You do everything from parts of project management, to dealing with stakeholders, going out to site and writing investment papers for senior level approval. The work is constantly changing, and you will see real progression in everything you do while in the job.
My time on the placement has been fantastic. Every week there have been different activities for me to get involved with, and I was given responsibility straight from the off. Work was always challenging, yet I was never left to struggle on my own, there was always help available. This came from working in a friendly office environment where each of the members of the team were all approachable should you have any issues.
Most colleagues treated you as a valued member of the team, giving you important jobs that they believe you can handle. The same colleagues go out of their way to help you develop and invite you into their projects, something they do not have to do at all. One or two colleagues do not give the impression of valuing you, but this is more down to their own personal manner rather than being an organisational failing. Additionally, my manager protected against this happening by sitting down with both myself and other team members when they were asking to use me as a resource and ensure that it was a good development opportunity for me.
My supervisor/mentor ensured from day one that I was given all of the necessary training and guidance before throwing me into any piece of work. Whether this involved shadowing someone for a day in meetings, or going on training courses to prepare me for certain tasks, all of this was done. My own mentor went out of their way to allow me to experience the broader industry, not just the team within which I was working, enabling me to gain a wider appreciation of the work I was doing.
At the beginning of the scheme very busy, due to having to catch up with a mass of information. In the early stages after familiarisation I was probably not busy enough, as I was increasing in competence but the level of responsibility was not increasing alongside. Despite this, there was always masses of extra work and training that are available to be completed should you have quieter periods. Once properly settled into the scheme, the work balance was fantastic - lots of work to be doing, usually strong variety within this. Again, work balance was helped by regular one to ones with my supervisor/mentor, to give me more work if I needed it, and to alleviate other work if it was getting too much.
I was encouraged in all senses to take on responsibility wherever I went. I was given several schemes early on, which as my confidence grew I took on more and more responsibility for. Other colleagues trusted me with collating important reports for them, and one particularly valuable experience for me was taking the meeting minutes at high level strategic meetings two weeks out of every four, in the second half of my placement.
I would have said before my placement that while my theoretical knowledge of business was strong, my practical ability was almost non-existent. This placement has massively changed all of that. My understanding of everyday business processes is changed completely, and my commercial awareness has gone from being a personal weakness to an absolute strength. Should I stay in the industry, this placement will absolutely form the basis for any success in my career.
The general atmosphere in my office was one word - hectic. The area in which I work is potentially one of the busiest in the company, constantly involved in all aspects of projects and usually being at the forefront from conception to completion. Sometimes this lent itself to a slightly restrained atmosphere, but this was necessary in order to get all of the work done. Overall, everyone got on well with each other, and there was a definitely diverse mix of characters!
Unlike other placement of which I am aware, the placement is not particularly structured. I personally feel this was an advantage, as it allowed me to work where the most interesting and urgent work was, keeping my experience particularly interesting, I was always given lots of work and kept informed about everything I needed to know about, and I didn't mind that this wasn't coming in a set programme. I definitely feel that it allowed me to experience much more than a structured placement would have. My only negative experience would be that there are often administrative issues related to your status as a placement student, e.g IT issues, getting a work phone, etc.
If there was a training course on which I wanted to go, there were absolutely no barriers to me doing so. Travel and accommodation was always provided if necessary, and line manager encouragement to complete training courses was always strong. The company made time for me to attend lots of worksites during my time, despite the fact that I wasn't working directly on them. I would say that there were important training courses at least once a month, alongside many other development opportunities.
Future employment prospects at Network Rail are, I would argue, second to none. The graduate scheme is completely varied, and during your placement year you deal with people from all of its strands, allowing you to learn more about the company and whether you might want to stay in your placement stream, or move to another for the graduate scheme. The railways are an expanding industry, meaning that the chances of you being involved in the front line of work are high. Graduates are always given opportunities to develop in my experience, and as such I am seriously considering staying with them in the future.
This is subjective. As far as organised social events by the company go, there were none for placement students. However, upon acceptance as an employee you are invited to a Facebook group for placement students and graduates, so if you take the initiative yourself there is no reason why the social scene could not be fantastic.
As for colleagues, nearly every night of the week there are opportunities to play football (in my location) and the groups of people that play are fantastic. My team and I did socialise every now and again, with a very good Christmas party. The reality is that the social scene is as good as you make it yourself, but there are certainly fewer opportunities than while at university, which is natural.
Cost of living was certainly reasonable with regards to the pay you are given for doing the placement. For Network Rail you can be placed around the country, making this question difficult to answer, but for me being based in Manchester, cost of living and socialising was completely normal - neither cheap nor expensive. Rent is relatively high if you live close to work, but you can live further away for cheaper rent and use your subsidised travel to get to work instead.
Being Manchester City Centre, the night life is pretty good. Every night of the week there is something to do, and there are student nights everywhere - to be expected considering there are two universities and numerous colleges. Plenty of variety as well if certain types of clubs are not your thing, if you don't like drinking, etc. I doubt there are many better places to be!
Much like the social scene, the activities are what you make of them yourself. You can play sports for the company, you can join groups within the company, even set them up yourself. Work itself provides relatively few real opportunities, but as you will always be located in busy rail areas, i.e cities, you will always have opportunities to get involved in a wide variety of activities.