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Viewpoint: Education and experience

Tony Gould

Improving the graduate crop.

Education and experience are two words that tend to be regarded as distinct entities when it comes to the workplace environment. The phrase “a green graduate” while not intending to be at all derogatory is one that I have heard many times over the years to describe well qualified individuals fresh out of university but lacking any form of professional experience. We have found that it takes at least a year to turn our graduates into more rounded engineers.

Within any design office or team it is essential to have a blend of skills to get the job done. Within a relatively small organisation, staff departures can consequently hit hard unless there is a good flow of new talent coming in to the team. We have seen, particularly over the last two years, that recruiting good quality graduates, certainly into our specialist temporary works sector, has become tougher and of course more expensive.

At Groundforce, we have embarked on a number of initiatives with local universities under our StudyLink banner to try to remedy this situation. The most successful of these initiatives has been taking on students during their industrial placement year. This used to be called the sandwich year in my day! The point I am making is that this has proved to be an excellent way of blending education and professional experience at an early stage to produce more rounded and employable graduates.

We recognise that specialist temporary works design is not everyone’s cup of tea, with many graduates naturally preferring the prospect of employment with, shall we say, more glamorous consultants or contractors. But with engineering university cities such as Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield only a stone’s throw away from us , we are always heavily oversubscribed by applicants for placement places. Consequently we have seen a number of excellent undergraduates come through our placement process and return to us later as a fully fledged graduates.

I recently attended a university careers fair, followed by an ICE sponsored mentoring event at one of our local universities and I found it genuinely heartwarming to talk to several highly motivated students keen to be considered for placement opportunities.

This is a long term and indeed drawn out route to graduate recruitment, but I firmly believe that by giving these students an early insight into life inside a fast paced professional design office (and by the end of their 12 month placement with us, they have certainly had that) not only are they benefiting and improving their chances of a good degree grade, we are helping to secure a good flow of work hardened engineers returning to us post graduation.

So in summary, I would urge engineers and companies to get involved with mentoring either through local arrangements or through the recognised ICE schemes, your local MDO will be able to advise. The clichéd phrase “you reap what you sow” is clearly appropriate here and we if we want to see a high level of skill and professionalism in our industry have a duty to nurture the crop.

  • Tony Gould is Groundforce Shorco, technical director

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