From skills to start-ups: A pathway for career-ready engineering graduates through innovative WIL approaches

A program-wide, career-ready pathway for Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering students to connect with industry and entrepreneurism.

 

Lead Author

 

Dr. Ginu Rajan

Dr. Ginu Rajan

Senior Lecturer, School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering, University of Wollongong

Co-Author

 

A/Prof. Raad Raad

A/Prof. Raad Raad

School of Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering, UOW

Mrs Lara Pugh

Mrs Lara Pugh

Work Integrated Learning Project Coordinator, UOW

A/Prof. Rodney Vickers

A/Prof. Rodney Vickers

Associate Dean Education Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, UOW

Discipline

Electrical, Computer and Telecommunications Engineering

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community based projects/ Start-ups

Description of WIL activity

The University of Wollongong (UOW) School of Electrical Computer and Telecommunication Engineering (SECTE) has embarked on a program to create work-ready graduates through a specific and curriculum-based structure that introduces students to project-based learning from year 1 through year 2 and into the final years. Students are first introduced to design thinking in first year, then into building a specific design in second year, before industry based projects are introduced in year 3. From there students can go into advanced programs which can lead directly to start-up companies. Students can gain two years of collaboration experience with industry during their studies.

How long has it been operating?

This WIL program has been in operation for two years. The subjects, ENGG105 and ECTE250/350, have been running for a long time, but it has only been in the last two years that our engagement with industry has strengthened.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

This program is innovative as it embeds work-based learning across students’ tertiary studies. It is a whole-of-course initiative designed to progressively build students’ skills and engagement with authentic, innovative work practices and industry partnerships.

Students are first introduced to design thinking in ENGG105 -Engineering Design for Sustainability, then into building a specific design in second year (ECTE250- Engineering Design and Management 2), before industry based projects are introduced in year 3 (ECTE350- Engineering Design and Management 3). From there students can go into advanced programs which can lead directly to start-up companies (FEIS400- Lean Engineering Start-up and UOW 10K club).

Third year Engineering Design and Management (ECTE350is the core Engineering Design program across all majors (Electrical/Computer/Telecommunications/Mechatronics) of our 4 year undergraduate program. Multi-disciplinary teams are formed and have a choice between doing an industry sponsored project or a new unique project. Teams have a real dollar budget to deliver their chosen project provided by the school through a sustainable funding model. Students showcase their developed product to the public and industries during the Innovation Conference and Exhibition (https://news.eis.uow.edu.au/event/2019-innovation-conference-and-exhibition/).

Students have an opportunity to convert their novel ideas to a start-up through our 4th year specialised subject – FEIS400 Lean Engineering Start-Up – offered in collaboration with i-Accelerate (a UOW start-up incubator) (https://news.eis.uow.edu.au/setting-students-entrepreneurial-sights-high-feis400-lean-engineering-startup/). Students who are preparing for their start-up also get an opportunity to participate in the UOW 10K club competition, where seed funding and mentoring is provided to the winner (https://www.uow.edu.au/engineering-information-sciences/10k-club-competition/).

Students are also trained to develop project management skills and engineering ethics. An in-house developed (Faculty of Business) project management quality evaluation tool is also provided to the students to assess the quality of their project management.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

The primary beneficiaries of this program are students and industry. Students have an opportunity to engage with an industry partner for approximately two years during their study: first through the ECTE350 program and then through the undergrad professional thesis program. Students will begin to develop an industry network and career-ready skills and knowledge before graduating. Industries can evaluate and provide feedback on the skills of the students and upon completing the program, students are more prepared to work for them or in their respective fields. Outcomes from student-led industry projects can lead to improved processes, productivity and innovation in design.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Industry participation and academic evaluation is embedded in all activities. For example ECTE350 has more than 10 assessment tasks including two written reports, presentation and exhibition. The reports and presentation are evaluated by academics and feedback is provided. These reports are also provided to the industries for their feedback to ensure that it is aligned to their original project concept. Students present and demonstrate their final product at an Innovation conference and exhibition that is judged by academics, industries and public. 

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

The primary beneficiaries of this whole-of-course approach are students and industry partners, where the students will have better career prospects upon graduating and industries receive well-trained graduates with industry work exposure as their workforce.
UOW also benefits through wider industry engagement that can lead to further commercial research. Student start-ups will also have long term impact on university-industry collaboration.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

WIL activities are scaffolded across the undergraduate program. Group work is first introduced in ENGG105. Students compete in groups to create designs which culminate in showcasing the best designs. Students are further prepared through the 2nd year Engineering Design and Management subject (ECTE250) and then to the 3rd year ECTE350 and subsequently to the 4th year thesis and entrepreneurship program. A well-established industry collaboration structure is in place where EOIs are invited before the start of each session. The success of the program is measured by the number of students continuing with relevant industries as interns, or with thesis project and successful start-ups.

How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?

Established practices always serve foundation for concepts of design thinking, systems thinking, and interdisciplinary teaming. Well established design thinking methodologies are already established, for example the design thinking developed by the Standford D School

[1]. Design thoughts for industry project based programs at SECTE are also inspired by the thoughts provided by James Trevelyan on how to make an expert engineer in his published book [2]. Start-up and entrepreneurship are also emerging, innovative WIL models recognised in the WIL literature, see https://acen.edu.au/innovative-models/publications/

  1. https://dschool-old.stanford.edu
  2. Trevelyan, J (2014) The Making of an Expert Engineer, CRC Press, ISBN 978131574228

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

It has become evident that project and team-based subjects provide students with the best opportunity to apply the technical knowledge gained in other subjects. We are in the phase of expanding and strengthen our offerings and ECTE350 will be offered in our new three year technology program as a capstone subject. Also for our undergraduate program students are required to complete a 12 week professional experience program with industry during year 3-4. It is envisaged that this 12 week will be distributed across the degree so students can integrate time in industry with time spent in class design projects.

 

Case Study Images

 

Fig: A view from the SECTE Innovation Conference and Exhibition 2019.

Fig. Career ready pathway based on project based learning at SECTE