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Honours students support Cradle Coast economic development

CCA scholarships

The research findings of two University of Tasmania students is helping positively shape the Cradle Coast region’s future.

Jessica Bowden and Kiran Walker have been investigating the barriers experienced by local construction firms, and also ways to improve youth retention.

The North-West residents were the successful applicants of a unique place-based scholarship offered for the first time this year.

It enabled them to each undertake a Bachelor of Business Honours program centred around a significant research project supporting the priorities of the Cradle Coast Authority (CCA) Regional Futures Plan.

The pair, who previously graduated from the Cradle Coast campus with a Bachelor of Business, were embedded at the CCA offices in Burnie as part of a partnership between CCA and the University.

“Coming back to do honours was an easy choice to make,” Jessica said.

“I felt as though it wasn’t an opportunity that would come around very often and being able to work on a project that was relevant to my life was exciting, so I jumped at the chance.”

Jessica’s research focused on apprenticeships in the construction industry.

Currently working at her family-owned construction business, this chosen thesis topic built on her professional and personal experience.

“My main aim was to explore some of the barriers that local construction businesses face in employing and training apprentices and how these can be addressed to promote overall economic growth in the Cradle Coast region,” Jessica said.

“My findings found that finances, business confidence and retention were significant barriers for local small construction businesses in their apprenticeship decision-making processes.”

Kiran investigated the appetite of businesses for different models of Work-integrated Learning (WIL), and whether such placements could assist with youth retention in the region.

“The research established that there is an appetite for the current traditional WIL models, as well as innovative models, and also alternatives such as mentoring, within the Cradle Coast region,” Kiran said.

“It also established that the idea of providing ‘work experience’ for higher education has limited traction with participants, suggesting that employers may not have previously been considering these opportunities.

“It was concluded that while evidence for businesses’ appetite for different models of WIL exists, further research with case studies and larger samples is needed to explore these models in order to better inform educators in establishing sustainable WIL programs.”

Tasmanian School of Business and Economics (TSBE) Teaching Fellow Steve Allen, and member of Cradle Coast Authority’s Audit and Risk Committee, was one of Jessica and Kiran’s mentors this year.

He previously taught the pair at the Cradle Coast campus during their undergraduate degree, and even further back during Jessica’s Year 12 studies.

“Jess and Kiran’s projects are examples of action-based research that has direct impact on improving the lives of people in the Cradle Coast region. Their work was entirely consistent with the CCA’s Regional Future’s Plan,” Mr Allen said.

“We are hopeful here at the UTAS Tasmanian School of Business and Economics that we can build the business, economics and community research capacity in the region by encouraging other young North West Coasters to embark on similar higher degrees by research.”

The sentiments have been echoed by Cradle Coast Authority.

“Hosting Jess and Kiran meant we could help shape their research to meet regional needs, and provide them with access to the knowledge and networks of our Committee Members and staff,” said Cradle Coast Authority CEO, Daryl Connelly.

“It’s one more great example of our really strong partnership with UTAS.”

Having since graduated, both Kiran and Jessica have expressed gratitude for the opportunity they received this year.

“Overall, it’s been a valuable learning experience. Through the year I’ve developed my ability to research, which will assist me in my future career,” Kiran said.

“I’m going to be looking for jobs in the local region.”

Jessica thanked her University and CCA mentors for all their support.

“CCA really made me feel welcome and everyone was willing to offer advice which really helped me grow confidence in myself and my project. I was able to meet many interesting people and build connections with industry that were incredibly useful for my research,” Jessica said.

“I also think academically, I really benefited from having great mentors at the University who were very supportive of my project.

I’m going to continue working in the family business next year, but I am very interested in pursuing further research, maybe a PhD at some stage in the future thanks to this experience.”

PIctured from left; Cradle Coast Authority Chief Executive Officer Daryl Connelly, Honours graduates Kiran Walker and Jessica Bowden, and Cradle Coast Authority Program Manager - Regional Futures Plan, Carol Bracken.

Published on: 16 Dec 2020 1:36pm