Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Delivering Cisco’s T Level Industry Placements – Hard but absolutely worthwhile!

March 6, 2024

Organising a six week programme of engaging content and useful experiences is not easy.

And three years ago when I started planning the first T Level industry placement I didn’t even know how I was going to do it! As an event manager you’d think I would take this in my stride. After all I organise things all the time. However this is 30 days of events. How on earth would I keep students interested? I was honestly quite overwhelmed at the size of the task.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And this is how I managed not to run away and hide from the mammoth task. I took it on bit by bit. And I have to say all the groundwork that I did preparing for the first year’s industry placement has paid off as in years two and three we have kept the timetable designed in year one and grown it from there. Taking feedback from students, recognising our own mistakes and feeding them back into the programme as improvements.

And here we are celebrating the completion of our third Cisco T Level industry placement programme! With our new eager cohort of students, we dived into six weeks exploration of the tech industry whilst scaling the programme and its reach with a group of 16 in Bedfont Lakes and, for the first time, a team of 4 in Manchester.

So why did I make it harder for myself by running in Manchester despite there being no permanent member of staff to host these students? Because we want to grow the programme to be able to reach more students. And this was the first step to doing that.

But expanding the programme was not without its challenges. One of the main ones being that I run the programme, am based near our Bedfont offices, and couldn’t be in two places at once. So we called on our fantastic local employees to play host in Manchester. Cisco’s community spirit really came to life with everyone from apprentices to senior directors jumping in to help, embodying the adage “it takes a village.” The game plan? Run all our usual sessions and beam them over to Manchester via Webex, ensuring that everyone, regardless of location, could take part.

We were very aware that this could lead to the Manchester students feeling they were getting a lesser experience. So to make sure the Manchester experience was just as great as Bedfont’s Melissa from our team headed up North to welcome the students in person and help them settle in. She got them set up with laptops and while she was there delivered a couple of sessions making them the primary site with the Bedfont folks joining in virtually. From here the local hosts took over and welcomed and hosted the students each day. The wonderful Bo Taylor hosted multiple days, delivered a session on apprentices, had students shadow her and was a mentor. All sessions across both sites were delivered by employees volunteering their time. In total an incredible 60+ volunteers came together to deliver the programme.

T Level students working together on project


The students’ days were neatly split – project work with their teams in the afternoons and employability workshops, mentoring sessions, industry talks, and more in the mornings. And when it came to hands-on experiences, we made sure our Manchester team didn’t miss out. While Bedfont students got to explore our Customer Experience Centre, the Manchester team visited UA92, an innovative university we’re teaming up with.

Sessions covered everything from technical writing and project management to cyber security and AI.

To offer an alternative perspective on the IT industry Cisco Partner CAE came in and delivered a session on how Cisco works with Partners and the jobs available in their part of the industry. We even polished up the students’ CVs. Each student paired with a mentor, and they got to dip their toes in different parts of the business every week.

Students at UA92Mentors and shadowing were the hardest to provide. But with the fantastic support of our early in career teams, apprentices, interns, graduates and a few senior tech guys we were able to provide valuable shadowing opportunities. But just how do you align your volunteer mentors with 20 students you’ve only just met? We did a sort of speed meet & mingle. Students spoke to all the mentors either in person or virtually and then chose two they’d like as their mentors. I then matched them as best I could. Not a perfect solution but a workable one and certainly a process that we can improve on next time.

As for the work arrangement, we mixed it up with 3-4 days in the office and 1-2 days working from home, which is more office time than most of us at Cisco usually have. This was a great way to teach the discipline needed for remote work.

This year, we also tried out Webex interviews with the students, and it was a hit! The interviews allowed us to see the students and get a better feel for those that would get the most from the placement. We met an outstanding group of eager learners ready to soak up every bit of the experience.

So, we’ve designed and created the programme, we’ve learned from feedback and reflection and improved the programme, we’ve scaled the programme, but has it been worth all the hard work? Well… that’s a resounding yes from everyone involved. Employees have said they’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to engage with the students and want to volunteer for the programme again next year. And every single one of this year’s students would recommend the programme to a friend! Now that’s an accolade.

At Cisco, we’re all about celebrating what makes each of us unique, especially in a neurodiverse industry like IT. It’s all about helping students find their place and shine. By the end of their time with us, students from all the schools and colleges left with a newfound confidence and a clearer vision of themselves and their place in the IT industry.

What a ride it’s been, and I can’t wait to see what these amazing students do next!

Students were from: Ada Lovelace C of E School, Brooklands College, London South Bank Technical College, Saint John Bosco College, The Manchester College, Uxbridge College and Wigan & Leigh College.

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  1. Do you have a newsletter/subscription page?

  2. Very proud to say my son was part of the Manchester cohort and he absolutely loved the experience. So proud of him. Great experience all round and long may this be offered. Can't wait to see what he achieves next.

    • Thanks Paula that's wonderful to hear.