get a chance to learn practical engineering skills! One of my students learnt how to use a piece of data acquisition equipment. Another learnt how to use a complex piece of engineering software and another got their track licence for testing cars!
They also get experience in applying the skills they learn in the classroom to real problems. A complaint often levelled at higher education is the absence of practical applications of the theory we teach. Here’s a great opportunity for these students to apply what they’ve learnt to real engineering problems!
In this particular case, my student had applying mechanical engineering design equations for beam strength to the prototype he was working on. A great practical application of the stuff he’d been taught!
Students get the chance to learn how engineering fits within the wider business context. They can see how real projects are budgeted, managed and resourced.
This increases their employability, but also gives them a sense of how engineering has impact and how real engineering gets done. As engineers we often focus on the fun bit (the engineering!), but in a company everything needs to be justified, costed and checked – people’s lives may depend on our work.
The students also get paid! Which is a great incentive to finish their degree and get paid a full wage in a graduate job.
Companies with industrial placement students also win! They get enthusiastic soon-to-be-graduates who work hard and cost less than they will once they graduate. It’s also a year-long interview. Placement students who do well will often be employed by the same company after graduation!
And that’s what happened in this case! DCA Design were so impressed with the student that they have offered them a job post-graduation!
The moral of the story: Placements are awesome and you should do one if you can!