The importance of experience for young people

4 December 2014

by Dr Bruce Campbell

While many people are taking trips to the beach, a group of keen young people are spending their summer learning more about science in the real world.

There is a global need for more young people in the food sector, and science and industry must play their part in developing the workforce. The Ministry for Primary Industries estimates that the New Zealand horticultural, arable and seafood industry workforce will need to increase by 14,000 by 2025, and that 23,000 workers with post-school qualifications will be required. Science and engineering skills will be in growing demand.

As a key research provider to New Zealand’s food industries, Plant & Food Research has a significant role to play in supporting students as they journey through their science education. It is not uncommon for science students to reach the end of their degrees and be unsure of the next step. It is up to us and industry to ensure students understand the opportunities available to them, and to offer practical experiences that encourage students to enter the science workforce with the expertise needed for the future.

Our summer studentship programme has provided more than 200 students with this experience over the past six years. Supervisors design projects that can be conducted over the three-month summer period that not only give undergraduate students a taste of what it’s like to work at the cutting edge of science, but also provide them with some of the leadership skills needed to enter the workforce. Throughout the period, we offer a programme to develop the students’ skills in interacting with colleagues, customers and teams to support their future job search.

We are placing an increasing emphasis on creating studentship opportunities for Māori and Pasifika rangatahi to encourage skills development, to learn about the wawata and hiahia of Māori and Pasifika communities, and to support regional skills development.

In recent years, the programme has expanded to develop skills at the interface between science and commercial customers, such as intellectual property management, marketing and communications.

It is always encouraging to see the enthusiasm of the students and, as much as they learn from us, we also learn from them. They provide a new perspective to support or challenge our thinking and processes. Their presence also adds an element of entertainment over the summer period.

As one student noted, “The programme is great – it’s a really incredible way to get some industry experience which is imperative to finding jobs in science. I really enjoyed the enthusiasm for students and the friendliness from everyone at Plant & Food Research. The experience has truly been invaluable!”

The summer studentship programme is a great opportunity for us to work in partnership with New Zealand universities to engage young students as they make choices on whether to stay or leave science. By building a commitment to talented students to grow their career in science we feel we are playing a part in creating an exciting future for innovation in the food sector.

Mike Shaw
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8652
Mobile: +64-21-2419 417

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