The project is a work experience program for undergraduate engineers. Council advertises for student engineers. The program includes an interview, a personal mentor for the duration of the work experience and tasks that include a major project and several minor projects.
The students diarise their experience and this forms the basis of a reference at the end of the 12 weeks. The students are introduced to Local Government engineering
The program has been growing over the years from 2005/6 to 2010/11. Many of the students have taken up permanent positions at Council or have been engaged on a temporary basis for a specific project, to cover work load issues or to cover staff shortfalls.
Hume City Council is on the north western outskirts of Melbourne. We have a high unemployment rate and low retention rates for secondary school. Council several years ago struggled to find suitable engineering staff to fill vacancies and to provide help in peak workload situations.
The objectives of this project were to:
- Provide employment opportunities for university students in and around Hume City
- Show aspiring engineers the opportunities there are in Local Government Engineering
- Continue to foster a learning environment throughout the community
- Provide new engineers to regenerate our aging engineering work force
- Maintain a full contingent of engineering staff given we have a $50M Capital Works Program, $300M subdivision program and over $1.8B in Council Assets.
About 6 years ago a program was initiated to provide work experience for undergraduate engineers and to work with Universities to mentor students in their project based final year subjects.
Council staff spent time in refining its work experience program to provide a rounded experience for students that would reflect its values and would provide an experience of Local Government that was inviting and challenging for graduates as a career option.
Council advertised in the University news letters and this with word of mouth recommendations from past students found more students wanting the Hume Council Work Experience. Internally we continued to find new mentors from outside the design and traffic areas such as Services area, Asset Management, GIS, Building Supervisors and Parks and Open Space.
What made this program innovative was there has been a genuine effort by Hume City Infrastructure to provide a work experience program that gave students an experience that they would not forget, would tell others about and which would rival any experience they may get elsewhere.
Council invested money to pay the students Band 4A for their work, we also provided stationary and safety gear that they were able to keep. Staff invested time but it’s fair to say the success and benefits we have received far outweighed our costs.
Students apply in September and we undertake interviews in October. The interview notes form the basis of feedback to students on their interview techniques as well the responses tell us a little about the students and where they would like to work during their 12 weeks.
The staff who are to be mentors have an opportunity to supervise staff that they may not have in their current role. The mentors are required to provide a major project and several minor projects for the students and these are talked through with the program organisers to ensure students have an engineering orientation and they have sufficient detail and equipment to undertake the tasks required.
Preference is given to students who are living in the municipality and are in their final year of study although these preferences are modified to accommodate as many students as possible. Where students can’t be accommodated within Hume we ring their local Councils and talk to them about the value of taking on a student, using known contacts, and exchanging contact details. We believe the value of works experience students is understated in our industry.
The students are notified if they are successful and we ensure that each student has a desk, computer, access to appropriate software such as CAD, SIDRA, GIS etc, a stationary pack including scale ruler and calculator and safety gear including sunscreen, a hat, safety vest and safety boots.
On the first day the students meet their mentors and run through an induction program. The CEO or director addresses them welcoming them and explaining the career opportunities, remuneration and variety of work they can gain within Local Government. The idea being to make Local Government Engineering a viable option and consideration for graduates. Students are given name tags, log-ons for their computer and carpark stickers on arrival. They attend staff meetings and are made to feel like full time Engineers to give them confidence and to give them a fuller experience.
The students are explained their major project and minor projects. The combination of more that one task ensures there is always work to keep them busy should their mentors be otherwise occupied and gives them a realistic experience of the profession they are soon to enter.
During their 12 weeks they are required to keep a diary of their experiences and this is the basis of their reference when they are finished.
After 8 weeks of work experience each mentor and student is interviewed to review their performance so far, to provide feedback to both parties about what is working and what isn’t and a discussion around the students strengths and weaknesses. This also allows time to modify the program to suit the feedback.
After 9 weeks students pair up and work together for a week in one students role and then for a week in the other students role and they work together to finish the major project and any minor projects still outstanding, whilst teaching the other what they have learnt. This provides the students diversity in their work experience, where they may have been doing Asset Management they now will learn about Design.
The projects are engineering projects such as designing speed humps, undertaking LATM studies, carpark design, building an asset data base within the GIS and looking at life expectancy, condition rating, condition assessment. Other projects include devising new garbage routes, layout options for office accommodation, surveying, CAD drawing and customer enquiries. All the work is scrutinised and checked by the mentor or other staff as appropriate.
At the end of the work experience a breakfast is organised to thank students and mentors for their work by the CEO. Students are encouraged to keep in touch and are invited to ask Engineers for help with their studies and are allowed to use Council facilities to help them with their studies. Our aim is to help them gain employment.
Many of the students have become full time Engineers and others have been engaged by Council to undertake one-off projects or fill in when someone is absent.
Last year we provided work experience for 8 students, 5 females and 3 males (photo attached). We have to-date employed 11 students either full time or part time since the program began at Hume City Council. Some have moved on but currently we have 5 are employed with Council as full time or part time staff.
We have put nearly 30 students through this program since it began and the feedback we are getting from mentors and students is very positive. Mentors are already looking to be involved next year and devising projects.
The quality of the work the students produce is very good and they are keen to meet the timelines discussed with their mentor.
As a steering group we always hoped we would provide a memorable work experience and to prove to Council staff the contributions these students could make to their work areas .
The most significant barrier was the reluctance of staff and departments to take on students. To address this we had a steering group that continually improved the program and undertook the administration of the interviews, stationary, 8 weekly reviews etc away from the mentors and the individual departments. This kept the quality of the program whilst still enabling the mentoring to be delegated.
Finding the right people to mentor was also important. People in the organisation who had good people skills, who had programs that needed engineering input and who were keen to make a difference.
The next most significant barrier was the lack of computers. We struck an arrangement with our IS Department to pass new computers to the work experience program before they were replaced in other departments. During this period of changeover of computers each year there is an excess of computers that can be used by the work experience students.
Desks is also an issue but spreading the students between departments and cleaning up plans and files sitting on empty desks solves this problem generally. In addition many permanent staff take this time to go on extended vacation.
The next barrier was finding the funding. Initially we tried to have the work experience in one department but for a number of reasons it became apparent that to spread the load meant spreading the experiences, costs, accommodation headaches, mentors etc.
- The cost for a student is approximately $13,000 per student.
- The benefits include:
- Hume’s residents students are more employable
- The students have an appreciation of council engineers
- Students see a career in Council in a new light
- Council very rarely calls on agency engineers
- Council has not had an Engineering vacancy in the last 5 years for more than 2 months
- The energy these students and the program adds to the work place can’t be measured
- Staff mentors learn skills in managing other staff
- The work generated by the students is less costly than a consultant doing the same work and you can more closely supervise the output
For local students they have an appreciation of what their local Council does for them and for students in general they have an understanding of the role of Local Government and LG Engineers in the community.
We are currently exploring an opportunity with Vic Uni to mentor students in their final year projects which we previously did some 6 years ago to great success.
In addition we are investigating partnering with Spectrum, which is a local Migrant Resource Centre, to provide work experience for migrant engineers to assist them assimilate into the Victorian Work Force.
One of the driving forces behind these work experience programs apart from the benefits to us and the students is the need to populate the engineering profession within the Local Government Industry. Using recent statistics it is reported that 80% of the existing engineering workforce will reach retirement age within the next 10 years. We have a responsibility to continue to regenerate our work force to promote it to prospective engineers and qualified engineers who never considered it a viable career option and to make it as attractive and exciting in their eyes as the other types of engineering that may attract them and take them from our profession.