25/07/2006 - 22:00

UWA supports Motorola deal

25/07/2006 - 22:00

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When communications company Motorola selected Perth as the site for a major software engineering centre, it was hailed as a breakthrough that would support the development of new industry in Western Australia.

When communications company Motorola selected Perth as the site for a major software engineering centre, it was hailed as a breakthrough that would support the development of new industry in Western Australia.

The Motorola centre has not lived up to the lofty claims made in 2000, which included the potential for 400 jobs and plans for a second office building to accommodate the rapid growth.

It has become a significant employer, however, and the University of WA, which built Motorola’s premises, has professed its support for the partnership.

The state government, which has provided more than $5 million in financial assistance, predicted that 200 software engineers would be employed at the Nedlands software centre within five years of its establishment.

The company does not expect to reach that level, but it does expect to comply with its state government agreement, which specifies that it must have between 150 and 200 staff by December 2007.

“We expect to hit 150, but probably not 200,” Motorola’s operations manager WA Julie Mount told WA Business News.

The company currently has 125 people working in Nedlands and is adding about 30 staff every year.

Ms Mount believes the Nedlands centre has made a lot of progress, particularly in terms of its ability to compete for work against other Motorola software centres.

“Everything we do here is contracted by another part of Motorola. The specialist areas we have chosen are driving our growth,” Ms Mount said.

She said Perth had several attractions, including the quality of its infrastructure, its convenient time zone and the supply of talented graduates.

One of the major benefits of the Nedlands centre has been job opportunities for specialist graduates who might otherwise have needed to move interstate or overseas to pursue their careers.

Of the 110 software engineers working at Nedlands, 79 are local graduates. The University of WA has supplied the largest number, with Curtin, Murdoch and to a lesser extent Edith Cowan also supplying graduates.

The balance of Motorola’s Nedlands staff transferred from interstate or overseas, and Ms Mount said this included some Perth expatriates who had taken the opportunity to return home.

She said local universities had provided a good supply of graduates but was concerned by enrolment trends, which showed a big shift from software engineering and computer science to mining and resources disciplines.

Ms Mount said the company had formed links with all of the public universities through activities such as guest lectures, tutoring, research projects, student prizes and internships.

University of WA pro-vice chancellor (research and research training) Robyn Owens recently concluded a review of the university’s partnership with Motorola, which found that progress had been modest.

“These relationships take time but we are very positive,” Professor Owens said.

“We have definitely got strong commitment from both parties that we want to make this relationship work.”

Professor Owens said international experience showed that universities and private companies working together needed time to understand each other’s culture and objectives.

She said the university had benefited from Motorola providing guest lecturers and industry mentors for student projects.

Motorola had also sponsored some research projects, including on the use of wireless sensors to monitor salinity conditions.

Professor Owens said the university wanted more joint research projects and also wanted more Motorola staff to enrol in post-graduate study.

The Nedlands centre was initially expected to work on third generation (3G) wireless technology but in practice has focused on developing embedded software for hand-held devices.

This includes working on iDEN, a proprietary technology that allows people to use a digital handset in four different ways: a two-way digital radio; digital wireless phone; alphanumeric messaging; and data/fax capabilities using Internet access technology. 

While this product has not been launched to the public in Australia, Motorola has built a test network for its staff in Perth.

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