WHEN it comes to employability of today’s graduates, nothing beats having hands-on practical experience backed by sound theoretical knowledge.
To help its graduates transition seamlessly from university to the workplace, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) has implemented work-based learning (WBL) for the Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Electronic Systems and Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Industrial Management offered by its Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology (FEGT).
The Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Electronic Systems (ES) is designed to fulfill the urgent need to produce skilled technologists in the fields of electronic engineering and technology as the industry has emerged as the primary driving force behind the digital revolution.
Meanwhile, the Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Industrial Management (IM) deals with industrial design, manufacturing, management, and application of science and engineering principles to improve the entire industrial infrastructure and industrial processes with focus on the management of industrial processes.
WBL gives students exposure to the industry before they graduate, with a one-year industry attachment embedded into the programme of study. It is designed to address the mismatch between what is being taught at academic institutions and actual industry needs, which is actually common in most parts of the world. Under WBL, students will spend a total of two years of their study on campus to build up their foundation and theoretical knowledge, and a total of one year attached to a UTAR industry partner, for completing courses with WBL elements and a three-month industrial training embedded in.
During their attachment, students get the opportunity to apply the knowledge they have gained on campus and acquire valuable practical experience so they will be able to adapt quickly to the workplace environment once they have graduated. WBL students learn and train at the industry partner’s premises, during which they will be taught and assessed by industry experts or engineers who have been appointed as industry coaches at their workplace. UTAR’s academic staff is involved in coordinating with the industry partners on the student assessments to ensure they meet the determined outcomes to graduate. Students in the WBL courses are fully assessed based on coursework.
Department of Electronic Engineering head, Assistant Prof Dr Lee Yu Jen shares: “To ensure students are ready for the work-based part of their studies, FEGT and the industry work very closely together to design the structure and content of the curriculum within the programme. Two years of the programme is designed to develop a strong fundamental engineering knowledge relevant to the industry partners, which are essential for the students to benefit fully from WBL at industrial sites. The remaining one year of the programme involves WBL and internship at the industry partner premises.”
Industry feedback has indicated that WBL helps students learn faster as well as develop important communication and teamwork skills. Furthermore, priority will also be given to these students when it comes to employment after they graduate.
Infineon Technologies (Kulim) Sdn Bhd Technology and Research and Development vice president Dr Raj Kumar, who advocated the programme during the conceptualisation stage says: “While the world is facing a shortage of semiconductor chips, The semiconductor industry is facing a dearth of trained workforce. The industry and academia have to work together to innovate the way talents are developed, WBL is such an approach that can be a game-changer.”
FEGT dean Prof Dr Ng Choon Aun shares: “So far we have had two batches of WBL students from the ES programme and the feedback from our industry partners have been encouraging. They commented that our students are hardworking and proactive with a good attitude overall. In fact, our industry partners are asking for more WBL students from us.”
A challenge in implementing WBL is the public perception of it as a programme for weaker students. Department of Industrial Engineering head, Assistant Prof Dr Khoo Sze Wei shares: “Contrary to this misconception, just like other engineering professional programmes, the WBL programmes also provide a pathway towards professional registration, and graduates of FEGT’s WBL programmes with relevant working experience can register with the Malaysia Board of Technologist as professional technologists.”
When it comes to choosing industry partners, FEGT is very careful to find the correct fit to ensure the WBL programmes offered will fully benefit the students, industry partners and UTAR.
Current industry partners include well-established companies such as Infineon Technologies (Kulim) Sdn Bhd and ViTrox Corporation Bhd for the ES programme, and Beckhoff Automation Sdn Bhd for the IM programme.
In the near future, Oppstar Technology Sdn Bhd will also be joining the list of industry partners for the ES programme.
These companies are well known in Malaysia and each specialises in an area that is relevant to the electronics industry. Infineon is involved with semiconductor fabrication and design, while ViTrox is good at automated machine vision inspection. Oppstar is established in IC design and Beckhoff is specialised in automation technology.
Currently, two batches of ES programme students have completed their WBL. The students are generally very excited and positive with their learning experience. Anand Low, who completed his WBL at ViTrox shares: “Since IT and technology are evolving at a rapid pace, the WBL is very flexible to adapt to the latest technology trends into learning which prepares students well for the working environment after graduation.”
Another student who did his WBL at ViTrox, Jovin Ooi commented: “During WBL, every topic for the module will have a practical project to do that implements the theory studied into practical use. This helps me understand better compared to normal classes. Other than that, during WBL each module is done in a different department, which helps me build up my connection with the industrial engineers out there and learn from their sharing before stepping into the working life.”
Ong Ching Wei, who did her WBL at Infineon (Kulim) shared: “The WBL programme has provided me a good opportunity to work with experts of different fields. In the past three months, I've been working with engineers and technicians in the technology department. The everyday challenges have greatly refined my technical skills and helped open doors for me to become a better person. I truly value this opportunity provided by UTAR and I encourage more students to participate in this programme.”
Crement Ong who also did his WBL at Infineon (Kulim) mentioned: “The on-site learning enhanced the learning experience by allowing students to work in a real-world scenario. In addition to honing our technical skills, we developed crucial career readiness skills like professionalism and communication.”
Prof Ng says: “All our industry partners are fully committed to produce graduates who are industry-ready upon graduation. This is reflected by their willingness to sign the MOA to collaborate with FEGT to design the curriculum and assign qualified and experienced engineers and related resources to host the WBL students.”
He adds that moving forward, there is a need for FEGT to promote the advantages of WBL to correct its public perception and attract more students. Next, more collaboration with different industries will be established and both university and industry can collaborate in research and integrate the research-related knowledge into the course syllabus, so students can gain the necessary skills to contribute to the technology development of the nation. Also, implementing industry projects as final year projects for students to solve during WBL is another enhancement for the future.
Lastly, another highlight of joining the WBL programmes in FEGT is that upon graduation, graduates are eligible to continue their masters with UTAR through the Master of Engineering (Electronic Systems) programme should they wish to further their studies. There are two pathways available. The first pathway is to fully complete the Masters degree programme at UTAR for a duration of one year.
The second is to join the international dual Masters degree programme for a duration of two years. In this pathway, students spend about one and half years in UTAR followed by a minimum duration of five months at OTH Regensburg in Germany.
This dual Masters degree programme is under the UTAR-OTH mutual credit recognition programme. Having a Masters degree is highly beneficial towards the career advancement of graduates working in the industry, given that they are in high demand in many multinational companies.
For more information about the Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Electronic Systems and Bachelor of Technology (Honours) in Industrial Management programmes or even the Master of Engineering (Electronic Systems) programme, visit study.utar.edu.my or WhatsApp 016-223 3557.