ACS has partnered with a second Australian university to launch its professional placements and mentoring program.

Following in the footsteps of Melbourne University, Canberra’s Australian National University has signed on to improve both ICT and soft skills as part of an internship for its final year Masters of Computing students.

This year, there was an intake of 20 students, of which 11 were international students.

ACS Intern Programme Manager for Canberra, Adrian Armitage, said the program will open up collaboration, and provide opportunities for ICT graduates from ANU, while helping Australian businesses practically tackle significant challenges.

“[The programme] celebrate[s] the benefits of having freshly-trained expert eyes looking at some common business problems and working in the local community to suggest solutions and to demo opportunities.

“These then translate into ongoing work for ICT providers in Canberra and help improve the performance of local businesses.

“It is a test of their ICT skills on scoping a project, identifying the problem, applying their skills and knowledge and even learning about the different systems, and then briefing their host company with well-articulated solutions and, if time permitted, providing a demonstrated solution.

“Soft skills such as conducting meetings, asking questions and presenting their findings are definitely part of this entire immersive experience,” he said.

Benefits aplenty

Associate Director of Educational Partnerships, Dr Ramesh Sankaranarayana, said internships provide an opportunity for ANU students to gain valuable work experience.

“It allows them to apply what they have learnt at the university to real world situations, improve their professional skills, clarify their career goals and build professional networks.

“It allows employers to interact with students who bring new ideas and knowledge to the workplace, and to assess skills before they enter the workforce,” he said.

Each intern is required to work with local businesses to solve ICT challenges, applying their final year masters studies in a practical environment.

The initiative was launched at ANU on 28 July, at an event where students met ACS staff and their mentors, and had the opportunity to network.

The program allows students to have their work reviewed and peer-assessed fortnightly, build confidence in the workplace and be provided with two days per week of full support and focus on their project, all while being encouraged to reflect on their personal and professional development. They will also have the opportunity to showcase their work at an event towards the end of the semester.

Armitage said while this is a prime opportunity for students, they can also bring many benefits to a business, such as enthusiasm, drive and new ideas, and can provide professional development opportunities for staff – particularly in honing their leadership skills.

“In short, a professional placement is the ultimate win-win for students and host companies,” he said.

L to R: ANU students Syed Hussain, Huiying Li and David Norrish.

Bridging the gap

Armitage said one of the challenging aspects of this job includes the fact that international students cannot work in Federal Departments, limiting their opportunities in Canberra.

“Fortunately, there is a growing business community and a healthy ICT sector, and it is this cohort of supporters who have taken on the interns and are benefitting from the systems and programmes they are implementing in these businesses over a 14-week immersive experience,” he said.

One of the program’s local students, David Norrish, said his internship had been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of his degree.

“I've had to self-learn, troubleshoot problems with no known solutions, integrate technologies, and [have] been privileged to work alongside skilled professionals.

“I've learnt a huge amount, and feel incomparably closer to having the skills to be a real software developer myself," he said.

This sentiment was backed by his peer and international student, Syed Hussain, who said nothing during his time at ANU compared to the experience and learning he gained from his ACS internship with film directing company, Cinefly.

“Exhausting yet exhilarating, [the internship] not only helped me define my career goals and passion, but equipped me with invaluable industrial experience as well.

“I look forward to enhancing the many skills that I gained from it, both at ANU and when I enter the realm of practical life,” he said.

Huiying Li, another international student who interned at the Canberra Business Chamber, said she grew from knowing nothing about the company’s business knowledge or having technical skills for the project, to able to complete it with confidence, all while learning valuable soft skills.

"The most important thing I have learned from this internship is, as an IT professional, to communicate effectively with my clients, who are business people, in order to get instructive feedback,” she said.

The three students were mentored by Alaine King and Tim DeWan.

With soft skills such as personal, interpersonal and organisational skills being must-haves for tomorrow’s ICT workforce, the opportunities offered in this internship place the students well ahead of their peers.

“[The programme] saw host companies challenge interns to speak better, write better and lift their game,” said Armitage.

Students in the ANU program also become ACS members, have access to ACS resources, such as the Digital Library, and can attend ACS events.

The internships form part of the ANU subject Individual Computing Project.