Students’ perceptions of the “With Industrial Experience” degree pathways in Engineering

Electrical Electronic Engineering pathway

Mechanical Engineering pathway

Software Engineering pathway

Computer Engineering  pathway

Students share their experiences.What do the students say?

The WIE programme for students is a yearlong industrial placement after completion of their second or third year in the 3-4 year engineering degrees respectively. In particular undergraduate courses of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and Computer Engineering can be combined with a year’s industrial placement to make a 4 or 5year WIE course. The aim of the programme is to give students a valuable insight into the world of work vastly increasing the chances of employability and generally give them a much more mature approach to their studies upon return to university. All universities are now happy to encourage these programmes because they provide students with a number of benefits such as experience of applying the knowledge gained in two or more years at university to real world situations.

It is usual that students obtain many transferable skills that cannot be taught as part of the degree curriculum. Students who have spent time in industry often return with a much clearer idea of the way they see their career progressing and are highly motivated during the remaining years of study.  Even more working placement for professional experience develops the capabilities and skills of students and enables them to become aware of the culture and structure of a working environment.  In the past, despite all the reported benefits for students, there had been noticeably poor take-up of the programmes and further efforts were in place by the universities to reverse the trend.  Regarding the decision when to join a degree course with Industrial Experience, for some students this came at the beginning of the degree whereas others made up their mind later on their course.  When asked in several surveys about the actual reasoning behind their choice most felt that integration of theory with practice and narrowing down student’s options and careers within their rather broad degrees. Many students during the industrial placement year improve their technical knowledge; learn commercial skills to prepare them for the outside world. A combination of skills and practice gives them an all-round experience.

Another benefit is the acquisition of soft skills working with people in many different departments, managing time, exposure to a real job and the experience of communicating with different people from different disciplines.  Some other report the major benefit is maturity and responsibility. They supported that it is very different from doing projects at the university because the motivation differs. In industry someone gives you work to do and if you don’t do it then someone is losing money and from that point of view you actually learn to take real responsibility.  Employability and how the corporate world works as well as the relevance of the knowledge acquired at the university to real life are another advantage. When you see something in practice you have a better understanding for it. When they return to university after their placement students seem to be more reflective about what they learn and the relevance of their courses with real jobs.  In terms of the effect of the WIE programme on students career prospects and choices, most students got offers from the industries they had the experience with. They certainly have a better idea of where they want to be in the future because of their exposure to industry.

Overall students would recommend such a programme to others: One student from the University of Manchester mentioned: “I could definitely advise the students to do it. It is something that is really job security. It develops in so many other ways as well. Personal and professional development: when you are at university you are only dealing with other students, when you are at work you are dealing with more experienced and mature people and so it’s different. Going from an educational environment to a real work environment and when you bring this back to the educational environment you feel the difference.”

Another student from the University of Bath stated: “   Completing a year in industry has improved my technical knowledge for university in preparation for my 3rd and 4th years. It has also helped me with my personal skills for career going forward. This is how you can become a well rounded person. I was also a lot more confident in the exams and my way of thinking has changed.  You become a lot more open minded because that year in industry broadens your horizons. It shows you the avenue of work that you like and the avenues that you don’t like. I also learnt to write reports at work because it is a different style of writing. At university you write to  prove that you know something to get a mark; at work you just want to explain to someone as quickly as possible how it works and how to carry on with it. That was probably the most useful experience. In university we are required to write academic reports and there is a relatively big difference between an academic report and an industrial one and it would have been nice to have learnt a bit more on how I should write a report for industry”.Another student from the University of Birmingham stated: “One of the reasons I was happy to go into industry by the end of the 3rd year is that I had completely lost my motivation. It was just all theory and boring.  I didn’t see how it applied. Coming back after a year in industry I realize now where it is all going… and for my 4th year project I have clear goals on what I want to achieve and I have a bit more experience than those around me so I am now Project Manager and I can see things better. My 4th year project is benefiting; my motivation is benefiting and I have a clearer view of what is happening this year”

Another student from the University of Southampton declared: “I believe I was a lot more confident in the exams and my thinking has completely changed… from group reports for our modules I have had useful feedback and also for our individual project. I am expecting better grades as well. It has given me a genuine enthusiasm for the subject. It is really unbelievable how much I have learnt during that year.”