Funding expertise can be a drain on resources. Introducing students either through short-term work experience or sandwich year work placements can alleviate staffing shortages at a price that will match your budget.

Sourcing students

Focus your search by producing a job specification that outlines SMART objectives. These are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

All universities and colleges allow employers to register vacancies with their career services. Recruitment websites will find talent at home and abroad, and many will offer you a trial period to advertise your vacancies for free.

A lot of the red tape surrounding working visas has been cut to encourage employers to fill the skills gap. The majority of work placements start at the end of the academic year, so employers should register their interest at the beginning of the calendar year.

Adding value to the business

A CBI survey, conducted between May and June 2000 in Northern Ireland, indicated that SMEs located in this area were not tapping into the research and technical facilities available through university graduates.

Students can provide employers with fresh knowledge, IT know-how and enthusiasm. Most undergraduate students will be able to think for themselves and be disciplined in report writing. Work should initially be supervised and thereafter monitored. The work placement student may become a permanent employee so selection should not be lenient.

Senior managers should lead by example and instil respect for students from others in the workplace. This will encourage colleagues to challenge the student rather than to use them for administrative tasks.

An exit interview at the end of the placement period can be a useful reference tool for designing the specifications of future placements.

Paying students

Employers often fail to deal properly with student employees. The key difference is pay for work during holidays and pay for work during term time.

Students working during holidays are eligible to sign a P38 (a student declaration) if their total income tax for a particular tax year will not exceed their personal allowances for that tax year. National insurance is still payable if the student is earning £76 or above per week for tax year 2001.

Students who are employed at times other than term holidays cannot use a P38 and are considered to be like any other employee for pay purposes. Students from outside the UK are exceptions to the rule, and may be exempt from paying Class 1 NICs. Latest regulations should be checked with the National Insurance Helpline (Tel: 0345 143 143).

Schemes run by STEP and Lloyds TSB help to fund work placements by paying employers' NI contributions. If a student is doing a project that is related to their course, it may be unpaid. The minimum wage is an acceptable benchmark for determining the level of salary.