Posted on Thursday, 25 May 2017 at 1pm
by Lifelong Learning Centre Staff.
The following is a guest post by Rob Sowden, a mature student just coming to the end of a year-long placement and who will be going into his final year studying BSc Environmental Science (having progressed from our Earth and Environmental Sciences Foundation Year) in September 2017.
As the end of my second year was approaching I was struggling to realise my plan of finding a paid work placement to undertake between my second and third years of study. I had thought obtaining a placement should be fairly easy, given my previous work and life experience and having the advantage of being a mature student. As the applications, emails, letters and phone calls (to many different organisations) mounted without reply however, I almost admitted defeat and began thinking about going directly into the third year of my degree course instead.
However, as I focused on studying for my end-of-year exams I came across an advert for a 12-month voluntary traineeship with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) as a Nature Reserves Trainee, working in practical conservation and habitat management. Based in Huddersfield with travel around West Yorkshire, this seemed the perfect position for me and was actually a much better fit for my future career aspirations than the companies I contacted previously had been.
The coming year was to be particularly challenging for me as I was also expecting the arrival of my first child just after the end of my exams. The timing was perfect from our perspective, as I was expecting to be in full-time paid employment for the full nine months of my partner’s maternity leave. However, upon a successful interview with the YWT my next step was to go through all the necessary applications to get the maximum amount of student loans and grants in order to subsidise an unpaid placement. I received a lot of help from the LLC, particularly MJ and Paul, who helped challenge a decision from Student Finance England that my placement was not a ‘special case’ and therefore would only qualify for the minimal amount of funding.
The challenge had delayed my SFE payments and by the time I was two weeks into my work placement I had still not received any funds from them. I had been made aware of the LLC Opportunities Fund a few months earlier during a talk in a careers session (as well as through LeedsforLife) and so I applied. I believed I fit the bill as I was applying for something that would help me in my future career. The money could have been allocated to several criteria – training and certificates, travel expenses and accommodation (rent) costs. It was agreed by the Fund Committee that my first couple of months travel expenses for the placement could be paid. This helped me in many ways, not least by enabling me to attend some important courses and introductory seminars for my new work, as well as task days and work parties which enabled me to hit the ground running.
There had been times when I questioned working in a voluntary position, but after sticking with it and getting some financial help in the beginning, I have now been asked to join the projects team to work full-time in a paid role.