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CEED gets business thinking

IMAGINE exposing your company to a university’s entire talent pool, from accounting departments to engineering departments to organisational and labour studies.

Some of the State’s biggest businesses have discovered a University of WA program that gives them cost-effective access to a range of research and development projects, and a talent pool of highly intelligent up-and-coming workers.

Known as the Co-Operative Education for Enterprise Development (CEED), the formal program is designed to link the training needs of selected students with research and development needs of progressive organisations.

According to CEED director Laurence Spencer, companies gain more than simply research expertise.

“By the end of the process the student has worked very closely with the company for 16 months and has been pre-trained,” he said.

“They know how the company operated and are knowledgable about the company and have become experts.”

The program is, however, essentially about solving problems – from designing robots that can monitor Western Power substations to the development of knowledge management and the effects of mercury in petroleum.

Notable companies involved include Western Power, Wood-side Energy, Anaconda Nickel, Honeywell and the Orbital Engine Company.

While companies are required to invest $14,000 in the project, Dr Spencer said the program encouraged a return on investment. And although it was difficult to put a figure on the money saved or generated, he said most projects were beneficial to the company involved.

“At one of the seminars a student said his project would improve the value of the mine site [in question] by 10 per cent. You work out the money that’s involved with something like that,” Dr Spencer said.

Companies are asked to put forward research projects or problems to be solved, but they must be problems that can be carried out over a 16-month period.

“At an honours level the students begin them at about this time of year and then have exams, commence eight weeks’ full-time work and complete the project during their final year,” Dr Spencer said.

“This is an opportunity to get an intractable problem solver or an opportunity to work on something that hasn’t begun yet and get it under way.”

The projects work by teaming the student with a university academic, with a company representative to act as a mentor.

“The mentor keeps the project going from the company’s point of view. So often when companies bring on consultants they [the consultants] go away and come back months later with something that is nothing like what the company was after,” Dr Spencer said.

He said that a lot of industry research projects were under skilled and under resourced but that the program could cost-effectively boost research outcomes.

“The academic who forms part of the team may not necessarily be an expert in the area but they are experts in getting research projects done,” Dr Spencer said.

“The good news for employers is that the supply of high quality students outstrips each year’s research projects. The difficulty is finding a person in industry willing to step out of the box with sufficient ideas and sufficient authority to get funds allocated.”

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