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A Modern-Day Dilemma

According to a recent study of 12,100 university graduates published by the Department of Education, employment statistics for new graduates are significantly worse than before the GFC, despite the general employment boom. Recent university graduates are struggling to find full-time work, the study found, with one in five employed university leavers unhappily working part-time in 2017.

Faced with this predicament, some local students have taken the lead in seeking out internships and opportunities with smaller startups (like ours); and they are gaining experience, professional edge and greater opportunities because of it.

‘Prior to joining the Export Connect team, I struggled to find internships and jobs that related to my International Business degree and that sparked my interest,’ said Louisa Zhang, an International Business/Psychology graduate from Macquarie University, who has been with us since November 2017. ‘I found that many jobs did not provide the opportunity for growth and autonomy over work that Export Connect offered. The opportunity to be heavily involved in projects was an important factor in my decision making process when choosing a job.’

Her colleagues, some also graduates of the International Business major at Macquarie University, echo her concerns. ‘Most opportunities given to students and graduates are elementary in their nature; there is no sense of responsibility or trust being passed to a graduate like myself, which can be demotivating,’ said Oujan Paad, a Marketing/International Business major. Kirraly Northey, also graduating with a Business degree in 2017, said she was drawn to our internship program partly because of how smooth our onboarding process was. ‘Finding relevant jobs to apply for; and then undertaking the lengthy application process seemed tough,’ she said. ‘And I was unsure which area I would choose in which to develop an expertise, due to the broad nature of my degree.’

A Solution for Go-Getters

We are lucky enough to have chanced upon these talented young students as they neared the end of their degrees late last year; and now to work alongside them, both developing their business edge and enriching the service we offer to our clients. Of a team of seven interns who started with us in November last year, every single one stayed on and is now freelancing as Project Coordinators on a variety of our projects. ‘I really enjoy the flexibility that comes with working at Export Connect,’ said Curtis Few, a History/International Business major from England. ‘And it feels great to be contributing to real life projects, which will hopefully have a meaningful impact on Australian businesses.’

‘I told (Director) Najib Lawand in my interview that I would like to be part of the stakeholder projects and I would like to practise my presentation skills. And that is exactly what I got,’ said Yuliya Kopytina, a recent Business graduate. ‘I got to present in front of our clients in Melbourne, and to present at our Company Day in front of the whole Export Connect team. I also joined Najib during an ANZ bank breakfast and met ANZ representatives. I got to be involved in everything from writing proposals to stakeholders, to writing an International Buyer Program and so much more. From day one, I was given exciting things to do and have learned so much! As a result, I now have a deeper understanding of the industry as a whole. So far it has been very exciting and interesting as Export Connect is a small company, which means that if I am part of their projects, I get to take responsibility for many different parts of the project and not just one particular task or job,’ she said. ‘I always felt like I was being listened to; I am very much looking forward to more projects and growing with Export Connect.’

As a startup we are able to have a much more horizontal structure, in which communication and contribution is key, and our company culture thrives because of it. ‘At Export Connect,’ Oujan reflects, ‘I have found a clear line of communication, and have developed interpersonal and research skills at a scale I would not have imagined prior to joining the team! Najib immediately entrusted his faith in me with my first project. This, alongside the clear line of communication and a positive sense of camaraderie among the team, has given me a greater sense of motivation than any of my previous roles.’

‘Najib is extremely flexible, understanding and willing to help develop my skill set and knowledge,’ Louisa said, ‘which makes this position so much more rewarding. Being able to work so closely with Najib has allowed me to gain industry insight into the export/food industry, which is an amazing opportunity at this stage of my career path.

‘The small team has allowed for a very cohesive and friendly working environment. Whilst it is not often that you see all of the team at once, I feel that the Export Connect culture is understood and represented by all the individuals within the team. Stef (Business & Communications Manager) and Najib have created a pleasant and open working environment and they both are extremely approachable and helpful when I have any queries, questions or issues. Stef and Najib are also very passionate about developing the company and as such, are open to suggestions and take our comments into consideration.

The team of Project Coordinators and new interns, working in large part remotely, typically take on a client research project of their own, guided by Najib and his more than 17 years’ experience in the industry.

‘I am currently undertaking multiple projects at once, which has provided me with the opportunity to develop my time management and organisation skills. I have also been able to develop my professional skills through meetings with clients, presentations and market research projects,’ said Louisa, who is working on a client research project and a trade show. ‘Being able to see a project through from beginning to end has been highly rewarding and gives me a sense of accomplishment once a project has been completed successfully.’

A Vision for the Industry

Naturally, we are excited to have so many enthusiastic, bright young people on our team; and at such an early stage. As we continue to deliver services to more and more clients, their contributions are invaluable. Having officially launched less than one year ago, we already have fifteen supplier and seven stakeholder clients to our name, and a fast-growing pipeline.  

As an industry, Australia’s agribusiness export sector is also a thriving and exciting space to be; ranking twelfth globally, and bringing in US$33.8 billion in 2016, according to Austrade’s 2018 Benchmark Report. We thoroughly believe in the good our work brings to this sector, and we are happy to be able to share this momentum with the next generation of business professionals. It is, in fact, not only a huge opportunity for the next generation, but for the future sector as a whole.

In the image above; left-to-right: Neil Pillai; Nick Cooper; Curtis Few; Oujan Paad; Najib Lawand; Kirraly Northey; Jordan Lodyga; Louisa Zhang; Yuliya Kopityna; Stefania Cox; and Bhakti Pawani.