How to Make the Most of Your Industrial Placement Year

Our Industrial Placement programme, recently awarded the Princess Royal Training Award, is now in its eighth year. This summer, we welcomed a new crop of fresh-faced IPs and congratulated those returning to university with a year of industry experience under their belts.

With these comings and goings in mind, we got to thinking about why these industrial placements are valuable and how students can make the most of their time in the workplace. We sat down with a few of our outgoing IPs to find out what advice they would give to students soon to embark on their own IP journeys.

Finding the Right Place

There are a number of routes into an IP placement. One of our IPs, Ned, initially heard about Web Applications through his sixth form’s science centre and spent two weeks on our work experience programme. When it came time to apply for his industrial placement, Ned explains that his experience had, ‘left such a good impression, Web Apps was the first (and only!) place I applied for my IP year’. Undertaking work experience or a less formal placement can be a great way to find out if a company is the right place to spend an entire year.

Not all companies are the same, and it’s worth taking the time to think about what different companies can offer. SMEs can be overlooked in favour of larger companies, but they may allow a student to take on more responsibility. This is something that appealed to IP Lauren, who notes that the opportunity to work on client cases has greatly increased her confidence. She says, ‘I’m treated just like anyone else here, and it feels great’.

A company’s approach to its staff and its industrial placement programme can also make a big difference. Another of our IPs, Matt, says that our company’s emphasis on learning, growth and innovation encouraged him to apply. He also thinks his application may have been successful because he was able to demonstrate how his own ethos aligned with the company’s. Finding a company that values the training period and encourages ongoing development will certainly pay off when it comes to the final year of university and subsequent employment.

Ask Questions and Learn Broadly

This may seem daunting, especially when people are busy. Matt says, ‘don’t be afraid to get things wrong and ask for help. Everyone else has been in the same place, and you don’t get better and improve unless you put yourself out there and admit you need help’. No one assumes that IPs know everything, and the desire to learn will never be frowned upon. Take advantage of this expectation, and question what you don’t know.

While the year in industry is designed to give a student experience in their chosen field, it can offer much more than subject-specific learning. Ned points out that although he has learned a lot about building software, he has also gained broader skills in time management, working in teams, and communicating with clients. Most importantly, his IP year has confirmed that he does enjoy working in the IT industry. That he now spends his free time learning and writing code is a testament to this!

Take Feedback on Board

It can be difficult to hear criticism of your work, but understanding that it is intended to be constructive and that no one gets everything right at the beginning of their career should soften the blow. Ned acknowledges that no one can make you improve but yourself, and that it’s important to, ‘reflect on the things you need to learn more about’. Accepting what you don’t know and knowing how you can come to learn it is a great way to approach a placement.

Keeping track of feedback can also be useful further down the line. Having a good record of all of the tasks completed on an IP year, and evidence of growth and improvement over the course of the placement will be invaluable when looking for a job. The ability to demonstrate resilience in the face of criticism will also be a valued skill.

Say Yes!

When asked what key piece of advice they would like to pass on to students embarking on their own IP journeys, Ned and Matt were on the same page. Ned says, ‘get stuck in! There’s much to be gained from trying things yourself and being brave enough to make mistakes’. Matt agrees, saying: ‘Grab it by the horns and dive in there. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll learn something!’

While this advice applies to the workplace, it also stands for the social side of the IP year. Here at Web Apps, we hold regular social events, from go karting to baking competitions. ‘I’ve learnt how to integrate into a company both in terms of work and social life, and that a good work/life split is important’, says Matt. ‘Constantly working and not playing negatively affects work in the long run!’

Getting on well with colleagues and peers can make a big difference when it comes to finding a permanent position after graduation. While “networking” may sound like a painful task, ultimately, it’s about communicating well with others in your field. Whether you’re hoping to return to the company after graduation or not, leaving a good impression is hugely important; the industry may not be as big as you think it is! Keeping in touch with colleagues is also important, whether it’s to hear about future employment opportunities or just to ask some advice.

Ultimately, the IP year is whatever the individual makes of it. Taking and making opportunities to learn and grow can’t fail to pay off. Matt says, ‘I’m definitely leaving the company a better software developer than when I arrived and with a shedload of experience; it’s been an invaluable year’.