Visiting students on placement is an opportunity to really get to know them and see how they apply their knowledge and skills in a working environment.
I see my role as principally to help them recognise and articulate these skills. The more obvious “hard skills” are easy to identify, such as improvements in using Excel. Organisational skills – time management, planning and prioritisation are relatively simple. The real challenge is with “soft skills” – communication in all its forms, being a team person, influencing people, making judgements and above all emotional intelligence, e.g. self awareness and empathy.
Each student begins with a different mix of skills and confidence. It is really interesting to see how these develop and how quickly their motivation increases as they become valued employees, not just interns. Of course opportunities vary greatly. Some have relatively repetitive, though valuable work while others may have the chance to advance their professional skills, e.g. in finance, and are supported taking exams and being involved in important projects. One of the most valuable experiences is handing over to the next intern, switching from a learning to a teaching role.
Another important element of the VT role is to act as a personal tutor for the year. Some students encounter personal and work related problems and look to the university for help with these issues.
As a VT I enjoy the variety of organisations and environments in which the students are working: government departments, investment banks, commercial corporations and social enterprise.
“Life on the road,” of course involves a lot of travel, sometimes having to deal with disruptions to trains and flights. It is also frustrating trying to make appointments, e.g. currently I have three students working within 250 meters of each other but have not yet managed to see any two on the same day. Another challenge is encouraging some of the work supervisors to write a meaningful assessment, focusing, not just on strengths but areas for further development.
Overall this is a great opportunity for students. I am greatly encouraged by the quality of our students and it is a privilege to try to help them succeed.
Mike Verstage (Economics)