Work experience places at a premium in the IT industry

TERTIARY computer science and IT students seeking work experience are the latest group to be affected by the economic downturn in the IT sector.

Downsizing and company closures in the industry have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of companies taking on work experience students on the east coast. The University of Tech-nology in Sydney recently called for industry support after a shortfall in companies offering work exper-ience and a rise in IT student numbers.

The university is mounting a campaign to secure 200 places for its Bachelor of IT students.

Despite the downsizing in WA’s IT sector, many firms remain committed to taking on work experience students. However, local university work placement coord-inators say it is becoming more competitive among students to secure places.

Murdoch University careers adviser Alexandra Semmens said students were starting to market themselves as though they were looking for employment.

“The opportunities are out there, providing they market themselves appropriately. They have to understand what skills are needed by the various companies and make sure they have those skills,” she said.

Pretzel Logic human resources manager Tracy Davies said Pretzel was committed to placing working experience students and took on between 10 to 15 students per year.

“Even if it is a bit quieter we typically have one or two work experience people here most of the time,” Ms Davies said.

“I do get an awful lot of work experience applications from people and, if anything, that number is continuing to increase.

“I think companies are operating pretty lean at the moment, or operating to the maximum efficiency that they can get out of their staff, so they are usually pretty happy if there is a work experience person around to help out.”

However, Ms Semmens said employers shouldn’t see work experience students as a way to make up for staff shortfalls after downsizing.

“Companies might take someone on for work experience, but if things are a little tight they may find they don’t really have the manpower to be sitting there showing someone what to do or being shadowed by the student when they have to do their own work,” she said.

Work experience is no longer seen as an extra curricular activity for students wanting to improve their job prospects. Many tertiary courses, particularly in IT, have made industry placement a compulsory part of the course.

The University of WA requires Bachelor of Computer Science and Bachelor of Software Engineering to undertake a professional practicum before graduation.

The program has already received a blow with the closing of the office in Perth. The UK new media company was one of several IT firms that expressed a willingness to take on work experience students.

It closed the doors of its St Georges Terrace office two months ago, blaming the current economic situation.

A spokesperson for the UTS IT faculty said he understood firms had to protect their viability but suggested companies also look at the long term.

“Some companies are restricting the opportunities they can offer trainees,” he said.

“But many employers realise that inevitably there will be an upturn, and highly skilled IT staff will be needed.”

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