Students working as interns are proving a real asset to companies that take them on.

Some businesses who want forward thinkers to help them develop are mining a rich new seam of talent – university student internships.

They can not only help postgraduate students gain valuable experience in the workplace but can also provide significant advantages for the companies which take them on.

One reaping the benefits is Auckland-based Hynds Pipe Systems, a major supplier to the civil construction industry. Hynds has taken on four interns from the Auckland ICT Graduate School in the past year, working on special projects to harness technology to lead the market.

Director Aaron Hynds says the company recently established a new division, Hynds Innovation, to explore disrupting business-as-usual product development.

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"A lot of the projects we are working on are looking at how we can use ICT or other technologies in our space," he says. "Instead of going to a consultant and paying for their expertise, we prefer to use ICT internships.

"It allows students to get experience solving real-world problems, and to translate their educational experience into practical business experience.

"By the end of their internship we require them to have developed something to a stage that will allow us to continue to take the project through into scoping and funding, or to give it to a consultant and get them to expand on that idea."

The company has taken on four interns from the Auckland ICT Graduate School in the past year, and plans to employ one full-time, to continue work on the project they began during their internship. Hynds worked closely with Amanda Zieltjes at the school to select the most suitable students for the particular projects the company wanted to work on.
"All the projects we've undertaken have been for the benefit of Hynds — we're not doing it just for the sake of doing it. We have an end-game in mind."

Among the projects interns have worked on at Hynds are a smart-device app customers can use to customise and request changes to the products they are ordering and a Hynds Innovation app that staff and customers can use to suggest innovations to products and processes.

"It's has been designed to be used by internal staff first, and then to go on our website next year, so anyone who has a great idea can pitch it to us," Hynds says.

The Auckland ICT Graduate School is a collaboration between the University of Auckland and the University of Waikato, offering two postgraduate programmes to develop industry-ready candidates to meet the current high demand for ICT experts. The Master of Information Technology (MInfoTech) programme teaches a combination of technology and business skills, paired with a 10-week internship in a relevant industry.

"Another advantage of taking on interns is that these students are at the forefront of new ideas, which helps us to keep agile as well," Hynds says. "It can help us to move forward, using the expertise of the university get to know other tools and enhance our customers' experience."

That customer experience is "the new game," Hynds says. "We can see the power of ICT to take it to the next stage. Each customer experience is unique, but it is repeatable.

"Our main goal is to make sure we add value to each experience, and using an 'Internet of Things' type of thinking enables us to provide that."

The Hynds group of companies sees the further value in being involved with encouraging a new generation of forward thinkers. As well as participating in the internship programme, the Hynds Foundation, the group's philanthropic arm, is a supporter of the University of Auckland's Unleash Space, an innovation and entrepreneurship hub in the former Faculty of Engineering library.

"The foundation's ethos is around education, the arts and health," says Hynds, "so we want to see our investment being part of developing that next generation of leaders in New Zealand."