Engineering students are getting paid to gain hands-on experience while completing their degrees. 

In a win-win initiative, stainless steel fabrication specialists Stoddart is offering junior engineers and students the opportunity to work as machine operators. 

At the same time, Brisbane-based Stoddart benefits from the students’ up-to-date knowledge and skills. 

The partnership is so successful that some of the young learners have already been snapped up by Stoddart’s engineering team, HR Manager John Major said. 

“We’re moving to a largely automated system with a lot of programming and robotics,” Mr Major added. 

“Because of their skills and education, these juniors are fast learners. What we get is a machine operator who not only produces material for us but in the event of something going wrong with the machine, they can do the analysis, diagnose the problem and fix the fault. 

“Previously, the broken machine could sit there for a day.” 

Since the initiative started a year ago, Stoddart has welcomed six students and recent graduates with the support of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Griffith University. 

Three have progressed to Stoddart’s engineering department. 

The idea was sparked when an international student approached Stoddart looking for a part-time role to undertake while completing his degree. 

“He came and saw us, and I said: ‘I’ve got a job on a press’,” Mr Major recalls.  

“We soon realised how skilled he was, so we started utilising his engineering know-how. Suddenly we realised the untappd potential of this pathway.” 

Until then, Stoddart had been sceptical about its ability to attract engineers. 

“It was hard to get engineers to come and do this type of role,” Mr Major said. 

“We thought: ‘We’re not going to be able to convince engineers to come and operate these presses’ but when this student came on board and it worked, we knew it had potential. 

“So far, it’s working really well.” 

Ai Group member Stoddart shares the opportunity with high school students, too. 

“When I visit the schools, I tell them: ‘We’re doing robotics and automation and a lot of programming. If anyone is interested in this, come and see me'," Mr Major said. 

“One student took me up on my offer. His plan was to study robotics engineering part time for six years. He said: ‘I’d love to be able to work at your factory on the machines while I’m studying.’ 

“He’s still with us. He’s given himself a really good platform by integrating his work and studies. 

“It’s a win-win. We’re getting knowledge from students but we’re giving them knowledge so when they go to uni, they can understand what their lecturers and tutors are talking about because they see it here.” 

Stoddart has a 24-hour roster so students can fit work around their studies, no matter what their timetable is.  

“One guy studies at night so works a full 38-hour week,” Mr Major said. 

“One lady works three days a week and goes to uni twice a week.  

“We’ll work around their study timetables. This initiative works because it benefits both parties.” 

In addition, students can choose to stay at Stoddart for as long as they wish. 

“If they want six months just to get experience, we’ll take it,” Mr Major said. 

“If they want four years to get an income and to gain knowledge while they’re doing their degree, we’re happy to keep them for four years.” 

With so much fresh talent joining the team, the goal is to retain it. 

“We hope to retain a lot of these people: that they like it here and we can produce more work that keeps them interested and wanting to stay,” Mr Major said. 

“However, we realise we may lose some when they finish their degree. In the meantime, we will have highly skilled people in those roles and will benefit from increased productivity and knowledge and the fault-finding that they do. 

“The three who have moved into our engineering department are tickled pink because they’ve got their ultimate job.  

“They came here hoping to one day do engineering. They did their time on the presses, they assisted us with programming, they showed their wares and the engineering department snaffled them straight away.  

“It doesn’t help on the floor because we lose three good operators, but it starts the ball rolling again and that’s what it’s all about. 

“It’s the way of the future.” 

Peter Canavan, Senior Policy Officer at Ai Group’s Centre for Education and Training, said a lot of companies are discussing the benefits of putting higher level skills on the shop floor.  

“There’s been a lot of discussion about combining trade skills with engineering degrees so it’s great to see Stoddart already benefiting from this sort of arrangement.”  

 Ai Group is currently discussing a pilot with the Queensland Government to develop an apprenticeship that combines a trade qualification with an engineering degree. 


Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.