Work experience: well worth the effort

By his own admission, after the hard slog of GCSE examination preparation, Ayushman Mukherjee was initially reluctant to give away weeks of his holidays to work experience.

But now, after a summer spent with three of the world’s best-known businesses, he has a very different perspective. And, like his Year 12 classmates Jack Runchman, who won plaudits from staff at Heathrow Airport, and Pranay Surana, who enjoyed two very different engineering placements, Ayushman would cheerfully advise this year’s Year 11 boys to follow in his footsteps.

“Yes, after these three weeks, I was thoroughly tired. But work experience is an opportunity that you can’t miss,” says Ayushman. “It is multi-faceted and is appealing to employers and universities alike. If you do miss out, several years down the line, you’ll regret that you didn’t try harder.”

Once he had made the decision to give up his holiday, Ayushman naturally wanted to make sure the sacrifice was worthwhile, so he set his sights high, aiming for placements with companies on the Fortune 100 – an aim in which he was successful.

“My first placement was with Cisco Systems, a hardware and software conglomerate, in early July. I had applied for this through a connection, and was ultimately selected alongside 40 other students. Travelling to Feltham every morning was not the easiest, especially given the crowded Heathrow trains on the way back, but it was certainly worthwhile. We were given talks by senior execs, along with hands-on experience with Cisco products. Plus, they paid for our food every day! Everyone there was like-minded, and it gave me a comprehensive industry insight.”

The following week he had a placement with another software giant, Oracle, which he obtained through a family connection. “It was more than eye-opening. I shadowed software developers and sales execs – as well as attending meetings with clients and partners. The experience was much more realistic; there was less hand-holding, and more independence. I carried out research on potential clients, and compiled Excel spreadsheets. It might sound like a rather mundane pastime – but it was much more relaxed than you might think.”

His last work placement, with global investment bank JP Morgan in Canary Wharf, came several weeks later and the process was “perhaps the most competitive”. He secured it by submitting answers to essay questions and doing a video interview.

“Ultimately, they told us that 90 had been selected from over 1,200 applicants – yet don’t let this dissuade you. The fact that you go to QE means that you’re more than capable of making that cut.

“The Jubilee line trains are seriously packed – and I had to get up at 6 every morning to make my train. Regardless, standing in an executive boardroom at the top of Canary Wharf is certainly a proud experience of mine. “We were split into streams over the course of the week, and we shadowed several departments. We were introduced to trading software, given employability sessions, and given lectures by senior execs.”

During his week at Heathrow Airport, Jack Runchman worked in different departments every day. He spent time in: Capital Projects; Expansion; Finance and Strategy; Engineering; Security & Customer Relations Service; Airport Operations Centre (APOC) & Airside Operations; Baggage, and Commercial.

Of these, perhaps the most enlightening was Capital Projects, he says, but adds: “What I enjoyed most was the sheer variety of departments that I was able to explore and gain an experience of. At the moment, I don’t have too much of an idea on where my career will end up, so learning about as much as possible was useful in helping me to discover what I like as well as things that might not be for me.

“I learnt a great deal and everyone that I met was so friendly and approachable.”

Afterwards, Jack received an email from Heathrow Emerging Talent Specialist, Lana Gilbert,  praising him for the way he conducted himself in each of the airport’s departments and for his professionalism and inquisitiveness.

Pranay Surana’s placements were both in engineering, lasting one week each. “I learnt a lot in this short space of time,” he says.

The first was with Leonardo Helicopters, part of the Italian aerospace, defence and security multinational, Leonardo. Pranay applied through the company’s website.

“My week consisted of looking at blueprints for helicopters, designing them on 3D CAD software, 3D printing and testing the models. As a Product Design student, I feel this broadened my knowledge of how to use specialist CAD software, a skill I can bring forward to A-Level technology.
“As well as this, the placement allowed me to meet and socialise with new people. I learnt the importance of expanding your social network – something which will be very useful in the future. Overall, I found the week very interesting but also very beneficial as it helped me to confirm that engineering was the right thing for me.”

His second placement was with Diamond Light Source – the UK’s national synchrotron (a huge machine that works like a giant microscope, harnessing the power of electrons to produce bright light that scientists can use to study anything from fossils to jet engines to viruses and vaccines. Located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, Diamond is a not-for-profit limited company funded as a joint venture by the UK Government as part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and in partnership with the Wellcome Trust.

Again, Pranay applied through the company’s website. He worked in its mechanical engineering department, spending the week performing scientific research involving the use of light beams.

“Since I was now much more confident in knowing that I wanted to pursue engineering as a career, it was now important to decide which field of engineering is right for me.

“The placement was therefore very useful to me as I got exposure to another aspect of engineering. More importantly, it gave me hands-on experience, which is something that cannot be achieved in the classroom. As a whole, this work experience was outstanding; I learnt many new skills, and it truly spiked my interest in engineering in this specific department.”