The CSU Engineering model includes 3 pillars:

  • Project based learning on authentic, realistic projects during the student engineering phase, followed by real projects for real clients, real dollars and including real jeopardy in the cadet engineer phase;
  • Performance planning & review whereby students set goals and move towards being a reflective practitioner; and
  • On-demand topic tree providing an all-you-can-learn buffet of content available when and where it is needed for projects, inspired by real world experiences or interest in the area.

Industry placement in CSU Engineering

Work placement is a compulsory component of the course. After an initial 18 months of on-campus, project-based learning and workplace preparation, students take on a series of four one-year paid cadet placements in the industry in a work integrated learning (WPL) environment.

Students at different stages of their engineering career

Students’ workplace preparation covers diverse aspects from professional conduct, students’ roles and responsibilities, job application interviews and issues of diversity and equity.

During work placements, all students are supervised by practitioners in the host organisation, and their work is monitored by their academic mentors. Over the four years, cadets build their professional portfolio along with reflective self-assessment of their learning. They also use and develop their skills and knowledge through professional development, the cornerstone thesis, and a capstone thesis before graduation.

Nepean bridge
CSU cadets work in multi-disciplinary projects. This is the Nepean River Bridge over the Nepean River in Sydney, where Emerie Anonical worked as a junior cadet.

Industry placement has been through two pathways through which all three cohorts of students are allocated to workplace positions.

  • Self-placement allows cadets to find themselves their own placement via their own networks, or to remain with a host for a second or subsequent placements. These placements must meet the quality assurance process of the program.
  • Competitive marketplace allows us to match hosts who are partners of the school to the pool of cadets who have not sought to self-place.

Supervisors’ preparation occurs by completing a series of five topics named the Online Module for Host Organisations. The purpose of the preparation module is to illustrate the principles of WPL and to provide supervisors with the resources, methods and strategies that help them to support cadet engineers, and effectively supervise them.

Brandon Roth
Brandon Roth, one of the CSU Cadets, worked in Mid-Western Regional Council on drainage diagrams and drawing up plans for completed worksites.

What’s working for us?

The online preparation module works well when the supervisors complete the module and participate in the preparation workshop.

Industry supervisors view and interact with CSU cadets in the same way as university graduates. Even in the second or third year of study, CSU cadets are capable enough to take steps in the design of real work projects and accept responsibilities in their workplaces.

Some CSU cadets take on the role of project management in their organisation, and have high expectations placed upon them.

The work placement allocation works well for all cohorts and this year around 40 cadets have started their Senior, Intermediate or Junior placement in July with two students receiving graduate level work. This year most students acquired their work placements through the self-placement option.

Rebecca Wilcox, with industry partners
Rebecca Willcox worked in Lockhart Shire Council and gained a job as graduate engineer in her next work placement. This photo shows her in an outreach event with other engineers in Wagga Wagga.

What are the challenges?

The competitive marketplace process brings organisational challenges and requires intensive work. This year less than 30% of students applied through this pathway. While work placement opportunities occur in any time of the year, the alignment of CSU subjects to course standards means our work placements usually start from July each year.

While CSU cadets experience around 6000 industry work hours before graduation, none of the subjects are currently considered as workplace learning subjects in terms of the CSU WPL policy.

In addition, mentoring cadets requires a lot of time, which it seems at the moment is much higher than traditional courses. Some supervisors don’t complete the preparation module so they don’t fully appreciate the expectations from the start. Both CSU mentors and students need to work with them to clear those expectations.

Where do we want to go next?

We are aiming to provide students with access to both the technical content and their portfolios after graduation. This is challenging when students have graduated and are no longer a formal part of the study program.

The most important part is scaling up the process while maintaining quality. Our goal is to employ around 50 students per cohort. Mentoring and assessing students’ progress has required changes to suit the rise in student numbers.