Still time to secure valuable student R&D talent

Published: Thu 29 Aug 2019 02:22 PM
29 August 2019
Callaghan Innovation says innovative businesses have access to a wealth of technical and fresh-thinking talent thanks to Government-funded student internships.
Applications are closing soon for Callaghan Innovation’s R Experience Grants, which fund 10-week internships with undergraduate or postgraduate students in science, engineering, technology, business and design.
More than 280 Kiwi companies had R Experience Grants approved last year, for over 660 students to boost capability and capacity in their research and development teams. Applications have been open since May, and are tracking well ahead of last year’s numbers, but there are still more businesses that could benefit.
For students, the R Experience Grants provide an opportunity to gain valuable work experience and the chance to apply their training and study to practical projects. Callaghan Innovation’s CFO, Matt Kenny, says companies looking for a dose of fresh thinking and technical skills have much more to gain.
“Many of these students are developing skills that are highly sought after across a number of industries. We’ve got students working on robotics, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), software development and pharmaceuticals,” says Mr Kenny.
“For start-ups especially, this can be a highly valuable resource, supporting anything from technical product work through to competitive market scans. For larger companies it might provide the confidence to finally kick off a long-awaited backburner project or get their data ready for machine learning and AI.”
Last year the majority of R Experience Grant student placements were in Auckland (282 students), followed by Canterbury (136), Wellington (66) and Waikato (58).
“We would love to see more applications from the regions and see these grants boosting the R capacity of businesses in these areas,” Mr Kenny adds.
“We are seeing larger companies integrate it with their recruitment projects - especially since there are skill shortages in these areas. All the good students are generally snapped up after graduation and this is a great way to get on the front foot and find a great fit.”
Both students or recent graduates are considered for the placements, and eligible companies must have an active R programme (an R budget and R staff). Applications are now open until 06 September at 12pm, visit Callaghan Innovation’s website for more information.
Case studies and regional 18/19 figures below. Two profile photos available here.
Regional uptake of student grants FY18/19RegionNumber of Student Places ApprovedNumber of CompaniesAuckland282101Bay of Plenty2915Canterbury13670Gisborne44Hawke's Bay32Manawatu-Wanganui269Marlborough11Nelson33Northland22Otago3119Southland32Taranaki1716Waikato5822Wellington6622Total661288
Experience Grant case studies
Douglas Pharmaceuticals
Douglas Pharmaceuticals applies annually for Callaghan Innovation R Experience Grants and uses the student internships as an important part of their talent pipeline. Chief Scientific Officer Peter Surman says the company applies to fund up to 10 interns through the grants programme now and uses the students in various different R roles, not just pure research, including technical transfer and quality control roles.
“These internships are a really good way to bring in good quality new graduates and to develop them in the ways of our company. After almost three months with us they know whether the type of work they’re doing is right for them and we know if they’re the right fit for the company. It’s a huge de-risking. We take on most of them. It’s a really good way to develop talent within New Zealand.”
Simone Hollier was one of the students to carry out an internship with Douglas Pharmaceuticals with the support of an R Experience Grant. She spent her time with the company working on R projects as a lab assistant and she’s now joined the company full-time as their Product Portfolio Analyst.
Hollier, who studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in Medicinal Chemistry, at the University of Auckland, says the internship was a great way to understand the company and the different opportunities it offered.
“You can see what other people are doing in the labs too, so you get a lot of broad experience, and a lot of learning.”
Website-building company Rocketspark secured R Experience Grants last year and director Grant Johnson says the student internships were incredibly valuable.
“It was a really beneficial process and we’re excited by the outcome of what they’ve produced.”
Two of the students who took up internships with Rocketspark were studying software engineering.
“They were smart students and in their ten weeks with us they created a prototype of a tool that will help small business owners with their search engine optimisation. There’s still a way to go to get it into a commercial project, but the Experience Grant was a really valuable kick-start to a project with high potential and provided the impetus to do some challenging research.”
Following the internship, one of the students has joined Rocketspark’s development team, working one day a week while he completes his studies.
Johnson says the feedback from their student interns was that the project helped to identify the areas of R they enjoyed and focused them on their studies and likely career choices.
Travel software company Serko has also secured multiple R Experience Grants and Martin Cronje, Head of Engineering, says the student internships have brought smart, enthusiastic people and fresh thinking into the company’s R activity.
“We are bringing some of these interns on full-time because of their eagerness and the fresh perspective they offer.”
Students gain hands-on practical experience, an opportunity to better understand the industry and their role in it, and a chance to work on real-world projects.

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