Gaining work experience at
Wessex Rivers Trust

George Sharp

The words “work experience” have something of a tainted reputation. The idea seems grand in theory; having those in education participate in the world of work gives them access to experience that they simply can’t get in the classroom, allowing them to use and gain skills that will prove invaluable when they enter employment. Come implementation, however, there’s a myriad of issues, from uncooperative students to workplaces simply looking for a free dogsbody. In my case, however, the experience has been quite the opposite.

I asked about a work placement with the Wessex Rivers Trust as part of my FdSc course in Sport Fisheries and Aquaculture at University Centre Sparsholt, as my area of interest is in freshwater management and conservation. Indeed, having grown up on the Dorset Stour, I have quite an attachment to the rivers covered by the Trust, as varied and diverse as they might be. The process to arrange the placement was straightforward, with a few emails and an interview enough to have it sorted for the whole month of February.

Upon arriving at the Wessex RT office, my first impressions were that of both professionalism and accommodation. In my first day, I had been given plenty to work on and deliver and sat in on a meeting about the Test & Itchen Restoration Strategy; I wasn’t being ignored or handling menial tasks to fill my time, I was being integrated and ultimately respected whilst still having my relative lack of experience taken into account. Plenty of time was given to educating me when opportunities arose, both to fill in my knowledge for specific tasks and to improve my knowledge of the Trust’s rivers and the work undertaken on them.
These have been continuous themes throughout my time at the trust, having been given a variety of tasks to do and offered plenty of opportunities. I’ve sat in on meetings, done walk-over surveys, and even spent time wading in a bit of the Iwerne in Dorset educating children on river wildlife, along with work in the Trust office. While February might not be a prime part of the year for delivering much of the trust’s work, there’s still plenty to be doing and a great deal of preparation for the year ahead.

My overall experience has been incredible; you genuinely feel like you’re contributing something, simply because you are. You’re treated with respect and trusted with meaningful tasks, often with evidence that you can show to employers; I’ve made educational materials, proofread text published to the Wessex RT website and contributed to the construction of proposals and reports that will eventually find themselves in the hands of stakeholders. In the future, when trying to enter full-time employment, being able to prove my experience and ability with meaningful examples such as these is going to give my application an edge.

The people I’ve worked with are true experts in their fields and are eager to share their knowledge with you wherever it comes up, displaying an evident passion for the work they’re doing and a willingness to make it accessible for you as a person there to learn. If you have a genuine interest in the work of the Wessex RT and a willingness to put in effort and work, I would absolutely recommend arranging a work placement with them; you’re not just ticking a box so you can graduate, you’re accessing expertise and opportunities you can’t get anywhere else to develop your understanding and improve your future prospects.