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Digital Tech ITP

Preparing New Zealand for Industry 4.0: The Role of i4 Internships

We consider the benefits of internships for both businesses and students and catch up with some past i4 Associates

During the last year, the i4 Accelerator, Massey University, Otago University, the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have been working to develop the 2021/22 i4 Program.

We’ve consulted with a range of local and multinational technology vendors like Microsoft and Rockwell Automation and cross-sector partners like SCION and the Forestry Industry to design various activities like regional Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) Labs – but did you know that some of the hard work behind the scenes is done by students from universities in Auckland and Otago?

i4 internships give students a chance to put the skills they’re learning in the lecture room to use in the field – but what do our ‘i4 Associates’ take from the experience?

In this article, we’ll look at how effective internships can be for developing confidence and real-world skills. We’ll also touch on some of the challenges companies face in developing and accommodating digital talent and getting ready for Industry 4.0 – and finally, we’ll catch up with some of our past Associates to find out how they’re tracking.

Gen Z is a natural inhabitant of New Zealand’s Industry 4.0 economy

At i4, we believe some of the critical challenges industries and businesses face in 2021 are around reskilling, upskilling, and embracing a ready, steady supply of emerging data-literate talent. Malcolm Fraser, i4’s Program Director, thinks that the country’s current cohort of graduates can help accelerate the development of robust digital industries in New Zealand.

“All over the world, the way we work is being transformed by tech, and issues regarding Industry 4.0 skills aren’t unique to New Zealand. Organisations certainly face challenges around upskilling and reskilling as they embrace automation, AI, and IoT technologies, and we’re looking for ways to help them transition and be more competitive, both domestically and internationally,” he says.

“Yet, it’s not just about training opportunities for existing workforces – although that’s a critical component in helping industries become digital. At i4, we also work with students at Massey and Otago to prepare them for a future in a more data-driven New Zealand economy – and they’re a perfect fit for that because all they’ve ever known is a digital environment.”

Gen Z Expects a Data-ready Workplace

Given what Malcolm Fraser says, it perhaps shouldn’t surprise Kiwi business leaders that today’s graduates take a digitally enabled workplace for granted. After all, they’re already fully immersed in a digital world, and we have much of the tech we require to allow data-driven innovation – freeing up individuals to be more creative and productive. Where that’s not happening, it doesn’t make much sense to Gen Z.

Deloitte’s 2018 survey, ominously titled ‘Millennials disappointed in business, unprepared for Industry 4.0 report,’ will ring alarm bells for organisations staring down a vastly more digital future. It canvassed more than 10,000 millennials in 36 countries, including Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK. Almost 2,000 were Gen Z, and 209 respondents were either currently studying or had already completed a first or higher degree in New Zealand.

What comes through most prominently in the report is that Gen Z recognises the potential for Industry 4.0 to create a more fulfilling work environment, but many feel unready for the demands of the digital age and expect support to come from employers. Only 8% believe they have all the skills and knowledge they’ll need in a new career.

Gen Z also credits school or university for just 23% of their existing expertise, and respondents indicated that on-the-job training and continuous professional development account for 44% of what they draw on at work. Not surprisingly, those surveyed also valued organisations they felt were actively adapting to Industry 4.0 and providing opportunities for personal development in a data-driven environment.

Are New Zealand Businesses Ready for Industry 4.0?

It seems that in order to reap the positives a steady stream of emerging data talent can provide, Kiwi businesses need to be equipped with a data-driven mindset – but is that currently the case?

Recent research suggests we’re not quite there yet. In fact, a 2015 report by COVEC says that New Zealand ranks poorly in terms of digital competence compared to its OECD peers, which is seen as a significant barrier to digital technology adoption. Senior New Zealand leaders prefer to rely on gut feel and experience rather than data when making important decisions, and less than 10% of training budgets within large organisations and Government agencies is spent on digital technology upskilling.

Issues around a lack of digital skills training inside organisations are further highlighted by 2021 research carried out by the MBIE:

“If New Zealand doesn’t improve the digital skills of its workforce, we will continue to have low levels of productivity and ultimately more expensive, less competitive products competing in global markets.”

So, in preparing for Industry 4.0, could internships help both graduates and businesses? Malcolm Fraser believes that today’s generation of students are digital natives and can help transform the country’s industries by influencing work culture.

“Gen Z are the first generation to grow up in the digital age. It’s all they’ve ever known, and they’re already immersed in technology. That makes them natural inhabitants of Industry 4.0, and I think they can accelerate New Zealand’s data-driven revolution – but that will only happen if companies and industries can get ready to harvest all they offer. “

Internships Build Confidence and Real-world Skills, Improve Employment Outcomes

i4 internships help solve a problem for university graduates who lack confidence and feel they still need to develop skills if they’re to succeed and be happy in an Industry 4.0 environment – and participation in internships also improves students’ chances of finding a job. A 2019 CSIRO report titled, “HIGHER EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT IN AUSTRALIA: The impact of internships” found that 81% of University of Sydney graduates found full-time employment within three months, despite large cohorts who studied generalist degrees in humanities, arts, and science –  which typically display lower graduate employment outcomes.

The study suggests the fact that about 30% of undergraduate degrees at the university come with a built-in internship component is a likely reason for success. It goes on to highlight previous research which suggested work-integrated learning can account for a 40% overall increase in graduate employment outcomes.

So, how does all that research translate to real-world outcomes, and what sort of opportunities can students expect when they embark on an i4 internship? We caught up with a couple of past i4 Associates from Massey University to find out.


Student Stories: Former i4 Associate Student Director Jessie Scott talks about working on the 2021 Urban Coastal Resilience DDI Lab

When she worked as an i4 Associate, Jessie Scott was a Sustainability Masters student at Massey in her final year of study. Having completed a double degree in Ecological Science and Business Management, Jessie found that COVID-19 was compounding an already all too familiar problem for students – a lack of fair and equal internship opportunities. After applying for several that amounted to full-time roles during her study, Jessie felt the i4 internship programme represented the perfect balance of commitment and exposure.

She says that the role of Student Director with i4 stood out for two primary reasons. Firstly, it represented a real opportunity to begin preparing for graduate recruitment while maintaining study. Secondly, it was a chance to integrate her knowledge bases to better approach the sustainability issues of today and tomorrow.

“The Urban Coastal Resilience DDI Lab really brought home the fact that big data and artificial intelligence have crucial roles to play in the sustainable development of Planet Earth. It brought concepts connected with data stewardship, using data creatively, and even AI to life. I learned a lot, not just about the potential power of data and cross-sector collaborations, but about the importance of interpersonal communication when working on these projects, too.”

i4 internships actively advocate for students’ best interests while involving them in projects that work around their study commitments. Not only that, but internship projects work to students’ strengths, drawing on their specific fields of study in a specialist role, and Jessie says that provides some permanent positives.

The Urban Coastal Resilience DDI Lab gave me a chance to shadow industry professionals, which is difficult to replicate in the classroom, and enhanced my broader learning journey. The experiences were varied and fleeting, but what I gained from them was far from being transitory. Each day offered constant insights, built confidence, and reinforced the merits of teamwork – which are all things you take straight back to the classroom and benefit from.”

Jessie went on to complete her Masters course and quickly found work with New Zealand Food Awards finalist and sustainable seaweed-based edibles supplier Pacific Harvest. She’s since moved on to a full-time role with Lusty and Blundell Marine, based in Albany.

“Part of the reason I landed these roles was my previous experience and the fact that I could reference multiple i4 and Massey University internship projects on my CV. Since I finished studying, both my employers have been impressed by the fact that I can do the day-to-day stuff but also have enough experience to help implement value-adding projects that enhance organisational efficiency. Internships have made me more adaptable.”

Student Stories: 2021 i4 Associate Brooke Maddison, who recently completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce

Not every student gets the chance to intern on a Microsoft project, but as a long-term i4 partner, the software and tech giant was running one of its acclaimed FarmBeats Trials in the Manawatu, and former Massey University Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce student Brooke Maddison gained some valuable work-integrated learning time. Brooke’s Associate role involved helping i4 produce programmes connecting students to valuable upskilling opportunities through online training and internships.

“As an i4 Associate, I have worked on various projects such as the Rural Innovation Lab project for the Manawatu and the Microsoft FarmBeats project to support the adoption of modern technologies into primary industries”. 

Microsoft Senior researcher Ranveer Chandra first began thinking about the tech behind FarmBeats while growing up on a farm in India. FarmBeats Trials have gone on to become an innovation success story. Microsoft implements programmes all over the world, helping poorer farmers improve output and efficiency by providing cheap sensors for measuring crop nutrient levels and soil quality.

Brooke went on to land a prized Assistant Innovation Specialist role with Zespri, one of New Zealand’s leading fruit producers and exporters. She says working as an i4 Associate was a great introduction to both agritech and the mechanics of working relationships.

“The i4 internship helped me gain new ideas and perspectives about farm-based technology. I think we can’t work in any sector without technology. Then, meeting students from other academic backgrounds and working with professionals helps me learn about building professional relationships.”

On paper, participation in i4 projects stands out because it showcases the practical application of theoretical knowledge to solve problems. From a career progression point of view, i4 aims to create the perfect bridge between studies and graduate recruitment.

About the i4 Program

Since early 2020, i4 has worked with more than twenty interns, studying a range of bachelor’s and master’s degree courses at Massey University and the University of Otago.

i4 internships look to provide work-integrated learning experiences and prepare associates for a career in New Zealand’s Industry 4.0 future. The national i4 Program will be running until June 2022. If you’d like to find out how you can get involved, visit: 11, 2021

Digital Tech ITP The Digital Technologies Industry Transformation Plan is an industry / government collaboration to help grow the digital technologies sector as part of the New Zealand Government’s industry policy.