What place do student placements have in our industry?

By Jack Roberts, Trainee Sustainability Assessor at Darren Evans Assessments

The last few months have shown that we live in a rapidly changing society and we are entering the great unknown when it comes to our relationship with Europe. As a student, there are many decisions to make when it comes to choosing a career. With so much uncertainty is the construction industry still a sure bet for a lifelong career? At its pre-recession peak in 2008, the UK’s construction workforce was over 2.58 million, by the end of last year this had dropped by nearly 13 per cent to 2.25 million. This shift, during the recession, has caused a skills gap, within the industry. As such, it would seem that this very large industry still has a lot to offer graduates.

I’m studying BSc Environmental Resource Management at the University of West England in Bristol. Before my final year of study I wanted to gain practical experience from the industry to help me complete my final year project as well as giving me a head start with a future career path. I’m soon to complete a 13 month industrial placement at sustainability consultants; Darren Evans Assessments.

My role as a Trainee Sustainability Assessor has involved working on residential projects ranging from multi-residential retirement villages and sites of over 100 dwellings to a single private house project. Work has focussed on both the Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) assessments, ranging from entry level above building regulations to zero carbon, as well as SAP calculation to comply with Building Regulations Part L.

When looking for a placement opportunity I was very open minded about what role to go for. I had minimal construction knowledge – my parents once built a house about seven years ago, that was about it. However, the industry has always had an appeal – I have always been interested in new houses or developments being constructed nearby. With this in mind, I looked upon my placement as an opportunity to develop skills and experience in a sector I knew little about but where I knew the skills I would learn could be transferrable.

My placement has made me change my perception of the industry considerably. I find it fascinating and I love learning about new developments and really enjoy being a part of a team working on these schemes.

The importance of practical ‘hands on’ experience is vital. The placement has made me realise the challenge of learning academic material at University but then finding that the real life application is very different – the skills you learn in the classroom provide you with a good background to certain processes but their real life implementation is very different and in many cases, coursework doesn’t equip you with the knowledge to apply your learning. For example, I knew the basis of SAP calculations and that on completion they produce an EPC. However I didn’t know how they were carried out. Since finding out how to do this first hand, I have also been able to share this knowledge with some of my fellow students as well as my lecturers.

So, if we combine the challenge of the skills gap with the fact that graduates are going out into the workplace with academic skills and understanding but not the practical skills to put them into place, it does beg the question why our Colleges and Universities do not have a better relationship with the industry. It highlights the fact that placements are a vital part of a degree, providing the link between academia and the real world and allowing students to align their learnings with application.

I would love to come back to Darren Evans Assessments upon graduation to develop my knowledge of the industry or alternatively work for a major housebuilder, where I can make suggestions on improving their building efficiency using the knowledge I have gained from my placement, as well as my degree.

Whichever route I choose I know that the decision to include a placement within the construction industry has put me on a path to an exciting career in, what is undoubtedly, one of the most exciting industries in this country and possibly the world.