Student Placements at a Micro Business

With the end of the academic year in sight, many students and organisations will be thinking about work placements or summer internships. Hosting work placement students for microbusinesses and SME’s is hugely rewarding, and challenging, for both parties. At Pixalytics we’ve just finished hosting our first 8 week work placement student, Bryony Hanlon, from Plymouth University and so between us we’ve put together this blog to give both prospective placement students and host organisations some ideas of the things you need to think about before you get started:

For students we’ve listed four questions an organisation might ask before deciding whether to offer a placement. Remember while getting a placement seems the most difficult part, spending time making sure the placement is well planned and structured will give you and the employer the best outcome.

  1. Why do you want to do a placement with us? This may sound obvious, but before you ask for a placement, make sure you know why you want to do it with that company specifically and what you want to gain from it!
  2. Why did you apply to us in particular? During your research you should have identified the most relevant organisations; they may be completing a project that is of particular interest to you, offer practical experience to develop a particular skill, or may offer experience of a particular type or organisation, such as consultancy. It’s really important to know this with a micro-business as they may only operate in a niche area, or they may only have one or two projects they are working on. If you want to gain particular experience or skills, make sure the business can support that.
  3. How would the placement help to support your future career development? Make sure your CV sells your skills and demonstrates a clear career path or area of interest. Highlight any practical experience, paid work and volunteering. Tell the employer what you want to gain from the placement by specifying the kind of projects you would like to work on or activities that you would like to be involved with.
  4. What time commitment can you offer us? Outline your availability but be realistic, especially if you also have a part time job or volunteering responsibilities. Again vital for a micro-business as they may have to bend or alter their work patterns to support the placement; which generally can be done with planning.

The focus for employers is a little different; while students may be keen, you still need to lead the placement. This can be challenging for a micro business, with everything else you have to keep on top of. Things to consider:

  1. Can you physically host a placement student? It’s obvious, but do they have somewhere to sit? Do they need access to IT facilities, door access swipe cards, security clearance, parking permits or any specific training or equipment?
  2. How will you supervise the student and who will undertake this? You need to be clear who is supervising the student and they need to have the time, skills and willingness to do it – this is key to the success of the placement. For micros and SME’s this dedicated time can be difficult with workloads, but remember students can work independently, you don’t have to be with them all the time and some support and supervision can be done by email or skype; but not everything. You need to meet the student regularly to discuss progress and support them through the work.
  3. How will the student benefit your organisation? This is vital for the micro and SME employer; you need to make the most of opportunity you have. Can the student work on a project that you don’t have time to do, are they assisting in you with a specific piece of work or do they have skills you don’t have that you can utilise? Also remember, a great student could make a future great employee – you have to impress them too!
  4. How will you manage performance during the placement? Be clear at the start what outcome you’re expecting – is it a written report, project completed, research done or sales generated. Agree realistic goals and communicate throughout the placement, weekly monitoring and feedback meetings are great.

A successful placement should benefit employers and the students, as well as helping to boost your organisation’s reputation. We’ve benefited greatly from what Bryony has done over the last couple of months, and the outcome of her work will influence the way our company develops over the coming months and years. So if you’re a micro or SME thinking about taking on a student this year, we’d say go for it!

Blog produced by Bryony Hanlon, Work Placement student at Pixalytics, and Andy Lavender, Director at Pixalytics.