Armada case study

Work experience details

  • Organisation: Armada, Bromsgrove
  • Contact name: Nigel Platts, Director
  • Placement student name: Samantha Sturley, MSci Environmental Geoscience (graduated 2013)
  • Placement title: Training assistant - graduate internship
  • Dates of placement: July-October 2013

Nature of the business

Armada is a small organisation, based around 12 miles SW of Birmingham on a modern business park. We’re an IT company specialising in developing user assistance systems. About half our work is running training courses for clients. The other half is developing e-learning systems, online help systems and documentation.

Brief description of internship opportunity

Working with senior staff, the successful candidate will help market our courses on the internet, update our web site, help set up the computers for training courses both at our office and client locations. We will also need assistance with training admin, booking delegates on courses and responding to course delegate queries. As we are a training company, you will have the opportunity to attend some of our training courses too. You will recently have graduated from a good university, ideally with a good grade. Subject is less important than having a bright, positive outlook on life and a good work ethic. You will also need to be bright, very computer literate and want to learn new skills. You must have first class literacy and spoken communication skills. You will also need to have use of a car as our offices are difficult to reach by public transport. Experience of social media would be good.

Interview with intern

What made you apply for the opportunity?

Samantha Sturley at Armada

I completed my final exams in summer 2013 and then considered a number of different opportunities. I was interested in particular in marketing, so the Armada placement was particularly appealing. Although I had undertaken a degree in Environmental Geoscience, I have always been interested in business and that is the sector within which I see myself working in the long term.

What were your preconceptions before starting the placement?

I had few preconceptions before starting. Obviously I’d researched the organisation before applying and was familiar from the duties from the job description. I thought that there may be more technical aspects that I have encountered so far, but actually the role has been very rounded and has given me a good insight into all aspects of the organisation, including sales and marketing.

What do you hope to develop during the placement (in terms both of any specific understanding and also any employability skills that you wish to develop)?

I’m keen to work in business as a career, so the more experience I can get and the more responsibility that I can take, the better! I’m confident using my initiative and enjoy the autonomy that I’m given in my role.

What are / were your first impressions?

My impressions have all been positive. There is another intern in the company as well and we have both been welcomed and integrated into the existing team. Nigel has identified that he is very keen for internships to serve as an opportunity for organisations to benefit from fresh enthusiasm and new ideas, which I hope I am contributing.

Please provide an outline of your duties

I undertake a range of duties on a regular basis. These include organising training courses, chasing leads, organising payments, arranging practical aspects of training delivery, such as booking venues, managing marketing and social media, including the development of Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, assessing social media statistics…

Your thoughts at the end (how it went, whether it met your expectations, were your preconceptions appropriate or naïve, how it may have influenced your outlook with a view to graduate career options and working in this sector)

I’m still undertaking the placement. It’s going really well and has been very helpful. It has definitely made me more confident.

What would you encourage any of your peers seeking similar opportunities next year to consider (in terms of application and also what to do when undertaking a placement)?

It can be hard to get on to a graduate scheme and you can be unemployed for several months. Keep your options open and look at placements as well, as they can provide you with great opportunities. When my finals were coming up I was also undertaking research linked to my degree, so didn’t spend much time looking for opportunities. However, if you have time available, it’s definitely worthwhile planning ahead. I was aware of Careers Network at the University of Birmingham, but didn’t use them as much as I might have. I found this opportunity through one of their emails, so keep an eye out for opportunity notifications.

Interview with employer

What was your rationale for offering a work experience placement to a University of Birmingham student?

Nigel Platts from Armada

There are two parts to that question. Firstly, in terms of our rationale for offering a placement, we find it to be beneficial because it is an excellent way of getting to know a candidate before considering them for a permanent role with the company. From the intern’s perspective, it also provides them with an excellent opportunity to find out about the company and the work, without committing to a long-term career. Secondly, why choose graduates from Birmingham University as opposed to other organisations? We have had positive experiences with them in the past and know that they produce students and graduates of outstanding quality. Being based in the West Midlands, we favour local universities as we believe that anyone who applies for an opportunity with us is more likely to want to remain in the area. It also makes the recruitment process a lot easier. In addition, we were also able to benefit from the SME graduate internship match-funding, made available through the University of Birmingham by Santander. This provided £1,500 which we could then match to pay the intern.

Please describe the process you went through to advertise and select your placement student

Initially, we tried using internship-specific websites to promote the opportunity to graduates from any institution. However, although we received several applications, none were of a calibre that we deemed suitable for the role. We then went back to the drawing board and approached the University of Birmingham. We liaised with Jim Reali, an Internship Officer in the University of Birmingham’s careers service and completed full details on one of their vacancy forms, which they then transferred to their student-facing database and also promoted using social media. We didn’t provide the information until late in the university’s summer term and were concerned at first that we weren’t receiving any applications. However, we appreciated that the students were focused on their finals at the time, so were pleased when we began receiving applications once they had completed their exams. Having completed the application process, we then conducted interviews in our offices.

What kinds of projects did your placement student work on/what duties did they perform?

The opportunity was defined specifically to provide a support function to the training services that we undertake with customers. This provides a good, all-round exposure to a wide range of practices which are crucial to ensuring that the business functions effectively. Samantha has undertaken marketing work as well as being a key point of contact for several customer accounts and has implemented a new social media policy including developing our Facebook pages.

How did it benefit your business to take on a work experience student?

Graduates and young person unemployment is a blight on our economy and our society. All employers have a responsibility to address this. Our intern has helped enormously supporting our training admin work. It also gives us an opportunity to see how the intern functions in our environment before offering them a permanent position.

How well did the intern fit in with established employees?

Samantha has fitted in fantastically well!

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to students or employers considering work experience placements or internships?

I would advise students to research any organisation to which they are considering applying. I would also encourage them not to devalue themselves, but rather to recognise the skills and experience that they have and to make the organisation aware of these. Don’t say that you’re prepared to work for nothing – that isn’t what an internship should be about. Rather, it should be a paid opportunity which benefits you and the host organisation mutually. When you start your placement or internship, make yourself indispensible! If you take the initiative and aren’t always asking to be shown what to do, that really helps.

I would encourage employers not to take on interns without paying them. It isn’t about getting something for nothing. Offering a placement and taking on an intern is a commitment which can provide excellent rewards to the company. If you view it simply as an opportunity to get cheap labour, you’re missing the point and this would indicate a rather short-sighted view of your approach to staff investment, which is unlikely to do you any favours. The more that you can contribute overall in terms of providing support and guidance, the more the intern will benefit and the greater the contribution they will be able to make to your company.

Overall a placement is a two-way process and both the employer and intern can gain a great deal.

Would you recommend offering placements to University of Birmingham students to others?

Definitely!

Posted on Tuesday 19th November 2013