Overall, I did not enjoy my placement very much. Over the year, there was very little work at all that I enjoyed doing and the placement did not meet any of my expectations at all; I expected far more of a technical element having applied for an "Electronic and Electrical Engineering Placement. I was not given very little work to do, and very little responsibility. I think there was an overall lack of understand of what the placement was supposed to achieve both in my direct colleagues and colleagues who oversaw the placement, and a breakdown of communication between colleagues overseeing the placement on a local and national level. I very occasionally felt uncomfortable in the environment I was working in. I think there are a number of improvements that could be made to the placement scheme to make it vastly superior.
For the most part, my colleagues treated me with the respect that any work colleague should be given and most of the time, on a personal level, I felt like just another colleague. It was only very occasionally that I did get the feeling some people thought of me as the 'work-experience kid'. I did, however, often get the impression that if I was in regular employment, I would have been given more responsibility, more training, and more work to do, which I found frustrating.
It is worth considering that my managers were given no guidance whatsoever from Network Rail about what I was there for, and in some instances, only a couple of days' notice. However, throughout the year, rarely did any of my managers approach me to see how I was getting on, and only on one occasion did a manager ask to have a private chat with me. Managers often expressed a reluctance to provide me with the relevant training, not thinking it was worth it if I wasn't going to be in the team for very long. I truly believe that, in some offices, had I sat quietly in the corner, I could have done nothing at all and nobody would have cared.
How busy I was varied quite a lot over the placement, which depending on a number of things including in which department I was placed, and whether or not there was work to give me that it was believed I was capable of doing. There were, however, days-and sometimes weeks-where I quite literally had nothing at all to do. I would ask for work to do and managers told me that they would "get back to me", which they inevitably did not.
For the first 8 months of the placement, I was given almost no responsibility whatsoever. I was given "exercises" by colleagues, to train me to do work, which were not followed up with actual work so felt rather pointless. On one occasion I completed work, which took me a number of days, only to be told that it was unnecessary and would not be used as it would be done by external companies. I was often given work just to keep me busy, such as filing and photocopying. Later in the placement, after moving offices and having spent a number of weeks there doing very little, I was finally given actual work to complete.
I did gain the simple skills that one would acquire from whatever they did in their first full-time job, though the placement completely lacked the technical element that I had expected. At no point did I apply any knowledge learnt in my degree studies, and I certainly do not believe the placement will have provided any help towards the final year of my degree.
Generally, the atmosphere in the offices I worked was quite laid back, which I liked. In some offices the dress code was very relaxed, and even in the more strict offices I would describe it as smart casual, with most offices having a casual Friday. Most of the time, the offices had a good mix of being able to talk and have a joke, while at the same time working hard. It was only on one or two occasions that I thought the atmosphere was unsavoury and made me feel uncomfortable.
The organisation of the placement was quite poor. There were a number of errors at the beginning of the placement, as they had signed their contract to work in one location, and were told they were going to be working in another. In some cases, other placement students had sorted housing in the city that they were initially told they would be working, and then found out they would be working nearer to where they had relocated from. My manager mentioned on my first day that he had only found out about my arrival the previous Friday, despite me having known that I was accepted onto the scheme for a number of months. As mentioned before, I think many problems that I found with the placement would have been solved by managers having a greater understanding of the aims of the placement, which would come through better organisation.
I was glad to be able to complete a training course, which involved online learning and completing a training day, and allowed me to go out onto track. I do know that other placement students requested to go on the course and were denied this opportunity, which is a shame as it gave me a good overall understanding of the railway, and introduced me to a lot of terminology so I could have a greater understanding of what people were talking about. The fact that I was able to go on track enabled me to have a better overview of what the company does. However, generally, I think that there was a reluctance to give me sufficient training as managers did think it would be worth it if I wasn't going to be working for them for long enough. This only exacerbated the issue of me not having enough work to do.
The company offers a graduate scheme for a wide range of disciplines, which would be the next logical step to take after completing a placement. In applying for the placement, the impression given was that the placement is an opportunity for both the company and the placement student to see if they are a good fit, and the likelihood of being offered a place on the graduate scheme being high. I have not heard anything about this, so I do not know if this is the case or how it works. I know that it has been recommended that some placement students apply for a job within Network Rail, rather than the graduate scheme, as they have been doing a very good job so far in their placement, and their managers would like them back. Given the nature of my experience so far, I am not sure what I will do with regards to future employment if something arises.
I have only met with fellow placement students a handful of times over the year, and I have never met with them socially, outside of the workplace. It was 3 months in that I was made aware of other placement students, which I think is a shame, as it may have been helpful to get into contact with them when we first started the scheme. We would have all been in the same boat, not really knowing anyone, so someone overseeing the placement sending an email round at the very least with everyone's details on might have been helpful. There have been odd days over the course of the year that we have been invited to year in industry days, with fellow placement students. This was useful to find out that my experience within the company was not isolated, and that other placement students were having equally negative experiences.
I lived at my family home, in Manchester, for the duration of the placement, and commuted to various cities or towns within the region. I, therefore, had no experience with the cost of living or socialising in any of the areas that I worked. Manchester, however, is a large city and the price of things in the centre reflects that. It is worth looking at living in nearby Salford if you'd like to save money, and there is a large student population so socialising can be done on the cheap.
I lived at my family home, in Manchester, for the duration of the placement, and commuted to various cities or towns within the region. I, therefore, had no experience with of the nightlife in any of the areas that I worked. Manchester, however, has a vibrant nightlife. It contains one of the largest student populations in the country, so there are many student nights if you would like to continue with that, but there are a number of pubs and bars for after-work drinking.
I was not made aware of any activities to get involve in outside of work.