Blog – Work Experience Can Be a Win-Win For Both Students and Businesses

By James Potter, Managing Director, Superstructures

“it is undisputed that the construction industry is facing a tsunami of issues with regard to escalating costs, skills and material shortages. And here at Superstructures, we are no exception.

However, we have found a way to address our difficulties around recruiting the right people, whilst at the same time attracting new young blood into the industry.

For the past three years, I have been working with the teachers and staff at One Sixth Form College in Ipswich.

My initial introduction to One came through Jordan Holder at New Anglia LEP. He asked whether I would come onboard as an Enterprise Adviser, to work with the college and the LEP’s Career and Enterprise Hub. The aim was to increase social mobility in Ipswich, and ensure young people have opportunities to progress onto ambitious career pathways, regardless of their background.

This is a voluntary role, and I am sure, like many, I had a large amount of trepidation about how much time and effort I would have to give to the role, for what I assumed would be very little return. After all I believe if you are going to do something well, you need to give it a 100%, whatever it is.

However, I quickly realised that I was approaching it from the wrong angle – that rather than looking at it from an ineffective use of my time, I could turn it into an opportunity and use my interaction with the students to ‘fish in the pool’ of future talent.

It helped that One ran an Engineering diploma course, so the students were already warmed up to the role of a structural engineer and the part we play in the construction supply chain. What I had underestimated was how hungry these young people would be to get onto the first rung of their career ladder.

In September 2019, Superstructures took on Liam Swann as a Degree Apprentice, just days after he picked up his A level results from One. He has fitted in so well with the team that we have recently promoted him to reflect the ongoing contribution he is making to our business.

Then in the following September, we employed Lee Allender from One, after he did his two weeks of work experience with us in the March. His appointment as an Apprentice Structural Engineer proved how useful work experience can be for both student and business.

If planned properly, it provides a perfect opportunity for both sides to find out about each other. It also enables us to gauge whether the young person would be a ‘good fit’ for our business, and for the student to build a relationship with an employer, who may be able to support them through their future education and training.

If everything is right, then the natural next step is for the work experience student to progress into a degree apprenticeship. We see this as a long-term commitment, so that one to two weeks of time spent together gives us a brilliant opportunity in our recruitment process, to ‘try before you buy’!

Three years on, we now have a total of five degree apprentices working in the team.

It really is a win-win situation with all five individuals contributing and playing an active part in the business.

From our perspective, as well as enforcing our social values of supporting our local community by providing employment opportunities, we are plugging our skills gap by growing our own pool of future talent. From the apprentices’ perspective, they are studying part-time for their degrees at Anglia Ruskin in Chelmsford, which have the added bonus for us of being funded by the government. And at the same time, they are being paid a salary and gaining invaluable on the job experience.

In a nutshell, our apprentices are some of the best people in our team with huge potential for the future.

So, my advice to all businesses working in the construction sector is this: If you, or someone from your organisation hasn’t been working with a school, college or university this year, then why not? The world of education has never been more accessible; building a relationship, giving a 10-minute career talk, or mentoring some students – even recording a video that can be shared to thousands of students, all of these take no time at all, we’re talking hours a year, not days.

But the returns can be oh so worth it!”