Wednesday, 2 December 2015

For students working strategically to shape their career prospects, the opportunity to get hands-on experience in ‘real world’ projects – with a mining company, architectural firm, legal office or a government agency – is invaluable.

UWA appreciates that providing students with the chance to work ‘at the coal face’, doing research requested by a company, allows them to gain insights into a future work environment – and they can tap into a network of industry professionals.

While education-wise the benefits are obvious – students are mentored by academic supervisors and industry professionals – further benefits accrue as links between the University and its industry partner are strengthened. And, given UWA’s status in global and national university ranking, engaging with an institution that boasts acknowledged thought leaders in a variety of fields is welcomed by our partners.

This ‘win-win’ philosophy underpins the Cooperative Education for Enterprise Development (CEED) concept that was first rolled out with federal funding after a pilot at RMIT in the 1980s. Today several universities across Australia have created variations of the original, with UWA’s CEED being a successful self-sustaining model that has stood the test of time. It sees a CEED client paying a fixed fee to have a student embedded in their organisation, working on an Honours, Masters or Higher Degree by Research thesis in an area of real need that it has identified. It’s a model that appears to be going from strength to strength – with student demand currently outpacing the supply of placements. So the hunt is on for more clients!

“Getting a CEED placement is a competitive process with sometimes as many as 30 hopeful students vying for a single placement,” says CEED Director Jeremy Leggoe, a PhD graduate, whose mechanical and chemical engineering career took him to the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Texas Tech University before returning to campus.

“The appeal of CEED projects is that they are, in effect, a rapidly responsive method for training students in specific issues and technologies so they’re better prepared to launch their careers. It is one of the most agile methods for providing specialist recruits – and in fact some of our students do eventually receive job offers from the client,” explains Dr Leggoe.

“The fact that a CEED Scholar will be immersed in a professional environment through summer, that they may be called on to deliver presentations to board rooms or present their research in seminars – and that they’re developing vital interpersonal skills – all ensure that graduates with CEED experience tend to be sought after.”

While to date, students in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics have comprised the majority of CEED Scholars, current projects engage students and academics in disciplines including architecture, business and psychology. As one of the pilot projects for the Innovation Quarter initiative, the immediate goal for the CEED program is to expand the number of CEED opportunities available in disciplines across the UWA campus.

For students involved, fronting up to a very different work environment could be daunting without the induction program that includes exercises in public speaking and in developing a project schedule.

“Eighty per cent may be an A for a project on campus, but if you present a CEED project in which 20 per cent is wrong, it won’t work,” says Mr Leggoe. “We emphasise that it’s not about marks, it’s what you deliver – and that’s how it will be for rest of your career. This can be a jump in thinking for some. However, it’s interesting to see how students grow in multiple ways when engaged in a project. It also demonstrates to us that marks are not always the best indicator of who will succeed in a workplace.”

Mr Leggoe says that academic supervisors are mindful that projects defined by an industry client must meet the needs of the student. “Success is defined by getting the right student/client fit, monitoring the project’s progress, and making sure both parties achieve a desired outcome: educational gains for the student and business results for the client. And the exitsurveys we do are generally very positive.”

Law/Science graduate Katie Winterbourne, now a partner in global law firm Ashurst, is one such CEED ambassador who believes the CEED acronym is apt – “because it really does represent a seed that can grow into a rewarding career”.

Ms Winterbourne completed a final year placement with the Water and Rivers Commission in 1995 at a time of proposed changes to WA’s water allocation legislation.

“I hoped working on a real resources issue would set me apart from other graduates,” recalls Katie. “I was part of a team conducting interviews with stakeholders and preparing a report on modernising water legislation to meet Western Australian needs.

“I learnt a lot from interacting with stakeholders from different professional backgrounds, each offering different perspectives. It was an opportunity to develop skills I hadn’t realised during my studies, which have served me well since then.”

The graduate’s interest in water law and the regulation of resources led to relocation to Melbourne to work with a team of lawyers advising water managers in the Victorian water industry. She subsequently wrote a Master's thesis on water trading and today continues to focus on natural resources law.

“My positive CEED experience definitely gave me the self-confidence to pursue these opportunities,” she says.