Assigned projects to manage, including some which I became solely responsible for delivering. This included managing small budgets, working with stakeholders, site visits and occasionally chairing meetings. Travelled to other depots and offices to gain experience in other areas of the business, such as visiting signalling centres to learn about the operational side of the railway, not just engineering. Gained experience working on to the tracks where I learnt about the specifics of railway engineering and how aspects from my university course are applied in practice. Assisted the engineers in identifying required infrastructure maintenance and prioritising according to engineering needs.
I learnt how to behave in a professional environment, including how to effectively engage in meetings, eventually learning how to chair them myself. I discovered that many of the skills and technical theory I had learnt at University was regularly used, and had to develop my problem solving skills to adapt this theory into non-ideal applications. I learnt how to manage projects and engage stakeholders which required me to develop my communication skills and I have since developed a network of contacts I hope to be able to utilise in the future.
I was very happy with the way I was assigned responsibility during my placement. I began with no responsibility, and was mainly shadowing engineers, focusing on developing my understanding of how the business operates on a day-to-day basis and what the expectations were. I was then assigned to work on projects and throughout the placement was afforded more responsibility to the point I became solely responsible for the delivery of some of these projects. I therefore ended up with a lot of responsibility, by the end of my placement, but the way it was slowly ramped up meant I didn't really notice at the time and helped build my confidence.
The placement team were great, they sent over information at the start and made the whole onboarding process smooth. Once I was in my team I found everyone to be really friendly. The office was open plan which I think really helped as there was plenty of collaboration between departments and everyone was more than happy to take time out their day to explain something to me that I didn't understand. My manager held regular meetings with me to find out how I was doing and to ask if there was anything I needed from them. Aside from these meetings they were always available to find in person or via a phone call and so I always had support when I needed it.
The culture was good, everyone was really friendly and happy to help and explain things. The office had multiple departments in but everyone collaborated, it didn't feel like it was divided. The work life balance was good, I was never expected to put in excessive work past my contracted hours or anything like that. There wasn't too much in the way of activities outside of work although there were some things, for example they had a five-a-side football team but in general not much was organised outside work hours.
I really enjoyed my placement, and would not think twice about returning. I think the aspect I found the best was the friendliness of the team, everyone was so willing to help me learn. I felt like I was treated as a fully integrated member of the team and that my opinions and work was respected and that I wasn't looked down upon or anything. The general culture of the business felt very progressive and inclusive, and we were encouraged to be ourselves. I didn't know what to expect when I began the placement but I'm glad I did and recommended anyone that can to do one as I feel like the skills I have learnt have actually helped me perform better in my final year at University.
Understand the core business as much as you can, particularly make yourself aware of the challenges they currently have and are likely to experience within the next decade. Make sure you pay attention to, and mention, safety as this is a key principle the business commits a lot of time and money to improving and is one of the key metrics they measure themselves against. Remember they ultimately have customers, through freight and passengers, and that customer service is a key part despite being an engineering role. Be honest and let your personality come through during the interview stages.
Placement Year (10 Months+)