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Scientific Graduates Benefiting From Strong Local Job Demand

By UCOL on Friday, 19 November 2021

UCOL science students and lecturers

With Manawatū’s scientific sector growing from strength to strength, the demand for talented graduates is experiencing the same. UCOL’s NZ Diploma of Applied Science is seeing this first hand, with their graduates getting snapped up by industry. 

A sizeable majority of Diploma graduates from the last four years are now thriving in a variety of local scientific institutions, including Fonterra’s R&D Centre, AgResearch, NZ Pharmaceuticals and Massey University’s Riddet Centre.

“We are UCOL’s best kept secret,” says Senior Lecturer Bob Stewart. That said, it is a secret that they are keen to share.

Jessa McIntyre-Taylor and Grace McNicholl are two of seven UCOL graduates who currently work at Fonterra in Analytical Chemistry positions.

Thirty-one-year-old Jessa McIntyre-Taylor wanted to study at UCOL as a new mum and was delighted to ‘discover’ a passion for science and that it could provide her with a career path. McIntyre-Taylor did her work placement with Fonterra after graduating with a UCOL Diploma of Applied Science. “When an opportunity arose for me to work at Fonterra, I jumped at the chance.” 

McIntyre-Taylor is now embarking on her Bachelor of Applied Science, one paper per semester, as she works fulltime. “I have found I can make study fit around my life, rather than my life fit around study.” 

Grace McNicholl has been at Fonterra for seven years. The 29-year-old secured a job directly from her placement. “I felt lucky I was in the right place at the right time,” she says. McNicholl says it never hurts to continue studying, even while holding down a fulltime job, so she is also working towards her Bachelor of Applied Science. 

Fonterra’s Analytical Chemistry Manager, Stuart Sorrell, says supporting UCOL students in the workplace as they carry out their industry science projects is a win-win.

“The placement students we receive from UCOL are of a very high calibre and we are in the perfect position to observe their ability to learn in the workplace,” he says. “The students get valuable experience, and we have a quality source of potential laboratory staff.” 

UCOL’s NZ Diploma in Applied Science (Level 5) is a hands-on programme that teaches proficiency in basic laboratory techniques. Students spend around 80% of their study time in the lab, up to five hours per day, and then back that practical learning up with 20% theory.

The programme covers microbiology, chemistry, and biochemistry, and imbedded in that is quality assurance, health and safety, and learning computer lab software.

Some graduates choose to seek employment as a Lab Technician at that point, but many continue on to the Diploma in Applied Science (Level 6).

The Level 6 programme employs more sophisticated techniques and the use of high-end scientific equipment. Students are also introduced to the skills required for producing research projects.

In the second semester, students undertake 300 hours placement ‘at the lab bench’ in a real-life laboratory. “It is the best job interview ever,” says Stewart. “And most are offered employment by the end of their placement.”

Recognising the demand for highly qualified Laboratory Scientists, UCOL introduced the Bachelor of Applied Science in 2020.

The three-year degree takes things a step further and encourages critical thinking and research.

Degree students are inspired to challenge and question what they have learned and subsequently propose a subject and budget for their research project. As part of their mini thesis, they will produce a report and data analysis, culminating in a full industry report.

“Several students have been lucky enough to do their research projects at their workplace,” says Stewart. “It works well because the student can continue their studies, and the employer is benefitting from the results of their research project.

“We are lucky to have the validation of several large research institutions in the region. We are always keen to receive their feedback of what skills the industry requires, so we can ensure our graduates are job ready.”