NW student mentoring scheme could go national
A student mentoring scheme that has supported around 75 construction undergraduates at five universities in the north west hopes to extend its scope to cover the rest of England from autumn this year.
Industry professionals mentoring the students are drawn from contractors including Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Wates and Lend Lease, as well as consultancies such as Capita Symonds and GVA and clients including the Co-operative Group.
The scheme was set up by Roy Cavanagh, training manager of Bolton-based Seddon Construction and Aled Williams FCIOB of Salford University. Williams is also north west chair for the Construction Industry Council, and represents the built environment on the Higher Education Academy, which develops and communicates good teaching practice across the HE sector.
"We have piloted a model that other regions can learn from, which gives us a strong basis to roll it out nationally"
Aled Williams FCIOB, Salford University
The effectiveness of the north west pilot is still to be formally evaluated, but Williams said it could take hold quickly in other regions.
“We have piloted a model that other regions can learn from, which gives us a strong basis to roll it out nationally,” said Williams. “The CIC and CITB are on board and have provided a small amount of funding, and now we hope to ripple it out nationally. All the companies involved are national organisations, the Higher Education Academy has good links to different universities, and the CIC and CITB also operate regionally, so hopefully people will pick this up.”
The “Learner Voice” scheme matched 15 students from five universities – Liverpool John Moores University, University of Bolton, University of Central Lancashire, University of Salford, and the University of Manchester – with industry mentors in February 2013.
The scheme produced “toolkits” for students, the universities and employers with suggestions on how to get the most out of the student-mentor relationship. But there were no strict guidelines, leaving it to the students to ask for the specific support and guidance they needed.
“But students were not necessarily matched with individuals from their own discipline, so that the students had to research the companies, then plan the meeting. We didn't match the students with someone from their own discipline,” said Williams.
Seddon's Roy Cavanagh explained that the idea for the scheme came from presentations made by students at the “Learner Voice” conference last year, when they described the need for more extra-curricular exposure to the construction industry. “They said their courses were fine, but that it could be a bit too text-book focused and they wanted more input from practitioners.”
The importance of establishing links between contractors and universities were also on the agenda at the “Innovation in Built Environment Education” conference last week, an event organised by the Council of Heads of the Built Environment (CHOBE).
Bruce Boughton, people development manager at Lovell Partnerships, was a panellist in a debate discussing the future of degree courses when £9,000-a-year fees were deterring some students as well as construction employers that would previously have sponsored students through university.
“We looked at what the practical solutions might be, and one option is for contractors like Lovell to do more to build relationships with universities, and year-out students on sandwich courses,” said Boughton.
“We need quality graduates who are work-ready, and if we want to recruit graduates, the onus is on us to provide opportunities for work experience. That might be shorter placements for a larger number of year out students, or doing more to support universities with site visits and specialist talks.”
Boughton said that Lovell was already increasing engagement with universities including Liverpool John Moores, Nottingham Trent, Wolverhampton and Birmingham City.