How UTS and Ericsson are paving a new world of work
22-year-old Laura Becker almost didn’t apply for the UTS and Ericsson Women in Engineering Scholarship she was awarded in 2017. Fast forward a year and the move has more than paid off.
Laura Becker, a fifth year ICT Engineering student had always associated the concept of a scholarship with either a sparkling academic record or financial aid, and she fit the profile for neither. But it was a last minute text alert from UTS advising her that she was indeed eligible that prompted her to take the plunge.
Laura fit in so well with the Ericsson team that after completing the internship as part of the scholarship, she was offered a paid part-time role - putting her ahead of many of her peers before graduation next year and entering the real world.
As an intern with Ericsson, Laura’s main responsibility was to oversee UTS engagement, following the successful launch of the Software Development Studio, in which engineering and IT students collaborate in groups with industry mentors to deliver solutions to problems posed by them. For example, UTS students work on continually developing a service management tool that visualises service appointment data onto a Google map with a dashboard showing travel and stay time in a route, and showing multi-routing.
Laura joined on the back of a successful Smart Cities hackathon, which challenged students to create a solution marrying the Internet of Things with UTS building sensors to create SmartEvac, a more efficient fire evacuation system.
Her arrival also aligned with the Capstone projects for final year engineering students gaining momentum. As part of this, Ericsson presents students with a practical problem to investigate during weekly sessions in collaboration with staff.
“It’s been really fun trying to find opportunities to expand what other things we can get into, and find creative ways to build the partnership between UTS and Ericsson,” says Laura.
“It benefits everyone. Ericsson gets the perspectives of younger people who are coming from a different context and are very capable of delivering quality work. For students, you get to say you worked with industry on specific projects with Ericsson. The student feedback we’ve had on the Software Development Studio is that it was great to work on a project that was actually being used by the company. They even got to meet the people using it so it was a realistic, real world experience which is great exposure.”
Technical abilities + soft skills = a winning combination
In her time with Ericsson, Laura has evolved from an intern, to a project manager in the making, shadowing actual project managers working with real clients. In an area where it’s crucial for technical abilities to be complemented by soft skills such as communications, problem solving, team management and people management, this is where Laura really shines.
“Ironically the technical stuff isn’t my strength,” she admits. “That was confirmed in the pre-internship subject where they talk a lot about how engineering is no longer about sitting in a corner and doing your programming on your own. It is a team environment and you need these soft skills.
“But my mum always told me the same thing - what will make you stand out isn’t your technical expertise, but how you handle being in a team, and how you are able to communicate. Engineering is now teamwork, so confidence and communication skills are crucial.”
And though Laura wouldn’t define herself as a perfect scholar, it’s those skills beyond her technical foundations that she believes secured her the scholarship with Ericsson in the first place - because engineering, like entrepreneurship, is essentially problem solving, she explains.
“Every assignment is a problem and you need to either come up with the solution or manage the creation of one. It just takes analytical thinking and an open mind to see all the possibilities. Working together with people from different kinds of backgrounds is also really helpful in problem solving.”
- Laura Becker, UTS and Ericsson Women in Engineering Scholarship 2017 winner
Thriving in the future of work
Thanks to the powerful combination of her degree and her work at Ericsson, Laura is in a prime position to skill herself to be valuable in the future of work, with demand for project managers expected to rise significantly in the next decade - according to the US-based Project Management Institute and also echoed in the StartupAUS Talent Gap report findings.
“If you're studying computer engineering, you’re already seeing how robotics and AI are going to change the future, and we’re creating a lot of the advances that are being made,” she notes. “If I look at some of the people I work with, they’re very switched onto what the new technologies are and which kinds of skills are important.”
Laura is also of the mindset that education is not a one-off task, and certainly, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, lifelong learning must become the norm to adapt to the changing workplace.
“I’m really interested in business analysis, project management and change management, as well as user experience and interface, and there are courses I could do to make myself more relevant in that space,” she says. “I don’t see finishing my degree as being the end of my learning journey.”
Equipping students with the combination of essential technical and soft skills
Having in-depth industry partnerships and equipping our students with the combination of essential technical and soft skills are two of the most important things to our educational approach at UTS. Taking action now to tackle the tech talent gap is a priority for us as a university. Practical initiatives such as our Ericsson partnership, with elements such as hackathons, capstone projects and the Software Development Studio, are proving to be highly valuable ways for students to test their technical skills in a problem-solving environment. We are already seeing the value to industry in that we are providing a quality pipeline of competitive graduates.”
By MaryLou Costa, UTS Innovation & Entrepreneurship.