Intern Abroad

Experience Report on my Erasmus+ Traineeship at Bentley Motors in Quality Planning in Crewe, UK

June 6th, 2023 | by
  • Business Administration and Engineering: Mechanical Engineering M.Sc.
  • United Kingdom, Crewe
  • Bentley Motors Ltd
  • 08/2022 – 03/2023

I. Setup and visa

Where to begin…

This was probably the most nerve-wracking part of the entire Erasmus experience. I had my job interview in January 2022 while I was still on my internship with Porsche. During the interview I asked my interviewer and my future line-manager: “Well I really appreciate the chance to interview for the position, but do you know how we will deal with the visa requirements for the role?” to which he replied “If we decide to go with you as a candidate I will offer you all the support I can and if there is a will there is always a way”. Reason for asking this was obviously the Brexit which means that for all academic and job purposes a visa is required.

At the time of writing this there were two main visa routes to do an internship in the UK: The “GAE” visa and the “Skilled Worker Visa”. Unfortunately due to the high cost associated the latter was not an option. The Erasmus Programme generation until 2021 was a government approved exchange scheme eligible for a “GAE” visa which meant this was the only visa route I was able to take. This is why my internship was carried out as an Erasmus Placement. The subsequent Erasmus program generation is not eligible for this visa unfortunately.

You may think now “but why can you be an Erasmus student from the 2021 generation in 2023?”. The reason for that was that which generation you belong to is dependent on where the funding of the scholarship comes from. So the RWTH provided me the scholarship for an Erasmus Exchange from the budget of the 2021 program generation so I could actually get a UK visa for my placement. This method unfortunately ends working in May 2023 which is the end of the grace period given by the UK government.

For everybody trying to undertake an internship in the UK I heavily suggest getting in touch with the international office to explore options that are right for you. There is a list of government authorized exchange schemes for the UK on the website. When you are in touch with a company you want to intern with, check if they have a contract in place with a company such as “Tier5Intern” or “ASGVisa” who offer authorized exchange schemes for foreign students. Plan at least 4 months (ideally 6) to deal with all the paperwork, errands and research required to make it happen.

It is a difficult path to be honest, but my line-manager was right with what he said to me during the interview. Best advice I can give on this matter is to stay persistent and encourage on-going communication between the international office, your company’s HR department, yourself and your manager.

II. Bentley Motors and the Quality Management role

Bentley Motors is a luxury car manufacturer based in Crewe, UK, known for producing high-end cars. The company has recently embraced new technologies and has focused on expanding its product range to include SUVs and electric vehicles. Bentley’s new strategy, called Beyond100, aims to become a global leader in sustainable luxury mobility, with a goal to become a fully electric brand by 2030 and to reduce its carbon footprint by 75% over the next decade. Key competitors include other luxury car brands such as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover, and Porsche.

As already mentioned, my placement was within the Quality Planning department. For me this role helped me expand my horizons in terms of work dynamic first and foremost. Because my previous role was production oriented, I was often pre-occupied with “firefighting” and dealing with new topics that came up adhoc. In my new team at Bentley the dynamic is very different. The quality planning department is split into two main branches. The first one is managing part approval and part maturation for new vehicle projects. The second branch primarily manages quality topics in the concept stage of a new vehicle project. Thus the work was overall more about looking ahead focusing on proactive quality management. That is why the placement helped broaden my horizon not just in terms of factual knowledge but also different workplace dynamics.

My placement project revolved around (re-)defining and writing the departments project deliverables in-line with Bentley’s new vehicle project management framework (in short PEP: “Product Emergence Process”). For this I held workshops with the relevant stakeholders to define who in the department is responsible for each activity within a certain process and then defining that process on a high level. This may sound tedious on the surface, but it was quite important since the department is measured against these deliverables as a vehicle project progresses. As part of this project I was able to improve my own project management, presentation and influencing skills.

Alongside this project I was also able to spend time in both sub departments because I made point to learn about the PEP-deliverables before attempting to define them. Thus I took part in various competitor benchmarking events, vehicle design assessments, went on supplier visits, took part in ergonomic studies, conducted maturity level assessments and of course, also spent some time with the product. In addition I got to learn about other functions such as our internal laboratory, production, product audit and the sourcing process in general.

One thing that stuck out to me is the difference in working culture between the UK and Germany. In my previous internship I found the company hierarchy to be quite steep for example. At Bentley the hierarchies are relatively flat compared to other Volkswagen group companies from what I can tell. I have also found that your formal education or position has a smaller impact on the way people treat you. In general people seem to give you responsibility and tasks purely based on your own ability which I find very positive. A lot of the people I got to meet had more varied work experiences compared to what I knew in Germany. Some of them have been in the military and then worked on the line before becoming quality engineers for example. Also there is a very large focus on upskilling in the job. So a lot of people I met worked their way into the position they are in organically, whereas in Germany people in similar roles all have B.Sc.’s and M.Sc.’s.

One thing I also quite enjoy is the “banter”. In Germany most people are very straight to the point and often quite serious. Contrary in England people tend “dance around” certain topics especially if they have a request. For example it is quite customary to have a short chat before getting to the actual point. Also people are more open to make a joke here and there to lighten the mood even at work (within reason). At first, I had to get used to these things a bit, but I find it makes day to day work much more enjoyable.

III. Experience in Crewe, UK

Bentley Motors is based in Crewe which is in Cheshire. I choose to live in Crewe during my placement year because I wanted to make sure I am close to my place of work. The reason being that even though Bentley has a flexible working system, I wanted to make the most of my time and be in the office as much as possible.

Crewe has both its good and bad aspects. I don’t want to sugarcoat it: there are probably more bad aspects than good. While it has a rich industrial history, the town has struggled with economic decline in recent years. As a result, the town may not be considered the nicest place to live by some. That said, living in Crewe is affordable, and it offers access to transportation links, making it a good base for exploring other parts of the UK and getting away from Crewe. For example it is easy to get to metropolitan areas such as Manchester, Liverpool, and London. If you are more in the countryside, it is also possible to get to Wales and various national parks such as the peak district from Crewe. Also most of the other industrial placement students lived in Crewe as well which meant it was good for my social life to not live in a prettier city nearby (for example Nantwich).

IV. Conclusion

Even though the process of getting the visa was cumbersome, the experience during the placement made it all the more worth to go through the effort. I got to meet a lot of interesting people both on and off the job from which I learnt a lot. Also I found that I quite like living in Britain in general and enjoy the culture.

In fact I enjoyed it so much I applied for a permanent position in the department I had my placement in. So with the end of my placement I started a new position in the role of “Senior Engineer – Product Quality” and ended up not returning to Germany to do my M.Sc. at the RWTH.

If that doesn’t speak volumes about how much I can recommend to anyone to undertake a similar work experience, then I don’t know what does.

V. Recommendations

In the last part of this report I would like to give some useful tips to anybody moving to the UK.

  • To get paid you need a UK bank account: For this I can recommend “Wise” since you can open an account while you are still in Germany.
  • For finding accommodation I can recommend the platform “SpareRoom” (for house shares) as well as Zoopla and Rightmove
  • If you move into a house share a lot of them are “HMO’s”. This means they are not managed by a private group of people but a company. Thus don’t be surprised if you don’t get to meet your roommates before moving in. I recommend getting a property with a low minimum tenancy length so you can move relatively soon if you don’t like your accommodation or meet other people you would rather live with.
  • Make sure to get a UK phone number as soon as possible. It will make your life much easier down the line. For a monthly contract I can recommend Smarty as a provider. Overall mobile contracts are much better and cheaper than in Germany.
  • If you company offers a pension scheme, get on it asap and keep the related documents in a safe place. In essence this is the company giving you free money to invest for your retirement. All the returns from this are tax-free for life. Over the course of your placement this could add up to well over a thousand dollars from which you only invested a few hundred pounds of your own money.

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