Why use a student intern?

Gennie Dearman, chief operation officer for EDT (Engineering Development Trust) on why organisations should hire student interns.

Gennie Dearman, chief operation officer for EDT (Engineering Development Trust) on why organisations should hire student interns

Eloise (Ellie) Knights who recently finished her “Year in Industry” with Carbon Architecture

Using a student intern is not a route that many employers consider, as many will associate this with larger companies. However, for companies of all sizes, it can be a cost-effective route to finding highly motivated, innovative people to undertake projects that need special focus.

This works well for energy management and other environmental companies, as evidenced by Eloise (Ellie) Knights who recently finished her “Year in Industry” with Carbon Architecture, a consultancy that specialises in energy and waste reduction, primarily with FMCG industries, where she reported to carbon architecture director, Dave Price. Ellie started her degree in chemical engineering at the University of Manchester in September.

The Year in Industry (YINI) has a good claim to be the original internship programme. Founded 30 years ago, it has been much imitated - to the extent that many university courses for engineers and scientists describe the time with a company that their students take mid-degree as ‘a year in industry’.

The concept remains very simple: potential interns are interviewed by companies of all sizes in a variety of sectors and those who are successful at interview enjoy a year on a sensible salary, working on projects set by the company that takes them on. They remain supported by my organisation, EDT, the charity that runs the Year in Industry programme, but for the most part, the success or failure of the internship is down to the relationship between the student and the company.

What was the main project?

Ellie worked on a project that aimed to assist the monitoring of energy management data collected from pubs, enabling the targeting of individual appliances to assess the effectiveness of interventions. To achieve her objectives, Eloise had to investigate new data analysis techniques for energy data, learning MySQL and a data processing programme called Pentaho. This secured the collection and continuity of the data streams and enabled unique insights into the energy consumption and operation of devices before and after energy improvements.  

What was the company’s perception of the project?

Dave Price, director at Carbon Architecture, says: “Ellie has been our third YINI intern.  Our previous two interns have focused on helping us build a web based energy audit tool (www.InMetriks.com) that was used to audit more than 1500 sites as part of compliance for a piece of legislation called ESOS, and subsequently starting the work which Ellie has now been working on.

"Ellie showed an ability to research and understand complex statistical analysis techniques.  We were receiving thousands of data points a day from hundreds of monitoring devices in a pub estate and the statistical methods identified enabled us to make considerable efficiencies in the amount of resource required to filter out rogue data and produce a data set that could be analysed effectively.

"The project is on target to achieve a 10% energy reduction in two Hall and Woodhouse pubs which were the subject of a pilot project.”

What was the intern’s perspective?

“I have built a new repertoire of STEM knowledge.  After starting the year with very basic programming skills, I now know SQL and VBA to a moderate/high level which helped me to use the programs Pentaho, Datamine, MySQL and Excel. Additionally, I understand a number of new processes and concepts, such as energy management and efficiency and several industrial/domestic systems.

"Despite learning this new information, the most profound skills I acquired included transferable skills. I have become confident with general data analysis which is a skill essential for engineering.  My problem-solving abilities have significantly improved. When approaching an unexpected problem, I know what to do in order to identify the most appropriate solution, doing this both efficiently and conscientiously.

"In light of this, I work far more efficiently now, absorbing new information faster, and understand the relationships between quantity and quality.  I no longer doubt my judgement since becoming more confident in my abilities. This will hopefully prove useful when completing new and challenging work at university.”

What advice would Carbon Architecture give to others thinking about taking on an intern?

We like the YINI scheme because it gives us access to highly intelligent prospective young engineers at an acceptable cost.  We also get a great satisfaction from being able to offer a real, meaningful and stimulating job role which will hopefully equip them with some much needed commercial skills and help shape their future.

It’s important, however, to be realistic about how much your intern will be able to deliver in the short term.  At first there is a lot to learn and they typically have little experience of the working world and its expectations. In our experience, all the useful output starts to be delivered in the last three months of their placement.  Ultimately, we are usually pleasantly surprised by what they have achieved.  

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