THE first $1 million is always the hardest to earn, or so the saying goes.
THE first $1 million is always the hardest to earn, or so the saying goes. But $1 million isn't so hard to give away if the ACS Foundation's recent history is any guide.
The foundation, an initiative of the Australian Computer Society, collaborates with industry partners and local government departments to provide scholarships to information technology students.
In operation since 2001, the foundation has just awarded its first $1 million in ICT scholarships.
ACS Foundation chairman Jim Ellis said the $1 million milestone was a significant outcome for the institute, which endeavoured to stimulate the information technology industry.
"We're trying to grow the profession by providing these scholarships," Mr Ellis told WA Business News. "For the organisations that actually provide the scholarships, they are interested in providing internships so they can identify the top-performing students and eventually get them into their organisations as employees."
ACS Foundation scholarship winners from Western Australia include two Microsoft internships and a Google internship in the US, and several who have been finalists at the Western Australian Information Technology and Telecommunications Awards.
Organisations providing scholarships to WA students include international computing and software giants IBM and Microsoft, and Western Power.
Mr Ellis said the scholarships gave students the opportunity to gain real-world experience not generally available in the course of their studies.
"The students are given a position at the company to either do something on their own or, typically, be part of a team," he said.
"By having the scholarship they get some funding for the work they do, but more importantly it gives them experience working in an organisation; that's one thing that you just don't get at college or uni.
"It makes a huge difference to their understanding of what they're up for when they come out of university and it makes a huge difference also in terms of how they're perceived."
The foundation provides not only work-integrated learning scholarships - where students receive an internship for a fixed term - but also philanthropic scholarships to help those who may be disadvantaged enter the industry.
According to Mr Ellis, some students would not have been able to further their careers without the foundation's input.
The scholarships provide a sound launching pad for ICT students to further their careers, he said.
"In 40 to 50 per cent of cases they've ended up working with the organisation that has provided the scholarship," Mr Ellis said.
"The ones who haven't ended up working for them have been snapped up fairly readily, because they're much more business savvy and understanding of what is needed to present better at interviews.
"In some cases we'd like to think they wouldn't perhaps have chosen ICT because in some of these degrees you've got a number of different options when you finish; you've done a number of subjects, and you don't necessarily end up in IT at the end of it.
"We'd like to encourage them to go into the industry rather than do something totally different."
To date, the WA chapter of the foundation has awarded more than 155 government and industry-based scholarships to WA ICT students. This year it has awarded more than $240,000.
Mr Ellis said the foundation planned to expand its scholarship program to assist indigenous students to enter the IT industry, and offer scholarships to students at Tafe colleges, to supplement those offered at the four major Perth universities.