An alternative to employing someone fulltime is to consider the increasing number of university and tertiary programmes looking to place students in work experience.
The University of Canterbury’s MBA programme has an applied project component where students complete a five-month, real world business project as a degree requirement.
Last year Christchurch-based Hindin Communications took on MBA student Greg Jack to conduct formal market research for its Knowledgebase customer service software product.
CEO David Johnstone was delighted with the results although he stresses it wasn’t a charitable cause.
“We feel we got extraordinary value for money. Greg is a highly skilled, professional business consultant and what we paid for the entire project is a fraction of what it would have cost to hire an outside service company,” he says. By the end of the project Hindin had a strategic plan identifying growth options for the company.
Johnstone says there are many advantages to working with students and aligning with a university.
“Hindin has received tremendous human resource benefits from its participation in this programme as well as the relationship with the Computer Science department. Networking with the university is an integral part of our human relations strategy and helps us get the message out that working at a smaller company like Hindin allows graduates to take on greater responsibility sooner.”
It’s the not the first time Hindin has taken on students. Matt Smith started with the company as a part-timer while studying for his computer science degree, now he’s in charge of Knowledgebase product development. Another student, now employed full time, has developed a new software module for the Ministry of Education that is now being implemented.
The only requirement of the programme is that the project has to address a business problem, so don’t ask for an engineer to design a new widget, ask for a strategist to determine if widget design is where you should be allocating resources.
Venkat Pulakanam, MBA programme director at the University of Canterbury, says the project provides students with a real world opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve studied.
“By the time they go out into real companies they’ve learned a tremendous amount about business and management and they have to show us they’ve used those skills to benefit their sponsors,” he says.
Pulakanam says the school has a limited number of students available to send into the workforce but wishes more organisations took advantage of the programme.
“Companies should look at the University as a pool of resources. We’re set up to help with long-term business needs, one-off research projects or undergraduate staff for the busy season,” he says.