Project case study - School work placements

Work experience has been an integral part of secondary education for many years, however, within the context of Curriculum for Excellence and underlined by Developing the Young Workforce, a new approach was adopted.  

Work placements are now more flexible, pupil focused and with greater emphasis on project-based learning in a workplace setting. The A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project supported more than 16 school pupils through on-site placements and during the pandemic, more than 20 local students completed virtual placements.

Engineering Development Trust: Industrial Cadets Accreditation

Each of the placements offered to students on the project of at least a week in duration were accreditted by the Engineering Development Trusts ‘Industrial Cadets’ programme. ‘Industrial Cadets’ (IC) is an industry led quality benchmark for outreach and education programmes to build pathways through education and employment.

The programme offers accrediation at Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platimum depending on duration and level of study. The programme provides structure to the placement experience, encouraging students to explore a variety of different job roles.

Another fundamental differentiator for the accreditation is the requirement for students to deliver a short presentation to the project team at the end of their placement.  This enhanced the experience, providing an opportunity to share what they had learned and enjoyed.  It also provided valuable student feedback for the project ream as an employer to foster a culture of continous improvement in  placement offering.  

Erin Coyler

Erin, a 6th year pupil at Perth Academy, took part in an extended work placement on the A9 Dualling: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam project. Rather than completing her placement over five consecutive days, Erin attended the site once a week over a five-week period. The benefit of this more flexible format is that the students were able to fit the work placement around their school commitments.

Erin with her Bronze Industrial Cadets certificate
Erin with her Bronze Industrial Cadets certificate

During her placement, Erin completed a bronze level IC accreditation. Following her placement, the project team was delighted to hear that Erin received conditional offers from three universities to study Civil Engineering.

Perth Academy Cohort

During the traditional work experience week for Perth Academy, the project hosted four students for a one-week duration placement opportunity.

Two of these four students had studied the Balfour Beatty sponsored Design… Engineer… Construct! (DEC!) programme at school and were extremely excited to apply their classroom learning to a real construction site.

Students wearing protective clothing, standing outside the site office and waving their hard hats
Perth Academy students ready for a site adventure

The students shadowed project staff including the project manager, commercial team, site engineers and laboratory technicians. They also got to spend time with the project designer, Atkins, and the employers site representatives, Jacobs UK.

All four received bronze IC accreditation following their final presentations.

Students receiving their certificates
Receiving their certificates following their end of placement presentations

Alistair Small

Alistair was extremely keen to pursue a career in civil engineering. So much so that he travelled from Larbert High School in Falkirk to complete a week’s work experience. Alistair travelled to site with his dad and spent the week at the local Bankfoot Inn. During the day, whilst his dad went hill climbing, Alistair came to site and spent time assisting engineers setting out on site and working in the site laboratory, grading samples and crushing cubes.

Alastair holding his certificate
Alastair at the end of a successful week

Jamie McCall

In April 2019, the site team created an opportunity for Jamie McCall, a sixth-year pupil from Crieff High School, to gain site engineering experience. Jamie shadowed Liam Boyle, an apprentice in his second year, and Hubert Kowalczyk, a graduate engineer on the Balfour Beatty Emerging Talent scheme.

Lasting only two days, Jamie’s placement allowed him a taster of what life on site was like and an opportunity to meet some of the young construction professionals on site, starting out on their careers.

Three people, two with protective gear, standing outside near a white van
Jamie heading out to site with Hubert and Liam

Learning in Lockdown

During the Covid19 pandemic, although ‘face-to-face’ activities within the local community were temporarily on hold, the site team continued to apply the same dynamic approach they adopted for  site operating procedures to their community benefits programme.

In May 2020, the site team were delighted to be able to provide local students with an opportunity to take part in a national work experience programme delivered entirely online.

The ‘Learning in Lockdown’ programme was devised by Scape Procurement, Class of Your Own, the Engineering Development Trust, LearnLive and Heriot Watt University.

It gave students the opportunity to learn about design and construction through a syllabus based on a national competition – the Esteem Pavilion Challenge.

Design in plan using Revit 3D design software
Design in plan using Revit 3D design software

Using LearnLive’s online platform, students from Perth High and Blairgowrie High School attended a week of online webinars where they learned about design, sustainability, material choices and designing for inclusivity.

The students were supported by a wealth of industry professionals, including 35 volunteers from Balfour Beatty. The team from Blairgowrie High School also contacted a group from Kirkintilloch High and formed a cross school team to take on the project.

Melissa Lawrence, Developing the Young Workforce Project Officer at Blairgowrie High, said:

It was a very inspiring week for our team, who agreed that the challenge had increased their interest in working in construction and engineering."

“It was a well organised programme with excellent resources and a clear timeline for the project work. The students felt they developed their knowledge in areas they were previously unfamiliar with.”

Interior of a building, in the Minecraft game/application
Internal design work completed in Minecraft

Balfour Beatty: Virtual Work Experience Programme

The team learned from the Learning in Lockdown programme and worked to develop a new concept with education providers and Developing the Young Workforce (DYW).

This culminated in the launch of our own, bespoke five-week virtual work experience programme in November 2020.

Our programme provided a flexible opportunity for young people from S4 upwards to join live online events with direct access to construction experts in several disciplines, including Design, Project Management, Commercial and Community Investment.

Each week, participants were set a themed task to learn about a particular specialism and were then tasked with putting the theory into practice.

The programme reached more than 200 young people across Scotland, including 15 students from St. John’s Academy in Perth on the first course.

Steven McLaughlin, Principal Teacher of Guidance and Developing the Young Workforce lead at St. John’s, said:

This virtual work experience is an innovative and engaging response to the challenges we face during this pandemic.”

Following the success of the Virtual Work Experience Programme delivered in 2020, members of the project team took part in a second programme delivered in spring 2021, reaching over 250 students across Scotland.

All students who completed the five-week course received a Silver Industrial Cadets certificate.