by Roger H. Mayo

1. Introduction

This paper aims to pose questions that will act as a starting point for the discussion sessions that will form part of Workshop 3 of the second AECEF symposium. When the session is introduced it is proposed that one personal set of answers will be presented, as will reactions to these, before general discussion attempts to find solutions that may be relevant to participants' own circumstances.

2. What constitutes Trainee Service?

For the purposes of this paper trainee service is defined as a period of industrial experience undertaken during a first degree course. There are various forms of such experience, the first differentiation being whether the student undertakes the placement as a trainee or an employee. In the former a student is taken into an organisation and shown the activities undertaken by various members of the organisation; in the latter the student becomes a part of the organisation, undertaking work that would otherwise have to be done by someone else. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two systems, for the student and the organisation?

As far as the student is concerned, which system offers the wider range of experience? Is it easier to move someone who is "work shadowing" from department to department, so that a complete picture of the organisation can be built up? On the other hand, is it preferable for the student to experience a narrower field but at greater depth? Is the fact that the student is taking a position of responsibility of greater benefit? What should the level of that responsibility be?

3. What are the qualifications that Trainee Service affects?

As an association of civil engineering faculties we must obviously consider the impact of service on the academic qualifications gained by graduates. Are there other qualifications that should be acquired by graduates, such as inter-personal skills (working as part of a team, receiving and giving instructions, communicating with clients, management and operatives) or transferable skills (decision taking, development of initiative, awakening interest in the financial aspects of the organisation, learning the "law of diminishing returns")?

To answer these questions, perhaps others should be asked first. What is the faculty trying to produce in its graduates:

4. What format should the Service take?

There are various formats that can be employed in the course structure. Is it desirable that the student gains industrial experience before coming to university and, if so, for how long:- few weeks in the vacation between school and university or a whole "gap" year?

If the placement is as long as twelve months, is it better in two or more sessions spread throughout the course in order to reinforce the material learned just before the placement? Or is it better to have a "thick sandwich" placement of twelve consecutive months to allow responsibility skills to develop?

Compulsory or not?
Another question associated with the format of trainee service is "should the training be compulsory"? What happens if the student is in the wrong sort of organisation for his or her talents? There are very distinct roles in the construction industry for the designer, the constructor, the supervisor and the specialist supplier. Some students get bored with the repetitive nature of constructing the works and wish to be doing something new every day. If they do not fit in with their host organisation, should they be penalised in the award of their degree? In the difficult trading conditions of today's market place, what happens if the host organisation goes out of business?

5. How should the Service placement be arranged and supervised?

Starting point
Some faculties with a long-established industrial placement scheme have the luxury of a list of regular host organisations that will take students as allocated by the faculty. Others may be starting from scratch and have no such friendly "employers". Most faculties will probably be somewhere in between, with some regular organisations but not enough to satisfy the demand from students.

Should the faculty appoint a dedicated Industrial Placement Tutor whose job is to find placements for all students requiring one? Or should the students find their own placement? If the latter, how does the student know that the placement is suitable; how does the faculty? What happens if the student does not obtain a placement?

Should placements be restricted to the home country or can students go abroad? It is often felt that students in industry are learning both civil engineering and how to fit into the local culture. If the placement is abroad, both of these are learned at the same time, unless the student has previous experience of a foreign country. However, some types of placement can only be experienced in a foreign environment. What are the benefits and risks associated with such a placement?

Job finding
If students are not allocated to their trainee positions, who supervises the applications? Students cannot in general be expected to have the knowledge to identify an opportunity, complete the necessary application forms and be successfully interviewed without some guidance or previous experience. The personnel officers or their equivalents in host organisations are busy people whose responsibility is to their organisation, not the student. How can goodwill be maintained on both sides? Should the Industrial Placement Tutor organise the collection of application forms and their despatch ? Who should organise the interview lists and where should interviews be conducted:- at the faculty to minimise the disruption to students' time, or at the place of work to enable the student to see working conditions?

Student's records
While the student is on placement, what records should be kept? Should there be a daily diary, a record book to summarise new knowledge gained so that it can be retrieved in future years and/or formal reports at monthly or quarterly intervals? Should there be an academic exercise such as a dissertation?

Records taken in commercial organisations can raise questions of confidentiality. Who checks the records? What happens if the student is not allowed to take the records away?

6. What problems can occur during Service? How can they be rectified?

Many students go to university straight from school. This experience can be traumatic, even though the university is geared specifically towards helping students. It follows, therefore, that joining the construction industry, often away from friends and family on an isolated site, can be even more disturbing.

Before students take up their placements the question most often addressed is that of finance. How much should the student receive? Is it nothing, because the host organisation is disrupting its normal way of life to accommodate the student? Is it just sufficient for the student to stay alive, with or without a parental contribution? Or is it the going rate for the job, including travelling and subsistence allowances and overtime, because the employer expects to get full value for his money? If the placement is abroad, how should the student be paid; in local currency or direct to a home bank account? Should the remuneration package for a placement abroad include one or more trips home; should it include getting to the placement in the first place?

Funding sources
Who should find the money for a placement? We have already considered whether the host organisation or the student's family should contribute, but are there other sources of income, for example from the European Union? Are schemes such as Leonardo or Tempus worth the effort?

The second concern is living accommodation. Who arranges it? Should the host find somewhere suitable for the student to live and take him or her there as soon as the placement starts? Should students be put into a hotel for two weeks and given time to find somewhere themselves? Should the student be expected to go to the work locality before the placement starts to find somewhere? Or should the student live at home and commute to work? Will the fact that the student is or is not near family and friends be beneficial?

The working environment is often very different from that at school or university. Relationships with colleagues may be difficult if the student is seen as "just another job". If the student is being given real responsibility, who checks that it is building up at a rate that the student can handle, that the student is not being "thrown in at the deep end"? If relationships develop too far, especially if the student is female, whose responsibility is it to counsel victims?

If problems develop, they may reach the point where the student wishes to resign. Who tries to prevent this? If the student does leave the host, how will this affect the following academic years; indeed, will the student return to university at all?

While the student is away from academe how much control should be exercised? Should there be a visiting academic tutor? If so, how often should he or she visit? What means should be used to keep in touch:- telephone, fax, e-mail, letter, personal visits? Should the host organisation appoint an engineer to supervise the placement? Should the student have direct access to the personnel office or the principal who conducted the placement interview?

If large numbers of students are undertaking placements at any one time, it is possible that they will be near to their peers. If so, should they be given the address and telephone number of their classmates? Should this list include details of industrial supervisors? Should it include home details? What happens if a student's parents do not want their address or telephone number generally circulated?

7. How can the effect of Trainee Service be measured?

Course comparison
Most courses do not exist in alternative formats, i. e. with or without an industrial element. If such options are available it is possible to look at a variety of post-placement activities to see whether there is any difference in performance.

The most obvious measure is the final degree classification. Is there any skewing of the results distribution for the two options? Of course, if there is, is that because of the industrial placement, because the better students chose to take the industrial option or because the industrial cohort is a year older?

Projects, etc
Within the final overall classification various activities can be examined:- projects, group work, presentation skills needed for coursework submissions.

Another measure is how employers perceive the graduates. How many graduates remain in the construction industry? How many leave the construction industry to go to much better paid jobs in business and commerce? How many take public service jobs? How many go on to take higher degrees? How many are unemployed or are "travelling"?

How many employers want to make specific recruiting trips to the university, judging that from such a trip they will be sure of obtaining suitable staff? How many want to come to recruit industrial placement students as well as graduates?

Upon starting a professional career graduates can be expected to undertake continuing professional development. Has their industrial placement introduced them to meetings of professional bodies? Have they been on specific courses such as health and safety?

Do we believe that a period of industrial experience within a degree course makes for a better person in our graduates?

8. Conclusion

I hope that in this paper I have asked the questions that will prompt others to come to the symposium to give us the benefit of their answers. I have based the paper on my own experiences in placing students over the years, mainly in the United Kingdom and, latterly, in Germany. I look forward to learning how others in other countries have addressed the problem.

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