Planting Seeds for the Future
13 July 2016 at 9:38 am
The Australian arm of an international ICT provider is working with universities to give students industry experience, writes Ellie Cooper in this month’s Executive Insight.
Lisa Connors is corporate relations and programs manager at Huawei Australia. As part of the Seeds for the Future program she selects students from leading ICT universities across the country to represent Australia at Huawei’s headquarters in China where they receive training in the company’s research and development facilities.
Students are chosen for academic merit, their interest in the industry, and a willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others. Connors said the program is designed to help foster the next generation of ICT leaders.
In this month’s feature, she talks about bridging the gap between university and industry, the importance of partnerships and the challenges of launching new CSR programs.
Tell me about the Seeds for the Future program.
It’s actually a global initiative that started in 2008, and has grown to operate in over 70 countries worldwide, and annually… 2,000 students go through the program. In Australia our program has been running since 2013, and since 2015 we have aligned with the Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN), which gives us access to the top five ICT universities, and that’s where we pull the successful applicants from.
What’s involved in the program?
It’s a two week program to China, so students are taken to the Beijing Language and Culture University… and there they spend four days getting an appreciation of the language and culture, and some of the arts to really set them up and give them a greater understanding of where China has come from and how it’s founded as a nation and where it’s heading. We then travel to Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen where they are put through what we call the Huawei University, and it really gives them access to research and development facilities, they get hands on experience in the latest technology, they hear from industry experts on latest innovations and technology trends and the like.
How does the program fit into Huawei’s ethos?
Huawei… as a global organisation, has always been really passionate about giving back to the communities in which they operate. Back in 2008 the program was initially launched in Thailand, and it was really aimed at giving back to the community that really didn’t have a lot. Obviously as this program’s evolved and we’ve extended into countries like Australia and the UK as an example, the need for students to have hands on, industry experience has become the focus. It has been academia that has really highlighted this to us and they’re happy to be able to provide the opportunity. And really… as a global ICT leader… it’s our responsibility to knowledge share and give back.
Does Huawei have future plans for the Seeds for the Future program?
We do. Under the Seeds for the Future program, we will launch… our innovation and technology training program. Again it’s ICT driven, focussed at final year university students to give them some hands on experience within a global leader. They get some time [in] our labs and hear from our industry experts here. That’s a three-day residential conference. And we also have a strong alliance and program with the Clontarf Foundation, which is an Indigenous education organisation headquartered out of Perth with a national footprint. For the first year we’re actually taking one of their ICT students on this program to China, so we’re very excited to be able to offer that opportunity to that young student.
Does Huawei measure the social impact of its CSR programs?
I haven’t seen any statistics, but certainly the ability for students to be able to travel to an international organisation such as Huawei and be given these opportunities, I would only imagine has great benefit. We don’t do this program to try to get anything other than knowledge sharing and to provide an opportunity or help bridge that gap between academia and industry, which is the theme that we consistently hear from the different university networks that we work with.
What are the benefits to the organisation in running these programs?
Again, we really don’t expect a return on this. We think it is a great opportunity for students to come to China, or even come to our offices in Sydney and visit our innovation lab, just to see the innovation that is coming out of China and, as a global leader in this market, we really do feel that we have a responsibility to transfer that knowledge back to that student body. We don’t currently in Australia have a graduate program, but it’s certainly something that I’m working with our HR department [on]… I would see going forward that this would be a great opportunity for us to have an existing pool of people that we know understand Huawei, that are the top ICT students.
What are the challenges of managing CSR programs?
To be honest I haven’t experienced any challenges, I find that all of the organisations that we’re involved with are very keen to be involved with us, it’s a real partnership and we work together to deliver the programs.
What about challenges at an organisational level?
Again I think we’re pretty lucky to be honest. At a global level our CSR programs are focussed on health and education… The Seeds for the Future program is in that education space so when we spoke about launching the program four years ago in Australia it really wasn’t a challenge. It was, we need to start engaging universities, we need to start helping bridge that gap, and the resources… were allocated and we pitched it to the board, they were on board and it really was as easy as that. As a company Huawei genuinely does understand and really wants to get behind supporting the communities.
You mentioned earlier about launching a graduate program. How do you get new initiatives off the ground?
I guess this was one of the challenges you were speaking about, so yes it’s a challenge. To be honest it’s a challenge around, and I think every organisation struggles with this, that we really want to develop a program that is meaningful for the graduate coming in. I would be disappointed if we set up a graduate program and they came in and all they did was photocopy and move boxes for the term of the program. So one of the challenges is finding an area of the business where it’s not too technical for a graduate to come in, yet technical enough for the graduate to be stimulated, and then having an engineer or internal specialist be able to… support and mentor that graduate. And that’s probably the biggest roadblock at the moment. But I’ve only started discussions this year internally to see how we can look at getting the graduate program up and running here.
How important are partnerships?
I think partnerships are key really. I’m not an expert at identifying what the needs are within an industry, so I rely heavily on my relationships at the various universities, particularly at the ATN, so that when we are structuring the program we can meet the needs of the students and of the universities while trying to map that in with our offering. I think one of the really new and successful relationships that we have with Clontarf, where this has really come full circle for me, was what initially started as a cash injection has really turned into a partnership where we’re now engaging with students via the Clontarf Foundation. Now that program is about Indigenous education and the retention of young Indigenous men in public schools throughout Australia. And… we’re now able to engage another area of the foundation and get kids who are interested in ICT and be able to engage with them to help support the Clontarf program, give them another opportunity to attract and retain students within that program and allows us, again with our objective of being able to work with our partner, [to] give back to that community.
What’s the highlight of your role?
I’m a mother of two, so working with students is like being another mother to more… They’re all keen and keen to be very involved. Personally for me, a highlight is travelling the country to interview these students because we often read in the media negative reports on university students and what the future holds. I’m delighted every year to meet these bright, amazing, high-achieving students, and it’s a really personally rewarding experience for me to be involved in the program. But the hardest thing I think is shortlisting, because at the end of the day some hearts get broken and I’d love for everybody to be able to come and experience the program.