25 July 2012

Industrial training benefits students and companies

By Dr Kho Yau Hee

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius        

It has been widely reported that university graduates need to be better prepared for the workplace. So, what better way to do this than let students experience doing real work while they are still studying?

Industrial placement, where a student undertakes a period of training with an organization usually during a semester break, plays an important role in preparing the student for a professional career. From the hands-on training, the student learns about the skill sets required, demands of the industry and also work ethics. At the same time it gives the student an opportunity to put into practice what he or she has learned at university.

The industry exposure enhances the undergraduate’s work life through added enthusiasm and commitment; provides a lifelong learning experience; is an opportunity to engage with the profession to which they aspire in a realistic work environment; appreciate and understand the practical application of their academic program; work with professional mentors and to begin to build networks within their profession.

So, even before the student graduates he or she is trained to be job-ready, thus increasing the student’s employment prospects.

While the student will have much to gain from industrial placement, the same is also true for organisations which have such training programs in place. These programs can be of mutual benefit for employers because they may benefit from the quality of support, fresh ideas and energy that the student brings into the work environment.

Moreover, participating in internship programs allows the staffs of an organisation to develop leadership and mentoring skills, create exposure for the company, bring new perspectives and fresh ideas into the work environment. It is also a convenient pathway for the company to recruit human resource as some absorb trainees into their workforce after they graduate.

The importance and benefits of industrial placement has been acknowledged by Swinburne University of Technology which pioneered industrial-based learning in 1963. Today, it has in place its well-known Industry Engaged Learning program, which is also sometimes referred to as Work Integrated Learning, Cooperative Education or Work Based Learning.

Organisations may participate in Swinburne’s Industry Engaged Learning via any of the following options:

Industry-Based Learning (IBL). This is a renowned program which allows undergraduate students the opportunity to undertake full-time, paid employment in an area relevant to their studies. Swinburne has partnered with industry since 1963 to offer students IBL opportunities. Usually offered through six- or 12-month placements, IBL students are equipped to make a valuable contribution to your organisation.

Industrial Placement (IP). IP is a partnership between industry and the university, designed to offer high achieving students the opportunity to gain valuable experience in a professional workplace environment. Whether you are based nationally or internationally, are a small or a large organisation, an IP student can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas into your work environment.

Capstone projects. Capstones connect organisations which require assistance with a short term project, with a cohort of final year undergraduate students who will tackle these challenges with innovative and creative solutions. Capstones not only allow students to apply their academic knowledge to authentic real-world scenarios but are also a very useful resource for industry. Capstones are offered across all disciplines.

Internships. These develop students’ professional and practical skills, encouraging them to apply skills and knowledge acquired through study in a real-life environment. Students are placed with an employer to work on a research project or undertake work experience under the guidance of industry and academic supervision, generally for two or three days a week throughout the university semester.

Currently, a key element of the university’s engineering curriculum is the mandatory exposure to professional engineering practice through industrial placement which has been seen to be a useful preparation for the professional career of an engineering graduate, and is also the common method of preparing skilled engineers worldwide. Our industry partners include both private and government sectors, and cover a range of disciplines from electrical and electronic, civil, chemical, mechanical, robotics and mechatronics, to telecommunication and network engineering. Although not mandatory, computing and science undergraduates are encouraged to undergo industrial placement as well.

Students not only have to acquire knowledge but also the process and art of learning, and industry training allows them to refine their skills and knowledge. Many students who performed well have been employed immediately as permanent staff upon graduation. 

With today’s rapidly changing pace of the job market, employees need to keep abreast of new knowledge and technology. It is heartening to note that many companies value industrial placement as a way to train future employees and consider offering such training programs as their corporate social responsibility.

Dr Kho Yau Hee is the Coordinator of Industrial Placement with the School of Engineering, Computing and Science. If you would like to participate, or know more about Swinburne Sarawak’s industrial placement program, email him at ykho@swinburne.edu.my