Sr. Project Manager, Coles IT
Sr. Project Manager, Coles IT
All ICT subjects offered at Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) get significantly scaled-down discouraging student enrolment (VCAT scaling report 2014 and 2015).
ICT has also been a male dominated industry, with the gender balance deteriorating over the years.
To address these challenges, I initiated the Coles Digital Work Experience Program in 2014.
This program provides students with valuable experience in a large IT department within a retail environment.
This week long program is held at the Coles Store Support Centre in Hawthorn for students in years 10-12, with the primary focus of attracting students to ICT, addressing gender diversity and also caters to special needs students.
The senior leadership at Coles has been extremely supportive of this program from the onset, with students getting to hear from the Coles Managing Director, the Coles Digital Director, and many leaders within Digital on the importance of Digital in retail and the upcoming trends within ICT.
The program has been receiving rave reviews from career counsellors, ICT teachers, students and parents, with 95% of the students saying they would consider a career in IT and 100% of the students saying the program helped them to learn more about a career in IT.
• Canvassed Digital Leadership for support and involved them in addressing the participants.
• Approached many schools in close proximity to the Coles Store Support Centre – specifically targeting the local girls’ schools.
• Presented at school assemblies and at year 10-12 cohorts, to talk to the students about the wide variety of roles on offer in information technology, which in-turn require a wide variety of skills.
• Advertised the program internally to attract family and friends of our team members and spread awareness of the challenges being faced by the IT industry in Australia as a whole.
• Assigned recent Coles Digital graduates as “Buddies” for the students. Having these younger approachable role models helped the students feel more comfortable with the large corporate setting.
• Gather a team of more than 70 IT team members to run and support the program.
• I personally acted as the Buddy for the special needs students, to meet their specific needs.
The students are put into teams, and assigned a “Buddy” for the week. These buddies are recent Coles Digital Graduates.
We devise an exciting time-table for the week, with each day split into project work, some fun activities and excursions, and guest speakers.
Each team is assigned a real-life business problem and students are asked to find innovative solutions using information technology. Some projects focus on specific technologies and last the entire week; whereas others are spread across multiple business units and focus on other core skills like communication or creativity, which are critical to information technology.
The projects culminate with each group presenting to the Digital leadership team on the last day of the program.
The students also got exposure to:
• How IT powers a retail store,
• Latest technologies ranging from apps to superfast appliances,
• Visit the Coles Data Centre
• In-house experts on topics like Security, Architecture, Coles’ Loyalty program (Flybuys) and best practises for designing for online channels.
Some of the fun activities include:
• Amazing Coles race – activity designed to help students get familiarised with our work-place
• Cooking at our specialist Master Chef kitchens
• Taste-tests for new Coles brand products
The program received rave reviews from school career counsellors, IT teachers, students and parents alike, with 95% of the students who attended saying they would consider a career in IT and 100% of the students saying the program helped them to learn more about a career on IT.
We received numerous letters of appreciation from the special needs schools, for providing this invaluable opportunity to their students.
The program is now into its 3rd year, and is rapidly increasing in popularity.
In-spite of increasing the number of student intake each subsequent year, we are unable to meet the growing demand from schools for our program.
A number of our leadership team – including our Digital Director and Managing Director – have been invited to speak at various school forums on a wide variety of topics, as a result of this program.
I have personally presented at a number of Parent / Student information sessions at various schools
The program has received overwhelming support from the onset from the senior leadership team at Coles.
However, I would like to highlight some of the systemic challenges we have come across.
• A major deterrent to students taking up ICT subjects during senior years is the out-dated curriculum. This leads to all ICT subjects offered at the VCE, being significantly scaled-down, discouraging student enrolment.
• Each school seems to have a different week nominated for work experience program. This makes it very difficult for an organisation to offer a program that suits most school calendars. Some schools do not even offer a work experience opportunities to their students.