iEDM Wins Gold Coast Business Excellence Award for Student Employability

Liam Howe is the Director of the local engineering, design and project management company, which on average has engaged the services of at least one intern every year since the company was founded in 2009. He spoke to Study Gold Coast about their ongoing commitment to creating opportunities for local graduates.

What prompted you to take on interns as an ongoing commitment with iEDM?

We get a lot of value out of interns because they’re an excellent source of resources for short term projects when we’re looking for staff and we’ve found them to be good potential employees when we have spikes in projects.

You’ve been providing opportunities for students from both engineering and marketing & events disciplines – what roles do they play as interns with iEDM?

They play a role within a small project team. Our projects are major events infrastructure and design and delivery projects, where they’ll consist of a project manager who leads it, a designer and 1 or 2 assistant project managers depending on how big the scope is – right down to a site manager and safety team once it’s time to implement on the ground.

They assist by providing services to any one of those teams, depending on what they’re studying. It might be an engineering student working with a designer doing some CAD work, or it might be some programming work. We try and give them some experience across nearly everything involved in any project we’re working on that is relevant to their degree. It’s important that they can both be a part of it, but also get some practical experience too. Over the last 1 to 2 weeks of a project we’ll bring them in on a full-time basis because they’ve done a range of different disciplines up until that point where they’re able to contribute successfully to the job.

Their responsibilities in those respective roles are substantial – is that a risk for the organisation?

No, their work gets reviewed and there’s complete oversight from an experienced team member throughout their internship.

What qualities are you looking for with your interns?

Ideally they need to be self-motivated, diligent, smart, a really good communicator and well presented.

Has your interaction with them changed your way of thinking or how you run the business in any way?

Over time absolutely. When we first started the business 10 years ago we had a few interns and we really didn’t know what to do with them because we hadn’t thought about it. Our Chairman used to be an adjunct professor at Bond and also sits on the advisory board at Griffith, so we’ve had a lot of approaches from different people over the years and we accepted them without really being in a position of knowing what we wanted to do with them, indeed we really didn’t know what we wanted to get out of them or what we could give to them through the internship.

After a few unsuccessful experiences we started to change the way we looked at it and began to think about it more constructively. We then talked to some of our interns and asked them what they wanted to get out of the experience and from that we designed an internship program that would benefit both parties. Then we communicated our ideas down through the project teams, who essentially are the ones engaging the interns. Prior to that we really weren’t getting much out of it and neither were the students because we were going the wrong way about it.

How do you source your interns? Do you have a preferred supplier?

Typically we never get them from the universities, it’s either by direct approach from the student, or sometimes they’re a friend of somebody within the organisation, or at other times we have a specific role we need to fill so we advertise for them.

Have any of them gone on to full time employment with you?

We had a young girl called Hannah who was studying Events and Marketing at SCU. She approached us directly and after doing a 6 month internship through the Gold Coast 600 we then offered her a job after we experienced some growth in the business. She’s been with us for 5 or 6 years now, having worked her way up to an assistant project manager’s role.

We’ve also had some good engineering successes too and while they haven’t gone on to work for us they have joined some of our partner organisations. Both of those guys did short term contracts for us after their internship, and then secured ongoing roles with other parties so it’s a win for us, our business partners and subsequently our industry.

What’s the best advice you can offer for someone wanting to start an internship program?

Plan it out, think about what you really want from them. Think about it as if you were going to employ them as a full-time staff member by identifying what gaps need to be filled in your organisation. Then try to give them opportunities to fill those gaps, so that the intern gets a real stake in the working environment and potentially they can hit the ground a lot faster when they graduate because they’ve already had real world responsibilities.

*Photo: Griffith University engineering student Brad Sullivan, who served an internship with iEDM in 2016.