In response to the Wilson review and a Science Council report that noted the small number of internships available in the scientific sector, we launched our industrial placement and internship grants. After running both grants for a year, we have increased the number of placements available in small chemical science companies.
Let’s take a look at the positive impact both grants have had on companies, students and graduates…
The industrial placement grant
The industrial placement grant is available to companies enrolled on EnterprisePlus – our programme for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We provide £20,000 and recruitment support through our partner, Cogent Skills, which reduces the financial strain associated with employing an undergraduate student for a year.
In 2014 we awarded grants for 11 students and increased to 14 in 2015. One aim of the scheme is to provide a sustainable way for companies to continue providing student placements in the future, so we were delighted that in 2015, nine companies provided placements with 50% funding.
The transformation in the 2014–15 cohort of students during their placement was vast. All of the students grew in confidence, gained technical knowledge and became more commercially aware. On graduation, the 11 students will receive their Registered Scientist award, giving them professional recognition for the skills they developed during their placement.
"The exposure you get as a student working in an SME is invaluable, it’s something you don’t get in a big pharma company," explains Kris Paraschiv, a final year student at the University of Leeds, who spent her placement at YProTech. "Over the past year I feel like I’ve helped the company grow. The placement was eye-opening and it was a fantastic way of building the tools and skills you need as a chemist."
The impact of the grant went beyond just student employability. "Having a student join the team is a breath of fresh air on a day-to-day level,” outlines Tom Screen, Operations Director at YProTech. A placement student enables the SME to develop their internal training support and gives them more security to work on open-ended research projects. YProTech also strengthened their existing relationship with the University of Leeds where Kris had previously worked in a research group closely aligned to her project at the company.
"As we developed products, Kris was able to make suggestions of academics at Leeds to speak to about their application", says Tom. As YProTech develop new specialist chemistry services it is important they maintain contacts with academics working at the forefront of these areas.
The internship grant
Similar to the industrial placement grant, we provide £4,000 and recruitment support to enable EnterprisePlus companies to employ an intern for three months. In 2015 we awarded eight full-time internships to recent BSc, Masters and PhD graduates, and a part-time internship to Jane Scanlon, who recently returned to work from a career break. Jane’s internship at Labstract Ltd enabled her to refresh her skills while being flexible around her family commitments.
"Being able to do the internship part-time was extremely valuable for me", reflects Jane, "working in a small company meant that I gained an appreciation of how many different roles each person in the company has."
Employing someone with experience can provide additional benefits for companies. Suki Klair, Managing Director at Labstract Ltd explains how Jane required little management to get started in the lab: "Her background in industry meant that she had a great understanding of the way a bioscience organisation works and interacts with other companies."
Jane has recently secured a part-time job as a medicinal chemist at another SME, but continues to help Labstract with their marketing activities, adding, "I feel that my internship was invaluable to my return to science". Internships also offer graduates a safe way to test out careers in industry after they finish their degree.
Recent graduate, Andrew Anderson, used his time working for Oxford nanoSystems to gain industrial experience before deciding on his career path. "Originally I planned on doing a number of internships before seeking a PhD in inorganic chemistry," he explains. Working in an SME has enabled Andrew to gain broader experience beyond his process chemist job role: "I have a great deal of freedom to do things that I wouldn’t be able to do at a larger company. The fact that I can do something totally new each day is what I loved about my internship and why I decided to stay afterwards."
For Oxford nanoSystems, Andrew brought in new skills, experience and a different way of thinking which helped alleviate tough challenges in prioritising business-critical research projects.
Alexander Reip, acting CEO at Oxford nanoSystems, says: "Andrew learnt our techniques quickly and got on with the projects we set up. He also started some of his own which has helped our short and long-term goals".
Alexander goes on to explain how the grant impacted their recruitment, adding: "The fully funded placement let us bring in and test out new talent before making the choice of whether we can afford to hire them". Andrew now works full time at Oxford nanoSystems where he hopes his experience in industry will help him set up his own company in the future.
Although SMEs make up 96% of the UK’s chemical companies, their profile compared to large industry leaders is small. The broader, overarching impact that both grants have had is in raising the profile of SMEs. Not only are they are an exciting place for students and graduates to work, they provide unique opportunities to get exposure to all areas of the business.
Tom Screen concludes: "The grant is a great way to encourage and support new SMEs to host a placement student. It brings the potential benefits of placement schemes to SMEs which now make up such a large proportion of the UK chemistry sector".