Employability and work placements in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Jonathan Cole, Lynsey Holland

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster

Abstract

The School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering offers BEng and MEng honours degree programmes in aerospace, mechanical and product design engineering. Students can avail of a sandwich or non-sandwich version of their programme, the former involving a year in industry on an approved placement. Although the placement year is voluntary, there recently has been a notable growth in the proportion of students in our School graduating with a sandwich degree, rising from 23% in 2011/12 to 57% in 2016/17. Of the 355 placements during the last three years, 71% were based in Northern Ireland, 22% in Great Britain (mainly England), 4% in the Republic of Ireland and 3% elsewhere (including USA and Australia). Students typically are given significant responsibilities and the placements are salaried, the average being around £15200 during the last three years.

Placement students must submit a satisfactory portfolio, including work diaries and a reflective element, to fulfil the academic requirements of the sandwich year. Not only do placements provide a creative and innovative learning environment, anecdotal evidence suggests that students develop personal and organisational skills that provide them with a springboard for project work when they return to university for the remaining year(s) of their degree.

In the last two years, four mechanical engineering students from our School have been finalists (ie, reached the shortlist of five in their category) at the annual National Undergraduate Employability Awards event in London. This required demonstrating evidence of impact made on the business. One of these students won the Best Student Contribution to a Small to Medium-Sized Employer category in 2017.

A School-based, full-time placement officer had been appointed in 2012 to manage placement learning and deliver a sustainable employability programme for class sizes of 150 – 200 students. The programme covers both stages 1 and 2 and aims to promote a progressive growth of self-awareness, knowledge, skills and understanding of the labour market, and give students an ideal platform for career development.

In first year, students have a series of four careers sessions to alert them to employability and prompt them to consider summer work experience. An associated PDP exercise involving preparation of a CV is linked to the personal tutor system.

The second-year employability module provides the main vehicle for placement preparation. It is timetabled on Mondays in the first semester and, in addition to fundamental topics of applications and selection, session content includes international options, digital citizenship and the placement approval process. Employers contribute, alongside the School placement officer and a University careers consultant, in delivering sessions so employer expectations are made very clear to students. The format comprises ten one-hour lecture-type sessions and three workshops on CVs, interviews and assessment centres, where more active student participation occurs. This module is optional and not credit-bearing but appears on students’ transcripts as pass/fail based on achieving a specified minimum attendance. Despite being an option, the proportion of the class remaining enrolled is high, ranging from 67% to 87% in the last three years (ie, 145 – 198 students remaining enrolled).

Keywords

  • employability
  • industrial placement
  • sandwich degree

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