• Organisation: Armstrong Fluid Technology, Halesowen
  • Contact name: Steve Cooper, Director - Sustainable Design
  • Placement student: Silvia Gogu, 2nd year Environmental Science
  • Placement title: Sustainability programme co-ordinator
  • Dates of placement: January - September 2013 (15 hours per week)

Armstrong Fluid Technology is a global organisation providing low and zero carbon solutions to the heating and comfort cooling sectors of the construction industry. Armstrong Fluid Technology is the UK subsidiary of the Canadian parent company. Its Manchester plant specialises in the manufacture of pumps and the Halesowen plant in the manufacture of complete heating and cooling systems which incorporate those pumps and other items of equipment like boilers, chillers, heat exchangers etc. The company has ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 accreditations and is committed to making sustainability the foundation of its business.

The purpose of the role is to assist the Director of Sustainable Design in establishing a global sustainability platform embracing Our Solutions, Our Environment and Our Community. The successful candidate will be involved in establishing key performance indicators, product carbon footprint, community outreach programmes, corporate social responsibility reporting, waste reduction programme and other identified initiatives. The position will be located at our facility in Halesowen but occasional travel to our factory in Manchester may be necessary. The work will be focused on our activities in the UK but it is important that all initiatives are easily transferable to our other plants in Canada, USA, India and China. The successful candidate will be required to work as a member of an enthusiastic and committed team but will nevertheless be a self-starter who will be willing to bring his or her ideas into play.

Silvia Gogu, 2nd year Environmental Science

I received the e-mail with the advert for this internship during a period when I was actively searching for work experience opportunities and this one appealed to me the most for various reasons. First, I was interested in sustainability more than in any other area of my discipline because it is a new and complex concept which requires creative solutions that can have the power to drive change, which I find interesting and challenging. Second, it was the nature of the company, a leading global name in the field of low carbon energy solutions, which motivated me to apply. Third, I considered my level of competence and knowledge in the field to be suitable for the job role described and I have also seen it as a great opportunity for me to develop on these skills. In the long term I would like to undertake a career in sustainability with an international organisation, so the opportunity with Armstrong seemed ideal.

Although I was very confident about myself and my abilities, I was intimidated by the idea of starting to work in a field and with a company that were totally new to me, but after I had my induction and after a few days at work, I realised that I found my tasks interesting and manageable and that I could easily express my ideas and bring my contribution to our projects, while also learning new concepts every day.

I think the most important aspect that I wish to derive from this placement is the first hand experience of working in a real business environment and facing real challenges every day. This is important because there are so many variables and constraints which need to be taken into account in the working environment, which aren’t always reflected when dealing with theory. In terms of specific skills to develop, communication is one of the most important as working in sustainability means interacting with numerous people in different positions across the organisation and understanding what they do and how is that you can motivate them to embrace new ways of performing their tasks. Also, I wish to develop the ability to apply my theoretical knowledge in designing practical projects and learn how to effectively manage my time and resources to accomplish them.

As a sustainability coordinator, my duties include:

  • provide research support on sustainability issues
  • assist in establishing key performance indicators and update our registers on a monthly basis
  • communicate with Sustainability Champions from the other locations of the company, in the UK and around the world, to inform and encourage their development
  • assist in communicating our sustainability objectives and achievements internally and externally (producing brochures, newsletters, updating the website, sending e-mails)
  • monitor and help reduce waste to landfill and energy consumption
  • assist in planning and implementation of educational and training programmes
  • assist in the production of sustainability white papers and case studies – we've published one which is available to the public, Saving Energy at Home (PDF - 786KB)

Tasks such as providing research support have made good use of skills that I have developed at university and have given me more confidence in my abilities. I also recognise the importance of being able to reflect on my activities in the future, so that I may refer to specific examples, when asked to provide examples of competencies that I have developed. I am keeping a list of the different things that I have done in the placement.

At the beginning it was more difficult to interact with other people in the organisation, but my manager introduced me to everyone and always helped me by pointing the right people to approach for different issues. After the first few months I felt more comfortable interacting directly or by telephone/e-mail with all the relevant people. As regards the progress of our projects, we are very happy with how things are going and we want to keep working on developing our plans. For me, it feels very rewarding to witness the successful accomplishment of various projects that I have been actively involved on and this keeps me motivated.

After more than 6 months of working here, I can say that I am satisfied with my placement experience as I feel that I have learnt a lot during this time, especially with regard to my communication and organisational skills. I also feel that my contribution to our projects was valuable which is very rewarding and motivating. As for my future career, this experience definitely helped me realise that I wish to continue working in the sustainability sector and I am considering applying for postgraduate study in this area after I graduate.

It is no secret that undertaking work experience before graduating is very useful and desirable, but I would encourage students not to see these opportunities only as a way to develop their skills and increase career prospects, but also as a way to discover their preferences and suitability for a certain career at an early stage. From the inside things may look totally different than from the outside, which can either reinforce or completely change one’s opinion. I would also encourage students to spend a sufficient amount of time researching the opportunities they are most interested in and tailoring their applications as this increases one’s chances of success although it is more time consuming. This experience has really helped me to recognise that I would like to pursue a career in business sustainability and I would encourage others to undertake placements to help them in their decisions about the career that they would like to undertake.

Steve Cooper, Armstrong’s Director of Sustainable Design

I attended the Sustainability West Midlands Annual Conference in November 2012, at which Jim Reali, one of the University of Birmingham’s Internship Officers, addressed the audience, providing a brief overview of the service that the University’s Careers Network provides to its students and the types of opportunities that they were looking to source. This was of interest to me as our North American head office was placing increasing emphasis on sustainability and had issued a request to produce a sustainability road map for the UK. We had engaged in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) in the past and I recognised the benefits that such a relationship could bring, so was keen to see how we, a student and the University may benefit mutually from an internship.

I liaised with Jim and he explained the process in more detail. I then completed a vacancy form, in which I provided details of our requirements. Jim promoted the opportunity to students from the end of November 2012 until mid December. We received a number of CVs and cover letters, from which we shortlisted a number of students to interview. We provided feedback to the applicants, to help them in future.

Silvia has been involved in a range of sustainability projects to-date. These include co-authoring a white paper on sustainability for our stakeholders and the wider public, which is now available in the public domain. She has produced a road map document for employees, outlining the company’s sustainability journey and its impact in terms of our solutions, our environment and our community. She has also coordinated a competition with local schools in which pupils were tasked with designing an eco superhero. This culminated in the winners attending a presentation day in London. She is involved in ongoing assessments of our carbon output and has identified a number of improvements which we have been able to implement to reduce our impact.

Silvia has fitted in to the company very well – she has exhibited a broad spectrum of skills including ICT awareness of packages such as MS Office and gets stuck in to the tasks assigned to her, communicating well with colleagues.

I cannot stress too much the value of a good CV. Silvia’s CV really stood-out for us at the application stage. Whilst some CVs that we received were generic, providing standard information, Silvia had taken time to tailor her CV and cover letter, addressing all aspects of the opportunity for which we were advertising, along with the person specification. Having presented us with relevant information in her initial application, we were impressed by the way in which Silvia was able to expand upon this and communicate professionally in her interview, substantiating the information which she had provided initially. Having completed the interviews, we provided feedback to the students who were unsuccessful, to help them in the future. I would encourage students to accept such feedback willingly and to use it to their advantage.

I would definitely encourage other organisations to consider offering internships. To make the most of such an opportunity, you need to establish what you want to offer and what you are seeking to gain from it and you need to be able to provide support and effective communications to the intern, just as you would with an employee.