Updated: Jan 11, 2018
A few years back I was doing a number of recruitment roles in the RF and Wireless space. There were limited candidates in this space and I often had to look for people from overseas. I had started to notice though that the best candidates I could get came out of Australia and most had something in common. They’d all been taught by the same professor. (In this case a University of Sydney Professor; Branka Vucetic.)
I’d come across this situation before – that with excellent candidates there was at least one key person whether teacher or manager that made a profound difference in putting them in the top 5 percent of others in their field. In some fields, without being told I could guess who their influencer was simply by how those candidates spoke and acted.
I visited that Professor to find out what she did to make a difference. And wasn’t surprised to find, that unlike most lecturers she got industry heavily involved in the education of the students. She visited varied companies from the same field to find out what sort of projects they were doing, she made mini-projects that covered similar ground through the course. She invited the companies engineers and leads to the University to talk and share. I suspected she not only persuaded but ‘bullied’, those engineers into directly involving themselves with her students. Before the students left their course they knew how their work applied in the market, what the industry wanted from them, what the industry saw as important and relevant and what a career path in those companies looked like. It made a profound difference to their career choices and their performance.
Industry involvement is key. Academics with no industry experience can not on their own contextualise what they teach to what is needed in the professions students move into. There is no oracle of relevance without experience. Hence within our Test-Ed community project based learning is an integral part of our training. In other parts of the world Canada, France, Finland and Norway for example there are Universities and Colleges where it is the norm, not so here in Australia.
In the last 20 years, I’ve been involved in a number of projects that have engaged high
schools, universities or training organisations with projects involving industry practitioners. For example, in my last project, we had disadvantaged youth with no higher qualification than High School certificates outperform University Post Graduates in IT in acquiring system engineer roles in Suncorp. Hence, I’ve seen a few advantages that collaboration with industry and education brings.
It can provide teachers insight on how to align their course and readiness standards to business needs. When the larger curriculum can’t change to meet market changes, students can at least be informed on what is or not relevant in the world. I remember a lecturer who awarded an “A” to the student who performed the worst in work-based projects. Whereas a student who got offered work in a top-tier organisation ranked only “C+” in the course. The lecturer agreed the first student wasn’t very good but said; “The skills required to pass the exam are not the skills required to be successful in the workplace”.
Projects between businesses and education can help youth build meaningful relationships with strong role models and mentors. Learning and character growth go hand in hand, growth challenges more than your brain, it requires resilience, persistence, courage and an openness to learn and change. The support and sharing of experiences that come through mentors and accomplished role models can provide youth not just encouragement but inspiration.
It makes education meaningful. Learning new skills through a work project that has an additional purpose of providing a need for a business, provides students with a sense of contribution and pride when they see that they can make a difference. It also develops a greater respect for what they’re learning, and greater persistence when they feel more challenged by lessons of greater difficulty.
Engagements that strengthen career awareness. In one pilot, I had a group of trainees Skype interview different engineers in test and development each Friday. Those interviews along with their work-based learning experiences strengthened their career awareness and showed them that there was a diversity of roles and that could find one to match their talents, interests and strengths. Unfortunately, that’s an awareness that I don’t find strong in most adult job candidates.
Overall I feel it builds community. I am a fan of using real community problems as the basis for projects whenever possible. Our students need to see the connection between their project work and a real-world, authentic task to be engaged, motivated and buy into the project. It's one of the reasons why most of the projects the students will do as part of
Test-Ed is with struggling Startups. Students contribute and are contributed to.