Two SMEs show how much needed project work has benefitted them – and their graduate interns.
These days, work experience is a must-have, not a luxury extra, for prospective employees.
Small to medium size businesses (SMEs) may think they don’t have the time or resources to accommodate work experience students, but examples from two very different SMEs, challenge that assumption.
Case Study: Sienna
Bio and medical technology company Sienna Cancer Diagnostics, has been partnering with Melbourne University for the past two years, offering masters degree biotechnology students practical experience in its labs. CEO Matthew Hoskin says in his experience, there are no downsides.
“It’s true there is an element of altruism here – Sienna does want to do its part in assisting STEM students to gain experience that will help them post-graduation. But as a small med-tech company limited in cash and staff, even with all the goodwill in the world it would be difficult to find the resources to support this program if there was no value provided to Sienna in return,” says Hoskin.
The students are allocated tasks that would otherwise be done internally. The advantage is that projects get done more quickly, or it frees up internal resources to work on other things.
Another benefit is that Sienna gets exposed to clever bio-technology students who will be heading out into the workforce.
Melbourne University connected graduate Christine Casis with Sienna because her interest in medical devices aligned with the company.
“I worked on a competitive analysis project which looked to define the landscape of bladder cancer diagnostic tests across the US and Australia,” says Casis.
It involved collaborating with two other students to formulate a report listing rival companies that were also selling products.
“From a marketing and sales perspective, it was really informative for Sienna, for the progression of their products, as they can now see the pros and cons of the competition,” she says.
Another Melbourne student, Jake Parkins, worked on a project examining the Asian markets with a view to making recommendations about the countries Sienna could prioritise in its geographical expansion.
Parkins was in no doubt about the benefits it brought him. “It gave me applicable, real-world experience before graduating, which I can discuss and quote at interviews. I have also been able to put what I’ve learned into practice, and I now possess skills that are of use to the industry.”
And did the experience convince them that they wanted to work in the industry?
“Working with Sienna, a very friendly yet capable SME, reinforced my desire to be a part of the industry,” says Casis.
Parkin’s perceptions were changed quite considerably. “I came from a research background, and it made me aware of work other than lab work and academic writing,” he says. “I like the challenges the industry presents. It’s diverse in terms of the areas you can go into – medical devices, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, digital health.”
Most universities are aware of the need to produce industry-ready graduates, says Hoskin.
“There’s no substitute for on-the-job experience. Graduates get to see how a science-based company works, get exposed to different roles and functions, and perform real-life examples of what they may have to do when they find employment,” he says.
The medtech and biotech industry is a growth area for Victoria’s economy and is seen as a key area for jobs creation.
“The greater the pool of knowledgeable and experienced professionals there are in the wider medtech community, the better our chances of finding the right people to fill the needs of our own company,” says Hoskin.
Case study: Steamatic
Steamatic is a commercial, industrial and domestic cleaning and restoration company based in Victoria. The company teamed up with the AHRI’s work experience placement program to offer students exposure to working in day-to-day HR.
Alison McKenzie, workplace health and safety and HR coordinator, says that without such exposure, “it can be challenging for graduates to gain this level of experience when stepping into a junior HR position”.
But for her it’s also about companies giving back to the next generation.
“This isn’t just about having an extra set of hands on deck. Think back to when you were starting your career and how much you appreciated and benefitted from this type of mentoring and work experience,” she says.
“This kind of placement is an opportunity to share your knowledge and help shape the HR professionals who will one day be working alongside you.”
Divya Ravinthiran and Malika Chanday were keen to build on the skills they had been taught for their HR degrees. Chanday had done a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in HR management, international management, and management, while Ravinthiran studied for a Bachelor of Science, majoring in psychology.
Ravinthiran worked full-time for three weeks with Steamatic, whereas Chanday chose to spread her work experience over five weeks, working three days a week.
“I was given information about recruitment trends the company was experiencing and needed to come up with ideas on how Steamatic could better utilise social media to attract its ideal employee,” says Ravinthiran.
“I decided to research recruitment techniques utilised by companies that were attracting top talent, and also research social media marketing trends to develop ideas that Steamatic would be able to implement easily.”
Her completed report was submitted to the marketing manager and formed part of a board meeting presentation. The project helped to reinforce the importance of recruitment in HR as a method of enhancing business outcomes and improving company culture.
Chanday’s project centred around creating a health and wellbeing program at Steamatic. The objective was to analyse employee needs and create a program that would engage the staff.
For McKenzie, the experience was all positive. “I was not only impressed with the work Divya and Malika produced, but I was also blown away by how adaptable, eager to learn and solid their work ethic was from day one of the program,” she says.
“Malika’s work on a proposal given to senior management was a key component in the project, and a stand-out moment during that process was the survey questions she generated to gain feedback. She then used that data to navigate around areas of improvement for the project.
“Divya presented a variety of recruitment drive ideas to senior management. When I looked around the boardroom during her presentation, every manager started to nod in agreement with her fresh concepts. She’d aced it before she was even finished.”
McKenzie’s advice to other SMEs is to embrace the AHRI program wholeheartedly. And the students are in full agreement.
“In the current climate, access to senior professionals who are willing to share their time and knowledge is very rare, so this placement program is extremely valuable,” says Ravinthiran.
“What I learned in my books is very different to the actual workplace experience,” adds Chanday. “Practical workplace experience is crucial for anyone who wants to pursue their career in this field. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.”
Host a promising HR student in your organisation with AHRI’s Work Experience Placement Program. Applications for organisation and student members close Friday 11 May.