SME scholarships introduce students to a wider range of options

13 July 2011
By Keri Allan
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Students on work experience at C-MAC.

Students on work experience at C-MAC.

Workers at C-MAC.

Workers at C-MAC.

UKESF scholar Dominic Lane.

UKESF scholar Dominic Lane.

SMEs are providing electronic engineering students with the opportunity to gain work experience, mentorship and continued professional development support through a new scholarship scheme.

Engineering students are beginning to benefit from a new scholarship that was founded by the UK Electronic Skills Foundation (UKESF) in 2010, as their first summer placements begin.

Students on courses at UKESF partner universities were able to apply for a scholarship from last September, with awards that can include annual bursaries of up to £1,500, paid summer work placements, industrial mentoring and professional development training at UKESF summer workshops. These depend on the sponsor, as each scholarship is uniquely developed in conjunction with a company in the engineering or technology sector, and can last anything from a year up to the time of graduation.

Many sponsors are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that feel their names aren't known so well at universities, giving them a chance to be introduced to students and helping them find the talent they’re looking for. In essence, both the student and the company gain from the scholarship.

“Attracting strong candidates like Dominic Lane (See Dominic Lane, UKESF scholar below) to C-MAC can hopefully increase the chance of our attracting them to join us them once they’ve completed their studies,” highlights Karen Oddey, ceo Aerospace and Defence Electronics, C-MAC. “In addition, not only do bright and well educated undergraduates make a valuable contribution to our engineering projects we also benefit from their sharing of their own ideas and fresh perspectives with the rest of the business.”

What a scholarship entails

“We ask the companies to commit to providing a bursary to the students for each year of their scholarship and we also ask them to provide at least one paid summer work placement of eight weeks in length,” says Wendy Daniell, project manager at UKESF. “Most of the companies decided that they would offer the students summer work placements for every summer, and then because many students have an industrial training year, they’ve also got access to students who’d like 12 month placements as well,” she explains.

“Because we wanted to make this scheme open to companies of all sizes it’s quite a flexible scheme. This means small companies can engage at a lower level of cost, whereas companies that can afford to support a student for all four years of their programme with all elements can do so,” she adds.

Alongside work placements, the companies aim to support students’ general development during their course through access to an industrial mentor.

“The industrial mentor is there not just when the student is in the placement but throughout the year, so the student can meet up during the academic year, ask them advice on career direction, maybe advice on what options to take later on during their degree,” says Daniell. “We see that as a very important part of developing the relationship, not just to provide money in terms of bursary and a placement but actually to make sure they’re giving the student a really good experience during their time at the company, thinking about their future, and showing an interest in their achievements,” she explains.

Many, although not all, of the sponsoring companies also sign their scholars up to the UKESF’s week long summer workshops. These were developed in response to employers concerns that graduates don’t always have all the right skills for the workplace.

“The first is running this September at the University of Surrey and we’ve got an exciting programme lined up for them, with key people from industry coming in to talk to them about what’s happening and where we’re heading. We’re also working with SEMTA’s National Skills Academy for Manufacturing, putting together a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) training for them and arranging company visits.

“We’re also running a work-based project. Sponsors have provided us with business scenarios and the students have to work in teams and come up with solutions.”

IET support

The IET is also working with the UKESF by running a number of lifeskills workshops during the event and coming in to discuss professional registration.

“During the week we’re going to get them thinking about lean engineering, problem solving, professional and business ethics and effective negotiation through IET lifeskills workshops. IET professionals are also coming in to talk about working towards professional registration and starting to record their experience now,” Daniell highlights.

Currently the scholarships are open to students studying a BEng or MEng in electronics or electronic engineering at a number of UKESF partner universities, in any year of their degree apart from their final year.

Find out more on the UKESF scholarship scheme website.

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Dominic Lane, UKESF scholar

Dominic Lane is a second year student on a space electronics MEng course at the University of Surrey, and one of the first UKESF scholars. He chose a company called C-MAC to be his sponsor, as it has a major aerospace and space division which has been running for almost 20 years.

“There were ten companies on the scheme and I had to select which ones were my preferences,” he explains. “Obviously C-MAC does electronics based in the space sector, which I was very interested in, but there’s a range of companies to suit everyone.”

Lane found out and applied for a scholarship at the beginning of his second year and will start his paid year in industry with the company at the start of the new academic year. His scholarship lasts the length of his course, so he will receive a bursary for his final two years, with a chance to return to C-MAC to work during the summer before his final year.

“I think it’s great that it gives you that hands-on experience, there aren’t many opportunities to do that when you’re at university,” he explains. “Plus the financial support in the last two years is going to be really helpful because you just don’t have time to have a job during those final years, as they’re so much more intense.

“Obviously it gives me that experience and more direction of where I want to go with my degree,” he continues. “I definitely want to be involved in the space industry but in terms of job roles I’ve not thought about that in any depth. I hope this experience will give me some direction and support in regards to my future,” he says.

The company already has plans lined up for Lane during his time working on-site.

“We have a number of engineering programmes at C-MAC that students can contribute to. In Dominic’s case he is particularly interested in space and we are planning to get him involved in work to support our supplying solutions to the European Space Agency, says Oddey. “We believe this project will not only allow Dominic to apply his training it will also help him get an understanding for the depth and breadth of working in industry.”

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