Put students in their place

Student placement schemes can be hugely beneficial to all parties involved, says Ibrahim Ibrahim.

Student placement schemes can be hugely beneficial to all parties involved, says Ibrahim Ibrahim

It is a constant source of amazement to me that more design courses do not stipulate that students should spend time in industry, alongside their studies. A period spent in a placement should be viewed as an investment by all parties.

From the student’s perspective, this is an opportunity to develop their design, presentation, team-working and administrative skills. Most critically, the opportunity to build a portfolio of real life projects is invaluable.

From the company’s perspective, such schemes offer additional creative resources, a young, fresh viewpoint and an opportunity to train the potential future stars of your company with your ethos and approach.

The return on investment for colleges will be greatly improved students with a professional work ethic, who are more articulate and confident (and who are not afraid to challenge the tutors).

For placement schemes to be successful, it is essential to involve your designers (not directors) in the selection process. For both company and student to gain the most benefit, the student should be exposed to a broad range of projects and responsibilities. Put your trust in them and drop them in at the deep end.

Students should keep a day book and be encouraged to express their opinion. They should not be afraid to make mistakes. Under no circumstances ask them just to make tea and answer the phones, but it is not essential to micro-manage students from day to day.

Get them involved and, most importantly, treat them as another member of your team and they should respond and quickly grow in confidence.

Put them to work with a variety of managers and designers and include them in meetings with suppliers and clients. Their ideas should be treated like other team members’ ideas, that is legally they belong to the company and, ultimately, to the client.

It is also essential to work closely with the college by briefing them as to the type of student you require, in order that they produce a good short list. Do not hesitate to ask for an alternative if you really feel it is not working.

At Portland, we operate two schemes. The first is a one-year paid placement for students during the third year of the interior design degree course at Middlesex University.

I feel it is important to glean an understanding of what students gain from their placements. Feedback from students about the benefits of the placement have included learning about time management, coping with the restrictions of budgets and developing good communication skills with colleagues.

We also run a second scheme, the New Designers – Future of Design Award. This is for the Best Spatial Designer at the annual New Designers Show held at the Business Design Centre in London. The winner receives a two month paid placement with the opportunity of a full-time job thereafter.

Such schemes are essential to our industry, as they can greatly improve the quality of graduates in preparation for the real world. As New Designers event director Isobel Dennis says, ‘Taking the risk to support the next generation and introducing fresh blood can only be of benefit to future business’.

The level of pay for placements is in the region of £160 to £200 per week and should run for a minimum of six months for both parties to gain some benefit. Investing money, time and energy on schemes to train the next generation is critical to our teams’ development and should be the life blood of our industry.

In the future, I would like to see a national scheme to make high quality placements widely available. A standard of fair pay rates should be agreed and a dialogue with colleges and industry should be encouraged to foster mutual understanding and keep the curriculum relevant and current.

It’s a win-win situation and I look forward to seeing placement schemes and students continuing to develop in our industry.

Ibrahim Ibrahim is managing director of Portland Design

MAKING THE MOST OF PLACEMENT SCHEMES:

• It is essential to involve your designers, not directors, in the selection process

• Students should be exposed to a broad range of projects and responsibilities – not just making tea and answering phones

• Students should keep a day book to chart their progress

• Students should be encouraged to express their opinion and not be afraid to make mistakes

• Work closely with the college and ask for an alternative if it is not working

• Get them to work with a variety of managers and designers, and include them in meetings with suppliers and clients

• Pay in the region of £160 to £200 per week

• Placements should be for a minimum of six months

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