In a bid to service the increasing demand for STEM talent in the Waikato, business hub Soda is offering tertiary students the unique opportunity to advance their careers.

The STEM Futures Accelerator programme aims to help students take what they’ve learnt at tertiary study a step further by learning how to build a successful career.

Soda’s Innovation Specialist Ella Reshef says the programme is also about helping students grasp the breadth and depth of opportunities available in the Waikato and reflect on their career aspirations while building a professional network that’ll help get them there.

What’s involved?

Funded by The Agritech Activator and Callaghan Innovation, the programme will run for four weeks part-time (up to five hours per week) during November and December 2023.  

Between 30-40 students will engage in a combination of site visits, discussion panels, professional development workshops, mentorship sessions and other learning tailored to building a successful career in STEM.

The programme is a revamp of last year’s summer internship which saw 15 students through its doors.

Bachelor of Engineering student, Brandon Fletcher, who completed the 2022 programme says he found it valuable, not only for the ability to network but to start thinking about his future in the tech space.

“My favourite part of the programme was going on the site tours and seeing the different ways of working across various sized companies.  

Another standout, was the art to presenting session by Sacha Coburn, which changed the way I view presenting, something that I have incorporated in my roles at university, as well as moving forward in my career.”

Fellow engineering student, Jedd Lupoy agrees, adding: “The course content improved my understanding of design thinking and the business model canvas in the context of starting a new business which was a fascinating insight.”

Bridging the talent gap

Local businesses are poised to reap the rewards too with many finding the challenge of securing talent with both technical and soft skills.  

Ella says they’ve had significant support from local industry, with involvement from organisations such as LIC, PharmaNZ, Quantec, Synthase Biotech and Waikato Innovation Park, with many more involved in the mentoring programme.

Creating space for reflection

Ella explains that the ‘why’ behind studying a STEM degree often gets overshadowed by the rigorous academic grind for students. And she’s experienced this herself as a Biomedical Science (Honors) and Bioscience Enterprise (Postgraduate Diploma) graduate from the University of Auckland.  

“You’re too busy to take the time to figure this out and so many students don’t get the opportunity to do that until they’re at the end of their study.

“This initiative, helped by the fact it’s run in the summer break, gives them the time to reflect on the reasons behind their chosen paths and make important connections while studying,” she says.

Waikato’s growing tech scene

According to Ella, who’s also Callaghan Innovation’s navigator for the region, the tech sector is “certainly growing.”

“Overall, we have a vibrant tech sector. I’m seeing a lot of innovations from early-stage startups to large scale enterprises with priorities that often revolve around automating processes that have previously been quite manual,” she says.

She’s also seeing trends related to sustainability with businesses “looking at how to make things more efficient, productive and environmentally friendly.”

Breaking stereotypes

Ella emphasises that, although agritech is a significant player, the Waikato tech landscape is much broader and more diverse.

“Digital software development, for example, is a space that we’re seeing significant growth in,” she says.

“It’s funny, as an Aucklander, when I told people I was going to work at Soda, based in Hamilton, I had comments like, ‘oh, you’ll just be working with lots of farmers, doing a heap of agricultural related work’.

“So I didn’t know what to expect, but when I saw the calibre of businesses in the region, I was really impressed. And I’m continually surprised at what I see in the region – it’s full of incredible businesses who are very collaborative.”

Get involved

For participants

The programme runs from 27 November to 20 December 2023 and is open to anyone in their second year or above of a STEM degree and based in the Waikato region over the summer. Find out more and apply by 15 November. Spaces are limited.  

For businesses

Businesses interested in hosting a talk or mentoring students can contact Ella.

Story supplied by Tech in the Tron.