How young people are breaking the work experience catch-22

There's a common catch-22 people run into when looking for their first job. You have no experience, but you need experience to get your first job... in order to get experience. So what are you supposed to do?

Some universities offer students the option to take time out of their degree course to get experience while still studying. Sophie Ingram was studying for an Integrated Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Bath when she took a year out of her studies to work for Virgin Media. We spoke to her to find out more about how it helped her break the barriers to employment that career starters can face...

Why did you choose to do your placement year with Virgin Media?

As part of most degrees offered at the University of Bath, I was strongly encouraged to take a ‘Year in Industry’ or Placement Year between my second and third years of study. As such I embarked on the process of applying to multiple internship schemes, however Virgin Media’s sparked my interest due to being in an industry that, although is fairly established, is constantly developing in technology and innovation.

In addition, it has always come across as a young, fun and vibrant company which really appealed to me. As such, I didn’t hesitate to apply and was successful in securing an internship. I spent a total of 15 months as an Intern, and was lucky enough to have performed well enough to be offered a graduate role on Virgin Media’s Engineering Graduate Scheme.

What does your graduate scheme involve?

The Virgin Media graduate scheme consists of four six-month placements, and it is really encouraged to try and make these as diverse as possible to be able to get a wider view of the business and industry as a whole.

For example, one rotation you could be assisting in the management of a huge project such as Project Lightning (our network expansion programme), the next testing our wireless routers and set-top boxes, the next assessing our core data performane, the list is endless! It’s hard to describe my day-to-day activities, and I know people probably say this for every job, but it’s so true that no two days are ever the same at Virgin Media!

This is particularly true in the Engineering department, where there is always a new technology to be working on or a problem that needs solving. However, if I had to describe my general activities, it would involve project planning, management, delivery, testing, research, problem solving and stakeholder management. 

What’s the best part of your grad scheme?

To me, the best part of the Virgin Media Graduate Scheme is the ability to work on some really tangible deliveries. My personal highlights include working on the new Virgin V6 TiVo box – I was responsible for planning, testing and assessing the Wi-Fi performance of this box, which is no small task! However, there was lots of support available, and when the box was signed off as being fit for purpose it was extremely rewarding and it is amazing to see customers using and enjoying something that you worked on.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked to travel to Israel to work with a vendor on one of our products. Israel is known for its technological prowess (did you know 25 per cent of Israel’s work force are employed in technical professions?), so it was amazing to be able to work alongside some high-tech innovators. The country itself was beautiful too, with some amazing sunsets – always a bonus at the end of a long day in the lab!

What’s the most challenging part?

As we are still in the relatively early days of working together with Liberty Global, it has been a challenge to work across different systems, with lots people who all have different ways of thinking, across different time zones! However, this also brings a positive as we see a huge amount of innovation coming from all the various backgrounds, with lots of new ideas and new ways of thinking. It is also a great experience being able to working with lots of people across Europe.

Read: What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you hope to do at the end of the scheme?

At the end of the scheme, I hope to have a really wide view of how a telecommunications company runs, specifically from an engineering perspective, and have good end-to-end network knowledge. I think this is really important for us Grads to achieve as not everyone gets to see so many different areas of the business, and although this could be a long way off for me, it could really help with business direction moving forward! I don’t yet know exactly which area I’d like to land in, but I’d like to stay within Virgin Media for sure.


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