April 12, 2021, by abrierley

My Nottinghamshire County Council placement

by Karan Khera (Economics, 2nd year UG)

During the autumn semester in the 2nd year of my Economics undergraduate degree, I was fortunate to be successful in my application for an internship at the Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC) Programmes and Projects team. Given the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the constraints of remote working, I was sceptical about several issues. This included what the placement would entail, how well I would synergise with the NCC team, whether the responsibility I would have as an intern would be significant for the organisation and so on. 

Given how historically competitive the application process for this placement was alongside my lack of experience with internships, I was convinced I would not even get selected for the interview. So much so, I was considering applying elsewhere to improve my chances of securing a placement. Despite my reservations, I took the chance and put considerable effort into the application form questions. Reaching the interview stage was an achievement for me and I thought it would be as far as I would go. This pessimism was both due to my lack of interview practice and struggles with anxiety when talking to people I have not met before. However, to my surprise, the interviewers impressed and selected me for the placement.

I believe the reason I was fortunate enough to succeed in the interview was two reasons. Firstly, I answered the questions honestly, conveying my genuine desire to work for a public authority and contribute to helping the community during a difficult time for many people. Perhaps it helped emphasise my intentions of being part of something meaningful rather than an opportunity solely motivated by bolstering my C.V. The second reason I believe I succeeded was being meticulous. I received the names of the interviewers two hours before my interview was scheduled to take place. Using the time I had, I searched their LinkedIn profiles with the aim of finding any information about their time at NCC. For example, one of the interviewers had recently undertaken a new position within NCC after spending six years in their previous role. I used this information to ask a question just before the end of the interview about how frequently staff can rotate between different roles and departments within the council. Perhaps this showed my keenness and enthusiasm regarding the placement as well as indicated that I was thorough in my preparation for the interview. Based on this, my main recommendations for the application and interview process are to do careful research on anything related to the placement that could make you come across as enthusiastic and attentive. Furthermore, being honest about what you would bring to the role and using evidence to support your points gives you credibility, which improves your chances of being selected.

Many of my questions about the placement were answered in the first meeting with my placement supervisor. She embodied the NCC working culture of being easy to approach, helpful and taking a genuine interest in the project. The meeting set the tone for the entirety of my placement, which surpassed my expectations substantially. The project in question, which was not revealed during the application process, was as relevant and significant at it could have been. My work revolved around the personal protective equipment (PPE) stock management process of the NCC. Given how unprecedented the pandemic was when it reached the UK in March 2020 and the chaos it had caused, the stock management process created by the council at the time was reactive and understandably not very efficient. By the time my placement began, we were eight months into the pandemic and NCC required a more robust stock management process.

My task was to help the PPE team develop the existing PPE stock system and ultimately create a document that captured the evolution of the process. Working closely with the PPE team, I was responsible for observing the different aspects of the process at the time, proposing potential improvements and then documenting the approved changes in a clear as well as concise manner. My final body of work was a detailed document that covered all aspects of the PPE stock management process, from the online store on the website to the physical stock checks in the
warehouse itself. It acknowledged the previous stock management system that had been in place from the beginning of the pandemic and the requirement for evolution given the time NCC subsequently had to adjust to the daily PPE stock demands. There were a variety of improvements we decided to implement with immediate effect, such as tolerance ranges for the stocktakes, adding new features to the PPE ordering website and improving coordination between the two teams.

I was fortunate to have worked so closely with both the PPE and the warehouse team. Both teams were professional whilst also being pleasant to talk to and were incredibly accommodating given my inexperience in the field. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the placement was working with the PPE team every week, a team that was productive but simultaneously very easy to approach. The culture is what impressed me the most about my time with the organisation. Despite the team knowing I was only there on a temporary basis; I was treated like a permanent member throughout my time with them.

It was because the PPE team created such a welcoming environment that I benefitted significantly from the placement. The relevance of the project coupled with the amount of time my work required ensured that I improved my existing skillset as well as beginning to develop skills I previously considered myself lacking. The former included transferring my ability to write effective answers in a classroom environment into a formal setting with an audience of professionals rather than an examiner. Whereas an example of the latter was that I developed my communication skills, specifically the confidence to speak up about a potential issue or suggestion rather than being afraid of making a mistake. This confidence helped me identify a communication issue between the PPE and warehouse team, which was subsequently addressed in my document of the new stock management process. Had I not had the willingness to tell the PPE team about this, the issue would never have been brought up and may still have been present in the new system.

My main challenge from the start of the placement was to make sure that I was an asset to the Programmes and Projects team rather than a liability. At the beginning of the experience, I was worried about how well I would work in an organisation on a task where my work had genuine significance. However, a combination of the working culture created by the PPE team and my own commitment to doing more than what was expected of me, I overcame this initial fear quite quickly.

The best advice I could give to anyone considering a placement is to be confident in your abilities and take chances. As aforementioned, I honestly believed I had no chance of getting through to the interview phase, let alone getting accepted. Had I not taken the chance of applying to the more difficult placement, I would not be writing this blog you are currently reading!

Moreover, it is crucial that you wholeheartedly make the effort to go above and beyond the expectations of the organisation. Although it may require extra work which will be more time consuming or difficult, it leaves a lasting impression on the people you are working with. This also includes simple things such as responding to emails quickly and attending meetings on time. I personally have nothing bad to say about my experience with the Nottinghamshire County Council’s Programmes and Projects team. I felt welcome, worked on a project of significance to the organisation and came out of the experience more confident as well as a more well-rounded individual than before. Regardless of what placement you apply for, it is important you are genuinely interested in the organisation or role. For me at least, it meant the extra effort I was putting in did not feel like more work. But instead, it helped me grow in confidence during the experience and has now hopefully laid strong foundations for opportunities in the foreseeable future.

Posted in general placement blogs