Harnessing PhD skills to transform Australian manufacturing


Then-PhD student Thinu Herath is now a full time member of Omni Tanker, thanks to APR.Intern.

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s (AMSI) APR.Intern program is making it easier for manufacturing innovators to access specialist research skills, as a new report reveals the sector is among Australia’s top PhD employers.

Released in May by AMSI and CSIRO Data61’s student-employer matching platform, Ribit.net, ‘Advancing Australia’s Knowledge Economy – Who are the top PhD employers?’ shows over half of PhD students are hoping to work in industry. One of the biggest factors in this shift is the lack of university-based positions. PhD graduate numbers are overtaking academic demand, with annual completions soaring from under 4000 annually in the year 2000 to almost 10,000 today. This trend has seen some of Australia’s largest business employers emerge as leading PhD recruiters.

The challenge is bridging the gap between academia and industry to produce a supply of PhDs equipped to make the transition. Australia’s economy, innovation capability and global competitiveness is dependent on the effective skilling of this workforce to apply specialist expertise within a commercial business environment.

Helping meet this challenge since its launch in 2007 as AMSI Intern, APR.Intern remains Australia’s only national postgraduate internship program. The program has refined a model that benefits both academia and industry. A significant ingredient in its success is its reach across Australia’s academic and industry communities, including strong partnerships across the manufacturing sector.

A powerful doorway between two worlds with so much to gain from each other, the program’s impact on research-industry collaboration is evident. While we are seeing a slow cultural change, universities are increasingly aware of the benefits of industry partnerships and the value of this research as a catalyst for academic success. Similarly, as the afore-mentioned report shows, industry is embracing PhD talent as an innovation accelerator.

With a long history of perfect research matches to accelerate industry innovation, Australia’s only all-sector, all-discipline PhD internship program has Industry 4.0 sorted. The manufacturing sector is set to benefit from a funding partnership between APR. Intern and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC). Under the agreement, 23 skilled PhD students will be matched to manufacturing innovators to help drive advanced and digital manufacturing and optimisation solutions.