The value of offering work experience placements

Rebecca Morley speaks to Raleigh UK’s Stuart Atkins and sports technology student Katie Lawrence about how work placements can help bring people into the cycling industry

This piece first appeared in the May edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Finding work experience placements during degree courses is difficult for all students, no matter what industry they’re in, and many often struggle to find opportunities that lead them down the right career path.

But Nottingham-based bike brand Raleigh has recently started offering students the chance to do placements at the company during their sandwich year, offering hands-on experience at one of the bike industry’s most iconic brands. Students on ‘sandwich degree’ courses take on practical work experience as part of their higher education studies, often during a four or five-year course that includes a year-long placement or internship.

“Back in 2019, I had the idea of reaching out to Loughborough University,” Raleigh UK’s finance director Stuart Atkins told BikeBiz. “I’m well aware how difficult it is for the students to get good quality year-out placements when they’re doing four-year degree courses.

“We’d gotten ourselves into a position at Raleigh where we felt we could start to offer opportunities out to people. We’re not really big enough to do a big scheme, but anything we can do to give some sort of opportunity and provide some experience is a good thing.

“It’s really just about getting in touch with the students, asking them to send their CVs and tell us what they’re interested in doing, and then me having a conversation with them to see if we’re in a good place to offer them what they’re looking for.”

The aim for Raleigh is to provide students with some valuable career experience to help them decide what they want to do when they graduate, continued Atkins, and hopefully bring them into the cycling industry.

Stand out from the crowd
Katie Lawrence, who is currently doing a degree course in sports technology, has been doing some work alongside Raleigh’s bike development team and said the experience there has been hugely beneficial.

“It’s been great for me,” she said. “Having those initial conversations with Stuart to find out where I’d fit best in the business really helped me know what I was coming into and allowed me to look forward to it a lot.

“I’ve been very lucky compared to a lot of people I know that have done placements, in the sense that I’ve been able to see so much of how everything works and get involved in so many different projects. My other coursemates are stuck doing the same role every single day, so they’ve only got experience in a very small area.

“I’ve been involved in so much, from creating frame geometries to testing and competitor analysis. It’s given me a great idea of how the whole development process works and a good understanding of it all. I think it’s massively benefited me because it’s given me time to work out that this is the type of thing I want to do when I leave university. It’s an industry that I want to go into, so that’s been valuable.”

On female representation within the engineering industry, Lawrence said that, from her experience so far, the workforce is nowhere near equal. “Any experience like this is so beneficial to me and helps me stand out in the crowd,” she said.

“We’re really passionate about that at Raleigh,” Atkins added. “When we’re at shows and talking around the industry, the fact that our female representation within the whole business is up at 35% now is way out of kilter with the industry.”

A lot of those roles are in HR, finance, marketing and customer services, Atkins said, but Raleigh is keen to broaden the types of roles women are doing within the company. “Fingers crossed there might be an opportunity for Katie in a year’s time when she’s graduated, if she wants to come back.

“That is another aspect of it for us. If we can find real talent, we’ll look to see if there’s something we can offer at the end after graduation as well. Katie’s work has been incredible, the way she’s fitted in with the wider team and business.

“One of our colleagues in the distribution centre is also going to be doing a degree apprenticeship in supply chain. So we’re looking for all the opportunities we can for developing all our staff, not just female, but she has high potential and wants to learn and is in an area of the business that is probably
underrepresented as well.”

Another big change that’s happened with the Covid-19 pandemic is the move to hybrid working, with many companies realising that employees don’t need to be in the office every day to produce good quality work. But offering this to staff wherever possible has the added benefit of immediately widening the pool of talent available, said Atkins.

“This then increases the potential number of female applicants as well, so all of this flexibility is definitely improving the chances for bringing people in. As things really settle down post-Covid, I’d like to think we can possibly expand it and have two of three students in for the year.

“It is quite challenging for students to find quality years out, as Katie described. It’s important, and we’re happy that we can give back and provide some opportunity.”

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