An excellent graduate program helped accelerate my career progress.
I arrived in Australia at the turn of the century. The trigger for leaving South Africa to move here was a little-known industrial automation software called Citect. I was inspired by this Australian invention, that back then was simply the most advanced, most innovative software in its industry.
It had been less than 10 years since I graduated from university with an Electrical Engineering degree, but the first five years were the most formative. The company that employed me as a fresh graduate had a fantastic graduate program, and equipped me with essential skills that have served me well for the past 25 years.
“An undervalued characteristic is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure.”
I’ve witnessed many excellent graduate programs develop in Australia and I believe they are vital for helping young professionals to realise their full potential. We’ve been running our own graduate program at Cochlear for the last 10 years. Many of the graduates who began their careers in that program are now in leadership positions and excelling at their jobs. One of the reasons it has been so successful is because Cochlear focuses on hiring people with skills that set them up for success.
Possessing the technical fundamentals taught in STEM-based degrees is only part of what we look for in a prospective graduate. Other important attributes are intuition, creativity, critical thinking, communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively within and between multidisciplinary teams.
Collaboration in particular has become such an important attribute in a young people entering graduate programs. I cannot emphasize enough the need to develop this ability early, especially when aspiring to leadership roles. The days of the lone, genius contributor have all but gone. Today, the projects and startups that produce ground-breaking products achieve this because of the team-collaboration factor. Nothing says this more outspokenly than when Atlassian listed on The NASDAQ Stock Market and named their stock symbol “TEAM”.
Perhaps another undervalued characteristic in graduates is curiosity, coupled with the eagerness to experiment without the fear of failure. A number of companies have a graduate program that formalises this process. Google and Atlassian are two companies that have successfully implemented 20% experiment time. There are countless examples of successful products that were born from these programs, such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News.
Often in an interview I will ask a candidate what they do in their spare time – the things they don’t put on their resumes, which might indicate a genuine thirst for knowledge.
Looking more closely at the foundation of Australian graduates, I’d like to add a few thoughts on STEM education in schools. In a 2014 Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute report, Kelly Roberts provides some disturbingly low participation rates of women in STEM subjects in high school. As the father of two daughters, my hope is that education systems will improve in order to draw out the innate inquisitiveness of young kids.
Let us build on that capability at an early age and nurture it. Let us teach them reasoning and critical thinking skills as young as possible. These skills are the means to building a stronger Australia.
Chief Software Architect, Cochlear
Read next: Andrew Coppin, venture capital investor, on the changing demographic of founders in today’s startup scene.
People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.
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