Imagine having local university students involved with solving real business problems with local businesses. This is exactly what Western Sydney University (WSU) is doing.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr Michelle Cull, Director of Academic Programs – Accounting at WSU. She proudly told me of the collaboration between the university and local businesses, and how students and businesses alike are benefitting.
Late in 2017 Campbelltown Chamber of Commerce approached WSU to present to a chamber dinner meeting. Michelle eagerly accepted the invitation saying ‘We have students in the local community and we want to work with local businesses’.
A strong relationship quickly formed, a perfect fit with Campbelltown City planning a medical and educational precinct. Michelle added, ‘We now have a strategic alliance between the Campbelltown Council, Campbelltown Chamber and the University as well as the TAFE as an educational precinct’.
Part of the new relationship will see students present their work to Campbelltown chamber. This will give interesting insights and learning to the chamber membership, as well as awards and valuable experience for the students. Michelle pointed out ‘Students must attend a number of networking events such as chamber and are expected to attend at least two events’.
Working with businesses
Michelle explained she often thought ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could connect more with local businesses, they could benefit from the student’s skillset, but also give our students some “real world” experience’. Some study units have now been reviewed. ‘We have looked at re designing study units to benefit local businesses through the work students can do with them’.
Students are providing real benefits to local businesses. ‘Students can go out as if they are a consultant and help solve problems, and they are supervised by fully qualified accountants’. The businesses involved are given solutions to their problem. ‘The students work in teams, there may be a number of teams working on one project. We invite the business to come and listen to the presentations, and of course they receive a document at the end like a business plan and give feedback to the students’.
Real world projects
Examples from text books sometimes provide limited value for students, so the opportunity to work with local
businesses is invaluable. ‘Students are currently working on a real project with the Campbelltown Steam and Machinery Museum, they are helping the museum put together a business plan’. Michelle explained ‘It has been very good for the students, it has been eye opening and broadening their minds to see what other ways they can apply their skills’.
Recently the students worked with Phil Clifford from EmbriodMe Macarthur and Jarod O’Brien from Ausure Insurance Brokers Macarthur to create a fashion parade at a chamber meeting. The parade highlighted uniforms and safety equipment across a range of industries, along with insurance advice specific to those industries. This was an “out of the square” thinking presentation that gave great value to the students, the businesses directly involved and all chamber members and guests on the night.
New technologies and communication
Michelle pointed out it is easy for business people to fall behind with technology. ‘There are a lot of established businesses struggling with new technology. Having young students coming through the system that are good at using technology, they are able to assist in those areas’.
The students also gain from this interaction. ‘The way technology has changed, the students do a lot of their work online, a lot of their communication is online, and then suddenly they are going to be in the work place where they are going to have to communicate in person. We want to ensure that when a student graduates with a Western Sydney University degree that they have these skills. It is win-win because the students are gaining those skills and feedback on their skills, while the businesses are having problems solved’.
Moving Macarthur forward
Michelle points out that these relationships are good for the whole region, ‘I am finding that there are some commonalities between what the students think should be in businesses, and what businesses feel they are lacking, we are trying to close that gap. Macarthur is growing very rapidly, and I feel that is why businesses do need a lot of help. It is not just the population but also the demand for their businesses and how they are going to cope with that’.
It’s wonderful to see the divide between higher education and business being bridged. If you would like more information on how your business can be involved contact Michelle Cull at email@example.com, or by phone on 02 4620 3519. For more information about WSU and the courses offered see www.westernsydney.edu.au.