Fahad Rage, a University College London student studying his masters, has recently taken a placement year with Furrer+Frey, designers of overhead electrification solutions for the railway. His placement was found through ‘The Year in Industry’ programme run by education charity EDT, a programme that places upwards of 500 students in leading industrial employers each year.
Fahad’s found his placement so successful that not only will his project work lead to major efficiencies in the Great Western Railway Electrification Programme but it also won him the top prize at EDT’s Annual ‘Future Industry Leaders Awards’ held in London in September.
Here he gives companies and students some tips on what makes for a successful Year in Industry.
How did you decide on your placement year in terms of type of company, etc. What were you looking for in your placement?
When I was deciding on a company for my placement year, I was looking for a company where I would have the opportunity to work on big projects and a place where I could be involved from the first day. Since I studied Mechanical Engineering, my skills were quite general so I was not really focusing on the expertise (transport, energy) that the company had which I feel gave me more options in terms of choice.
What advice would you give companies who are looking to get good students for placements?
Look for students who you have demonstrated some initiative outside of their course programme. I feel that students who have taken work experience or have extra-curricular activities have developed their softer skills a lot more than students who have not.
Could you tell us in detail about the project you worked on - what were you asked to do, what challenges did you face, how did you overcome them etc?
The project which I worked on with Furrer+Frey through “The Year in Industry” had the initial brief to design a tool for improving the compatibility of electrification design to Network Rail’s High Output Plant System (HOPS), which is used to install overhead line structures on the Great Western Railway. Through my own initiative, I learnt the necessary programming languages to design and build an App for this purpose. My solution allows designers to input key parameters and discover instantly whether a planned installation is compatible with HOPS. The finished app has the potential to ensure that work can be delivered safely and efficiently saving significant time and money.
What were your highlights from your placement year?
One of my highlights was having the opportunity to go out onto our company test track in Derby. Having the opportunity to see our structures actually installed and trains running on the adjacent track was very exciting. Another highlight for me was the opportunities I had to travel around the UK and abroad working on projects.
What was unexpected for you about your year?
Winning the National final of the Future Industry Leaders Award was something I wouldn’t have expected at the start of my year. I have never been the most outspoken person so I did not imagine myself standing in front of experts competing against other Year in Industry students. In hindsight, I feel that the experiences and support I had from my colleagues throughout the year allowed me to gain the confidence and skills to achieve this.
Aside from technical skills what do you think you gained from your placement year?
The most important skill I think I have gained is my ability to take initiative in projects. There were a number of times, especially towards the beginning of my year where I had a lot of down time and had to take the initiative to develop my knowledge of the rail industry. Developing this skill I feel has allowed me to start with a lot more focus and drive since returning to university.
What have you learned which you will take into your degree?
Time management is the biggest lesson I will be taking back with me to my degree. Since returning to studies, I have already managed my time considerably better than I used to and seen myself be a lot more productive in my work.
Has the gap year given you any firm ideas about your future career direction?
Working in the rail industry has exposed me to the complex challenges that are faced within the industry. The projects I have worked on over the year have definitely motivated me to follow a career path into this industry or the transport industry more generally.
What would you recommend that others should look for in a work placement either before or during a university degree?
I believe looking for a company who are passionate about helping you and supporting your development is a key aspect for people who are considering a work placement. I feel that students should ask a lot of questions about the team in interviews and the general work environment and come to a conclusion as to whether it is a place where they feel they can develop themselves.