The Industry Internship

Developing talent and skills for the future of work requires work-integrated learning environments that encourage curiosity and problem solving; a different kind of ‘common knowledge’ to the past, but critical for organisations working at the intersection of I4.0 and traditional manufacturing. But why would a ‘technology disruption’ demand a deliberate shift away from traditional ways of working and learning? One primary reason is ‘connectivity’. Technology and data management combined with cross generational knowhow will be what powers valuable products and services in the future.

Embracing the shift in ways of working

Manufacturing is on its way to understanding success is no longer defined by a B2B product focus alone but emotional connections between “people, planet and prosperity” (the 3Ps). Coupled with technology development and adoption, a cultural shift towards divergent thinking can reposition the workforce to embrace ideals of the new ways of working. 

Through extended internships, the manufacturing industry and education can agree on the needed skills and knowledge for future manufacturers and provide opportunities to explore applied knowledge and learning as the new norm. We talked about this idea in a post back in July 2019 proposing that learning and work need to converge to prepare workers for the continuous and rapidly changing work of the digital future.

So how does industry and education get on the same page about the skills and knowledge for tomorrow’s manufacturing? One way is through extended internships that provide opportunities to explore applied knowledge and learning as the new norm.

While internships are well established at the higher education level, there are a number of hurdles to overcome for a school student to participate in such a program, the most obvious one is a school system that provides curriculum flexibility to support alternative learning plans. It then needs to match a business and capable mentors with a student to deliver a meaningful learning environment. And to have widespread impact all this needs to be scalable. Developing such a system is doable, but will require a long transition to change mindset, infrastructure and governance, however that should not stop early adopters from paving the way and testing ideas to support change.

Introduction to Big Picture Education Australia

Big Picture Education Australia (BPEA) is one key vehicle in school based industry-education engagement becoming a reality, by setting an adaptive curriculum framework that enables a school interested in providing an alternative pedagogy. 

Big Picture focus on providing the students with the relevant technology and information that allows them to explore the independent work in their preferred industry and create their own projects to be showcased later on to other students/industry professionals. This creates the perfect opportunity for students to build a portfolio from a young age as the program adds value to the student’s education to create a definitive edge in a competitive job market. It is also a great reflection of their tangible growth in technical and practical skills, which can be shown to future employers and universities. 

Liverpool Boys High is one of approximately 40 schools across Australia providing BPEA opportunities, LA Services is fortunate to be located near this school and has the necessary mindset and capacity to provide internship support. So, after three years of internship participation what has been learnt about this alternative learning pathway and what benefits have come from this participation?

Internship History at LA Services

To date LA Services has provided industry support for three formal school internships through Liverpool Boys High School and four university internships with Macquarie University and University of New South Wales, and each one has had a different style to suit varying student needs. 

The need to tailor each internship to the individual came to light particularly with Jacky’s case. Jacky, a student of Liverpool Boys, was one of those students who was unsure of his passion and joined LA Services after high praise from a fellow intern. Shortly along the way, we noticed a lapse in expectation but continued to explore the different paths until we found one that suited Jacky’s creative mindset. As we started to focus on Jacky’s passion in games, he showed fantastic progress under the mentorship of LA Services’ UTS placed data science researcher (Ming Zhao), gaining a deeper understanding of game development than achievable in the school environment.

Reflecting on the outcomes of this and other internships, we have pinned the critical requirements from an industry partner in this kind of an arrangement :

  • Provide a very focused and playful learning experience to opened up a student’s world view and make some specific connections between learning threads and their use in real world outcomes, raising awareness about education value
  • Provide opportunity to build technology awareness by engagement with multiple professionals across different technology domains. This broad exposure allows a student to identify areas of interest and derive a learning pathway that delivers the specific learning needs to pursue a career in that interest
  • Play a support role, providing specific teaching of skills to supplement an existing area of interest setting the student up with a broader knowledge base for their chosen post school pathway
  • Provide a hands on experience that brings theory and existing knowledge into action, and puts the realities of doing into perspective to shift perceptions and support career planning and choices

Reaping the benefits 

So what benefits have internships brought to LA Services and its need for a divergent thinking cross generational workforce? An initial benefit comes via the need to pivot from the outcomes plan over the internship period which builds organisational comfort in flexibility, adaptation and change. Regardless of the internship type, there is a need for “disciplined creativity(Great by Choice, Collins & Hansen. 2011). What we have found is, existing employees involved in mentoring see a need to upskill or simply widen their own world view by investigating new threads that come from the ‘de-shackled thinking’ and freeform internship conversations.

This self reflecting process driven by cross generational dialogue is the very culture shift that is needed to A) capitalise on the potential opportunities across I4.0 and B) to shift the perception of the industry in the next generation of manufacturers.

This time is right to shift away from ‘rule following’ and a ‘this is how it is done’ mantra.

This may seem like it devalues seasoned knowledge and expertise, but it needs to be remembered, context is everything in business. Meaning past views and ways of working, that are held fast when a business environment has moved on, can hold back progress. A principle that has high relevance in the dynamic world of I4.0.

Conclusion

Internships, if embraced as part of the change mechanism, are a means of disrupting a business’ status quo, challenge ideals and encourage personal growth. The future of manufacturing work needs a blend of foundational experience and knowledge channeled through new technologies and to combine these there must be cross generation input and an inclusive mindset : attributes internships deliver.