CIO50 2022 #26-50 Anthony Molinia, University of Newcastle
Anthony Molinia says one of the biggest mistakes he made early in his career was to focus too much on delivery and not enough on people – often inserting himself whenever there were challenges as opposed to letting staff solve issues for themselves.
This is especially true, he says, if you are aiming to build a high performing team. The best people cannot succeed in an environment that stifles their creativity or disempowers them. The perfect setting will not suddenly see leaders emerging if that is not the mindset of the individuals, he says.
Culture is the most powerful component in achieving the ideal state and is the common connection between people and the environment, he says.
“The question is then, ‘which comes first?’ It is my opinion that the people will lead this and the environment enables it. Once you have determined the cultural attributes required to achieve your goals, bringing the right people into the team will, in fact, build that environment,” he says
Molinia is now chief digital officer at the University of Newcastle and since 2021 has led a team that is establishing a standard framework to support the digital readiness of students in their work life and beyond.
The ‘StandOut Program’ aims to ensure that students graduate with a clear understanding of their value, skills, knowledge and capabilities to prepare them for work and life. Experiential workplace learning opportunities, says Molinia, promote skills development, build self-awareness, foster innovative thinking, assist in career planning, and support student transition into the workforce.
Initiatives under the program include:
Strategic alliances: These seek to establish agreements between the universities and industry partners to commit to a cadetship program for students, advise on curriculum content of university programs and courses, and jointly tender and participate in research activities.
Pathways: This initiative will match a student’s aspirations in technology or future employer with an industry partner of the university either through gamification, sponsored events and/or targeted products.
Guest lectures: Professionals delivering lectures to students as part of their in-class courses to provide real-world contexts to their education.
Molinia says to ensure cut-through, it was important to establish partnerships and collaborations across the various streams. There is now a partnership between the University of Newcastle’s students, the University of Newcastle Student Association, Careershub and Jobs on Campus.
“By focusing on the key outcomes of why students attend a university, the IT Services [department] have innovated in creating the StandOut program to demonstrate the opportunity, for all departments of a university, to make a material difference to a student’s success in learning, employability, and career aspirations.
Molinia says StandOut is now the preeminent ‘work and life ready’ graduate program and its success is being modelled within the resources and academic divisions of the university.
“Further, IT departments across the sector in other universities have reached out to us to discuss their engagement with students,” he says.
Strategic plan for skills
A report compiled by the CSIRO and Australian Computer Society found that STEM skills are associated with 75% of the fastest growing occupations. It is broadly accepted that university degrees don’t necessarily provide all the practical certifications, soft skills and experience required to gain employment.
The University of Newcastle’s commitment to ensure its students develop life and career skills that make them competitive in the workforce is set out in the Looking Ahead Strategic Plan.
Traditionally this is something that has been addressed through schools, colleges, and the academic division, translating into initiatives such as ‘work integrated learning’ formal placements and cadetships, says Molinia.
“Historically, the resources division and IT services have engaged with students through employment opportunities, as casual staff, to support peak workloads during the year on the service desk or as administrative workers.
“However, to make a material difference, help address labour market challenges and contribute to this strategic plan, IT services sought to structure employment opportunities and training towards building skills and experience in a digital future,” says Molinia.
To this end, and as part of its digital strategy of which students contributed to, Molina and his team established the #StudentsAsStaff and #DigitalLevelIUp initiatives.
#StudentsAsStaff employs students in professional services to learn the practical soft skills relevant for their careers as well as reciprocating the ‘voice of the customer’ in areas where they are employed.
The #DigitalLevelUp initiative provides subsidised training courses and certifications of practical skills negotiated through contracts with industry partners and suppliers.
“The #StudentsAsStaff program started through a pilot with a goal of supplementing our workforce with an initial target of 10% of our profile staff as students. The pilot was a success for staff and students,” Molina notes.