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University of Newcastle’s StandOut Program is inspiring the next generation of tech talent

We recently caught up with the talented Jackie Mottram to discuss the University of Newcastle’s StandOut Program. This incredible program is providing students with real-world placements and long-term pathways to both inspire and prepare graduates for successful careers.

Jackie discussed how the program is mutually beneficial. The University gains direct feedback and perspective from students to further enhance their technology and digital platforms, whilst students access employment, training and events.

The StandOut Program is an excellent example of an initiative that is helping to solve internal tech talent shortages, whilst also growing the pool of future technology professionals.

What is your role at the University of Newcastle, and what’s involved? 

My role at the University of Newcastle is Senior Manager, Digital Strategy and Communications. This involves ensuring what we’re doing within Digital Technology Solutions is contributing to, and enabling, the University’s Digital Excellence Strategy and communicating our progress against this Strategy across the University. This includes communications to all staff and students on initiatives as well as external communications out to industry.

Internally I also have responsibility across the Office of the Chief Digital Officer, financial management across our core operations, internal communications and driving the culture across all Digital Technology Solutions staff.

Can you explain the StandOut program?

The StandOut Program aims to create better pathways for The University of Newcastle students through jobs, events, subsidised training and targeted programs. It offers students the opportunity to gain full-time or casual employment internally within the University or externally with their partners.

The program prepares graduates for life in an increasingly interconnected society, and ensures that students develop life and career skills that will make them stand out in the workforce.

Although the program does have an IT focus, it is open to all students, helping to promote skills development, build self-awareness, foster innovative thinking, assist in career planning, and support student transition into the world of work.

How did you first become involved in the StandOut Program? 

The program was born from a desire from Chief Digital & Information Officer, Anthony Molinia and the rest of the management team to maximise the benefits of having direct access to our students as key consumers of digital technology at the University.

We originally engaged with our students for user research or as part of their work integrated learning programs. I became involved through some opportunities we saw to build on the foundations and create a more structured approach. This led to expanding what we do by:

  • Working with our technology vendors to give back into Education and offer opportunities for students to connect with potential future employers while gaining new skills or accreditations (eg Microsoft Bootcamp, AWS DeepRacer, ServiceNow Hackathon)
  • Integrating students into our workforce not just as casual staff members but working on strategic initiatives, BAU, customer support, communications, etc

How does the program help students to gain employment? 

There are a few different avenues for this. We have:

  • Pathways – seeks to match a student’s aspirations in technology or future employer with an industry partner of the University either through gamification, sponsored events and/or targeted projects. Examples above.
  • Supporting students to learn the practical and ‘soft skills’ relevant for their careers. We’ve had many students who have started with us who have now applied for, and been successful in, full time ongoing positions.
  • There is also casual employment opportunities to help support our Service Desk through busy periods.

Who is eligible for the StandOut Program?

Any University of Newcastle student can become a part of the program. Most of the employment opportunities are completed with the University’s Job on Campus team who are great support through the process.

Subsidised training and the opportunities to join industry bootcamps and hackathons is open to all University of Newcastle students.

How many students are currently engaged with the program and how many have completed the program? 

  • Since commencing we have employed around 85 students who have gone on to complete their degrees, gain employment within the University, or other organisations across Australia!
  • Currently we have around 57 students who are in roles within Digital Technology Services, accounting for ~30% of our permanent ongoing full-time staff members with ~10% of employed externally through Pathway engagements!
  • We have offered around 3600 courses/ learning modules
  • To date there have been ~500 registrations for courses

How has the StandOut program benefited the University of Newcastle? 

The collaboration of students as staff has not only benefited students and their future employability and career aspects, but also assisted Digital Technology Services staff with the opportunity to gain a current student’s involvement and perspective on various tasks and initiatives in flight.

We saw a unique opportunity to directly engage with our students at the University through offering employment in Digital Technology Solutions. What I didn’t expect is that we have learnt just as much from our students as they have learnt from us. They constantly surprise me with what they bring to our culture, how they lead and challenge how we can do things differently. This opportunity for mentoring the future workforce has enabled individual growth for all.

What sort of roles have students that have been part of the program gained within the University or with other organisations?

We’ve had students work across several different roles from a number of different disciplines. Roles have included Customer Support, Service Desk, Communications, Digital Governance, Project Support, Testing, DevOps, Cyber Security, Vendor Management and more.

If you are a University of Newcastle student interested in finding out more about the StandOut program, or an employer that could facilitate student placements please contact Jackie on [email protected] to find out more.

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