Hands-on experience: six ways work-integrated learning can work for you

Hands-on experience: six ways work-integrated learning can work for you

If you were to start asking people to explain work-integrated learning (WIL), chances are you wouldn’t receive the same answer twice. This is because the term covers a broad range of approaches and strategies that integrate academic theory with the practice of work.

But even if the term itself is hard to define, the benefits aren’t.

Marnie Long, senior experiential learning adviser, and Carolyn Scott, experiential learning adviser, outline six ways WIL provides the foundation for a successful career after you graduate.

1. It gets you career ready and boosts your employability

WIL offers an opportunity to gain hands-on industry experience in your chosen field, which could bolster your chances of success in the post-graduate job market.

‘Being able to draw on real-world experiences and reflections from an internship in a professional working environment really does give you an edge over the competition,’ says Carolyn, the experiential learning advisor for the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce.

‘It also gives you a chance to develop and extend your personal and employability skills, so things like teamwork, communication and time management.’

Soft skills such as these could prove a valuable addition to your resume according to Marnie, senior experiential learning advisor for the College of Science, Health and Engineering.

‘It’s no longer enough to have a degree in order to get a job, so students really need to think strategically about ways to attract attention when applying for roles after university. Building up your employability skills can help you stand out from other graduates.’

2. It allows you to put theory into practice

No matter how good your course is, you can’t get real-world experience in a classroom.

‘I think the best learning outcomes are achieved by integrating theory with professional practice, because it gives students an opportunity to see what their studies look like in action,’ says Marnie. ‘Sometimes students might wonder the relevance of what they are learning, so being able to go into a work environment and apply the skills and theory that they’ve been taught is a really powerful thing.’

3. You get support from academics and industry mentors

Entering the workforce for the first time can be a bit nerve wracking. Not only does it require practical skills and knowledge, but you will also need to learn how to conduct yourself in a professional environment.

WIL gives you access to advice and support as you familiarise yourself with the unwritten rules of the workplace.

‘When you do undertake a WIL program as part of your studies, mentoring is provided by both your academic subject coordinator and industry supervisors,’ says Marnie. ‘It adds that extra layer of support to students, which is a good thing because it can be quite daunting at times.’

4. You can practise your networking skills

According to Carolyn, one of the biggest benefits of undertaking a placement as part of your studies is developing your networking skills.

‘Contacts can be incredibly important when you’re out there looking for a job, and placements are an opportunity for students to start building a profile as an early career professional,’ she says.

You never know when you’ll meet your future boss – you might even end up working for the company you do placement with.

‘I’ve seen a number of students secure positions by throwing themselves into their placement and showing initiative,’ says Marnie. ‘In such a highly competitive job market, it’s quite a luxury for students to be able to have employment lined up prior to graduation, but it’s certainly a possibility for those who are proactive and engaged.’

5. You can experience the latest industry-specific skills and techniques

In the new and evolving world of work, where job requirements are constantly changing, upskilling is vital for career development. Undertaking a placement puts you at the frontline of industry, where you will gain first-hand experience of the latest techniques and technologies to emerge in your field.

‘Of course we do our best to equip students with as much practical knowledge and simulated environments as we can in the university environment, but there’s a limit to how much you can learn about the workplace in a classroom,’ says Marnie.

‘Combining the latest theoretical knowledge learnt at university with the practical skills gained in innovative workplace environments is really the winning combination.’

6. It can point you in the right direction

WIL provides an opportunity for personal growth and reflection, which can help you fine-tune your career goals and objectives.

‘We might have students who say they really want to work at a large multinational corporation, but then when they get a placement with one they realise it’s not the right fit and they’d prefer to work in a medium-sized corporation,’ says Carolyn.

‘Undertaking placements allows them to figure out what they do and don’t enjoy doing and make some of those decisions early, rather than applying for a grad role and finding out it’s not right.’

On the bright side, says Marnie, situations such as these can encourage students to broaden their horizons. ‘The roles that students can go into after studying are now so varied, so if they go into a traditional area for their course and don’t like it, they might need to think more creatively about other ways they can use their degree.

‘I just think it’s such a valuable learning experience for students, so if you do have the opportunity to undertake placement as part of your course, do it. It really is so hugely beneficial.’

Find out more about WIL and the placement opportunities on offer.