Hiring students is a great opportunity for companies on the path to sustainability

"Universities and the private sector could be in closer collaboration to achieve a more sustainable world", says Antonio Caló, Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oulu, Finland. He encourages companies to be active in taking students in for small or bigger projects.
Lecture room and students
Antonio Caló giving a guest lecture at a high school in Oulu. Photo: Antonio Caló

Antonio Caló, postdoctoral researcher on smart grids, distributed energy systems and nuclear energy, feels that the nature of the academic and business worlds can complement each other.

“Academia can afford to think about what’s on the horizon and what’s the next problem we need to solve, that is part of its mandate, whereas the expertise of companies tends to focus on immediate and practical solutions,” Caló ponders.

“Companies are undeniably motivated to act more sustainably, but their actions are often restricted by economic limitations. It’s understandable, as they need to be profitable,” he says.

The researcher would like to see more collaboration between companies and universities.

Students are a great resource

Caló is happy to see students getting to know companies and other future workplaces through their summer jobs and diploma works. He encourages companies to be active in taking students in for small or bigger projects.

“I always advise companies to get to their closest university and the intellectual resources there. If you come to us with your problem, maybe we can help or some of our students can!”

Offering a chance to a student or fresh graduate can give more to companies than they realise. Caló remembers a time he met a former student of his. The student was working for a company in his own field of energy and was sent to an expensive training course. During the training, he realised he already knew a lot about what was covered in the training as it had been part of his studies.

“With a tighter relationship with universities, companies could be more familiar with the skills of the students. Then companies could better use their expertise,” Caló says.

Caló believes that training future experts is the best way for a university to help the world be a better place, in addition to research work.

Collaboration can start small

There are many levels and fields in which companies and universities can work together. For example, guest speakers from companies are a common sight in Caló’s lectures. He has one suggestion in mind that is particularly cheap and easy to implement.

“I already go to schools to talk about energy sustainability in Finland. Why don’t we do the same with companies? It could be an extended coffee break or something like that. You can call a university expert and ask to have a talk, an informal simple conversation on university research topics, updating each other on challenges and opportunities. Simple grassroot solutions like this would go a long way in establishing more effective collaboration between universities and companies. It would also be useful to us, because we need to learn how to communicate our research to people outside academia,” Caló says.

The responsibility of sharing information

In his research, Caló focuses on Arctic energy resources and energy networks. Part of his work involves participating in discussions between academics, companies and the general public. To him, the educational duty of a university does not end when a student graduates. It should extend to the everyday life of an average citizen.

Getting the right information to the right channels is not enough; the topics need to be understood as well. This is a challenge that is difficult to tackle. The private sector and the academic world often speak in different languages. Social media requires summarising complex topics in a couple of hundred characters.

Despite the challenges in communication, sustainability communication and education, as well as in sustainability as a whole, Caló is looking forward to a bright future. He feels that sometimes academics are seen as pessimistic, because they bring up one problem after another, but it should actually be the opposite. He explains:

“Electric cars or wind power alone can’t solve our problems in energy grids. As part of our mandate as researchers, we’re aware of the complexity of what’s coming. And despite the awareness and appreciation of the complexity and the scale of the problems, here we are solving things and having hope. And we’re working on them because knowledge is power, and as Spiderman’s uncle said, with great power comes great responsibility. I think it’s actually stronger optimism, and it gives us the energy to act.”

Text: Aino Soutsalmi, Medita Communication.

Read the whole story and more about the possibilities in research and industry collaboration at Medita Communication’s article.

Last updated: 28.11.2023