Employers – Why get involved?

Why you should employ an intern studying tech

For many employers the desire to take interns is largely about giving back to the tech community, by giving future employees a solid first experience in the tech workplace.

For the accountants and HR there are additional reasons that support a healthy bottom line. Most of these will be familiar:

  • Securing a steady supply of fresh talent to observe, build relationships with and perhaps later recruit
  • Retain existing talent for longer as you present them with growth opportunities through supervising interns
  • Staff churn can be addressed (in part) by promoting from within and recruiting cheaper interns/graduates
  • Internships have a defined end date
  • There is support from the university if needed

Two other factors to consider;

  • you need experienced staff to mentor interns
  • mentoring takes time away from other tasks

From an HR perspective the challenge is to attract and retain top talent in a highly mobile, highly interconnected workforce. By being part of growing the NZ tech workforce and engaging with students in study, employers increase their reputation and reach which in turn may improve retention and recruitment.

Students that have figured out that people skills are just as important as technical skills are highly sought after. You will easily spot them in interviews and at meetups. Expect that you may need to compete harder for this talent.

After the internship, if you are in a position to maintain the relationship, there are several options.

  • part-time work while they complete their studies full-time
  • a scholarship or contribute to their fees
  • full-time work and part-time study, perhaps offer to pay for papers as they are passed
  • project work during study breaks
  • a cap-stone project for their final year
  • involve them in company events as part of the wider family

Scholarships are an under-utilised option. $5,000 tax free, goes a long way with a student while for you it may be a tax deductible expense. This might suit students you wish to keep a connection with and programs or research you wish to support. The student gets all the scholarship money (the university administers it for free).

Resist encouraging students to short-cut their studies in order to fill short term employment needs. We understand business pressures, however, too often this approach does not consider that the degree will impact a graduate's employment for the next 40 years. When you desire to take the student 'as is', we all take this as a complement. But by not supporting a student to finish their studies, you risk being perceived as attempting to restrict their future employment options (an anti employee-mobility strategy).

For students reading this, keep in mind that there are many reasons for offering internships and many reasons for not offering more work afterwards. Most of those reasons are not about you, or your performance. For example, the loss of a major client will significantly impact cash-flow and the ability to employ new staff. As will supervisor ill-health or family crisis, global downturns, change of government, major projects requiring experienced talent, moving premises and restructuring - to name just a few. Take the internship for what it is, a valuable opportunity to gain real world work experience alongside experienced industry peers.

What are our tech students studying?

We have students completing either a three year Computer Science or a four year Engineering degree accredited by Engineering NZ.

The four-year Engineering degree can be thought of as a three-year Computer Science degree plus. The plus involves significant improvements in soft skills, autonomy, innovation, professionalism (not the suit wearing kind) and the experience of seeing two substantial 8 month projects from start to finish, including a substantial report. Engineering graduates are well positioned to learn fast, participate in teams, complete substantial tasks and have the potential to rapidly step into consulting and junior leadership roles. Our students are keen to gain work experience and past employers talk highly of the calibre of interns from the School of Engineering and Computer Science.

The Bachelor of Engineering degree has three majors:

  • Cybersecurity Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Software Engineering.

Computer Science is a major within the highly flexible Bachelor of Science degree. This flexibility means computer science students may choose to work toward completing a second major within their degree (a double major), for example in commerce, psychology, math, history, or biology.

Within the majors offered, students may also specialise in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Graphics, Networked Applications and Renewable Energy.

Why is Work Experience a thing?

Both the tech industry and representative bodies (Engineering NZ, ITP and central government) are very clear about needing work ready graduates, graduates that can integrate easily into the tech workplace. Consequently we require our engineering students to accumulate 800 hours of work experience where we have them focus on developing their soft skills while they apply taught technical theory in the workplace.

Work experience usually takes place over two summer breaks. This gives industry employers opportunity to engage with our students with a view to spotting talent and increasing student awareness of your brand. Plus you get the warm fuzzy stuff that comes from giving back to your local tech community.

Suitable professional work in tech

Students should be offered paid work within a tech workplace or team, applying their degree's major and under suitable industry supervision. The work should be face-to-face rather than remote (give or take appropriate responses to Covid).

In the not-for-profit sector, if the work is tech related, on your premises and supervised, we will generally consider it equivalent to industry work experience.

Working remotely offers considerably less opportunity to develop the soft skills considered vital in the modern tech workplace and is discouraged. The work should stretch students and allow the development of technical skills in the workplace. For example, data entry or factory assembly roles do not stretch students with technical skills. Learning from experienced peers in the workplace is a core skill and ideally the intern is co-located with an experienced team.

In short, the best outcomes are typically from embedding students inside existing tech teams.

Students typically begin work experience after their second or third year and may choose to continue to work part time during the academic year. The 800 hours required is often made up of more than one placement.

Pay rates

Interns are typically paid in the range of $19 – $32 per hour (Summer of Tech, summer 2021/22 the mean was $25.00), depending on the work offered and student experience. We expect interns to be offered fixed-term employment contracts which will also address common concerns around ownership of intellectual property and non-disclosure.

Without an employment contract and pay, interns by default own any copyright and IP they create (for example, see Copyright Act 2013, section 21). This may muddy the waters on who owns ‘your’ IP. Please talk to us about what this means and expect that you should also seek independent legal advice. Of course everyone's preference is that you pay students rather than lawyers.

What can we expect from students

Our Engineering degree is popular in part because we specialise in tech. There is no requirement for our students to learn unrelated topics aimed at general engineering disciplines (as required at other NZ Universities). Instead it builds on the popular Computer Science degree and adds engineering aspects that are relevant to the tech workplace.

Both of our degrees lay foundations in:

  • programming and computer science
  • electronic engineering
  • engineering fundamentals
  • mathematics
  • statistics
  • cyber security

At the end of their second year, students will have a broad practical grounding in computer science. By the end of their third year, students will have undertaken advanced computer science papers. The engineering students will have also undertaken seven or more group projects as well as having applied project management theory to a substantial 8 month group project.

Student expectations

To be treated as an employee. To have an induction and H&S brief, and be given meaningful work under supportive supervision.

To be assigned a mentor. The role of the mentor is to provide unofficial support, answering the ‘dumb’ questions all new staff have, chatting about the realities of industry work, introducing them to others in the company and sharing their observations on career enhancement. Note that a mentor might be an experienced co-worker, someone from HR or accounts with tremendous soft skills or the company CEO. This role can be seen as a growth opportunity for existing staff.

To be supported in achieving learning goals. Typically this is learning your core technology plus two or three soft skills. These are set by the student and will form the foundation of their expected academic outcomes. Supporting the student means finding opportunities for students to apply these skills and offering encouragement and guidance if or when the outcomes are disappointing. Example opportunities might include leading end of sprint presentations, engaging directly with customers to scope solutions or organising a staff lunch event.

Academic expectations

To have periodic access to the student. We are required to fulfil pastoral care obligations and may catch up with them on your premises. Typically might be for 20-30 minutes a fortnight.

That employers empower students to write a report. Students write a reflective report on their work experience that should demonstrate personal growth in achieving learning goals. The students learning goals and daily journal should assist with this.

Students may sign NDAs as part of their employment. This can be quite daunting for students who then need to differentiate between knowledge in the public domain (eg: taught material) and proprietary knowledge. This is not straight forward. If you think the work (and subsequent report) may cross a boundary, discuss it early and bring in the course coordinator. Rest assured we deal with this often, the solutions are easy and we have no interest in company secrets. Leaving it to later unfairly burdens the student.

How to get involved

As Industry, you can get involved with students in a number of ways.

  • Summer of Tech, an industry run not-for-profit match making service for internships
  • Bi-weekly industry talks hosted on our Kelburn campus for tech students (organised by Summer of Tech)
  • Careers and Employment, advertise jobs targeted at students and recent graduates
  • Guest lectures supporting taught technical topics or showcasing technology to students (Google, Weta and others do this annually).
  • Meet-n-greets and Recruitment Fairs with IT students. Three a year - two by Careers and Employment plus one by Summer of Tech.
  • Meetups encourage students to engage with your employees, on your premises and over pizza
  • Product Owner for a 1 or 2 trimester student project
  • Student scholarship, typically $5,000 with a focus on topics important to you. Tax free for the student, potentially tax deductible for you and administered for free by the university.
  • Research funding on topics important to you. Contact us for more detail.

Contact the Work Experience coordinator for more information or to e-intro you to the right people.