A partnership between engineering firm ZF Lemforder, Walsall Academy and the University of Wolverhampton has given Year 12 students a real taste for independence and the world of work.
Twenty-nine students attended a week-long 'work placement plus' at the end of June 2016, starting with a factory visit and concluding with an awards ceremony. Prizes were awarded for best group presentation and best group environment scanning report along with three individual prizes for outstanding individuals.
Staff at ZF Lemforder gave students a number of problem-solving challenges to complete throughout the week, based on real-life issues faced by the company. Students were able to contact staff to ask further questions at any time.
The bulk of the week was spent at the University. A programme of mini-lectures and talks delivered by academics and other relevant professionals was interspersed with group activities. Topics included managing absenteeism, health and safety, financial performance, team working and environmental scanning.
Students were split into groups and given a specific issue to focus on, leading up to a group presentation at the end of the week. They were given support to access the extensive resources available at the University's Learning Centre in order to research their topic further.
To make the experience as 'real life' as possible a series of 'distraction activities' were thrown in. These were designed to take students away from the task they were focussing on to do something completely different. These fun, team-building activities included designing bridges out of paper and paperclips and making boats out of lego.
The experience fostered a sense of independence, enabling students to make their own decisions about when and where they studied and how they spent their time. They could come and go as they pleased, with a minimum of supervision and advice from teaching staff.
Project lead for Walsall Academy, Teacher Andrew Glover, explained that the aim of the project was to give students the knowledge and experience they needed to make informed decisions about their future, along with an experience of consultancy/accountancy client-based work.
He said: "The University of Wolverhampton has done a fantastic job at supporting the students through a difficult phase of establishing what next steps they need to take. The project has made a substantial contribution to the students’ knowledge of working in a consultancy environment. ZF Lemforder were excellent partners and really gave the students some helpful advice and support on the final day.”
Gayle Cosnett, Pastoral Manager at the school said: "The students really enjoyed the experience. They've been given autonomy, freedom, trust and responsibility and it's developed their team working skills - all essential to making choices which will stand them in good stead later on in life."
Students also learned more about the University environment. They were based in the University's new, purpose-built Business School building.
Roshaan said: "I am very impressed with the buildings and facilities - the rooms are spacious and good for doing presentations."
Simran told us: "The lectures were very interesting and the building is laid out nicely so that you can work and not get distracted."
Becky said that attending the lectures had taught her listening skills, and she had learned not just from the lectures but from other people's tasks and questions. She was also impressed by how friendly and welcoming everyone at the University had been.
Sam told us that he had expected the University environment to be like a school but instead it was like a business.
Head of Department for Finance, Accounting, Systems and Economics, Andy Groves, set up the project in response to a request for work placement support from Andrew Glover at the Academy. Links with ZF Lemforder were developed building on connections established through previous work with our Executive Education service led by Principal Consultant (Business Engagement) Dave Roberts.
Andy Groves said: "Feedback from ZF Lemforder has been positive. They were very impressed with the students' ideas, research and attitude. The students were a great credit to the school. They conducted themselves professionally and were smartly turned out every day - I couldn't speak more highly of them.
"We plan to build on this experience, run a series of taster sessions in Economics and repeat the week-long visit next year."