Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is an “umbrella term for a range of approaches and strategies that integrate theory with the practice of work within a purposefully designed curriculum”.1 Specifically, WIL is aimed at improving the employability of graduates by giving them valuable practical experience which is directly related to courses being studied at university. WIL also improves the transition from university to work and productivity outcomes for the employer and the economy.
This National WIL Strategy is designed to increase opportunities to participate in WIL, recognising the benefits to students, employers, universities and the economy.
WIL facilitates the transition between preparing for and operating in a high skills work environment. It empowers students to understand, adapt to and apply skills in the workplace. It helps ensure they are equipped to plan, instigate and navigate careers in an environment where conceptual, adaptive, personal, technical and vocational skills – their human capital – will be continually drawn on and challenged. As such, WIL helps build capabilities that reduce the personal and community risk of economic downturn and bolsters what we need to weather and recover from those downturns. WIL is about producing the highly skilled workforce to meet industry and community needs. Beyond that, it helps lay the foundation for deep cross-sector engagement.
Many employers already provide these opportunities. The reasons for participating vary, but research shows3 businesses that participate in WIL see its value in the graduates who enter the workplace. Often they do it to “give back” to the industry or profession; aid future recruitment; access new thinking and ideas; establish links with universities, emerging research and practice; and to refresh the organisation. It is more common for employers with 15 or more staff who have been operating for 20 or more years to engage in WIL. However, good partnerships are evident across most industry sectors, and all sizes of operation. While universities or students often initiate contact, businesses often maintain engagement long-term and inhibiting factors tend to dissipate with exposure and as the relationship matures and benefits are realised. Deeper links between employers and universities can, for instance, lead to employers understanding better how to apply the skills of their workforce, accessing and adopting the best new ideas and technologies from around the world.
For students, WIL experiences such as placements and work-oriented projects, where industry and community partners contextualise education, can make a real difference to their skills and capacity. Students, and subsequently graduates, better apply knowledge, adjust to, integrate with and become resilient in the workplace, engage in challenges and improve outcomes. Unsurprisingly student demand for WIL is high, as many recognise the opportunity it provides to develop, apply and contextualise what they are learning – give life to theory and reinforce teaching practice. Graduates identify WIL as having positive impact in making the transition to work and their competitiveness in the labour market, often identifying the practical experience they gained through WIL as crucial to getting a job. Clearly, the perception of graduates in this regard is also reflected in employer hiring decisions.
For universities, most with decades-long partnerships with employers developing the professional and vocational skills of students, the benefits include ensuring the currency and relevance of the education they provide in an operating environment that has never evolved more rapidly. The higher education sector has never faced greater demand or a more competitive global environment than it does at present. Equally, the choices available to students and the potential to seek out an education that meets their particular interests and ambitions has never been greater. Higher education is now characterised by high demand by people seeking knowledge and skillsets that are more complex and adaptable, that will enable them to compete in a rapidly changing and dynamic environment. Meeting those demands requires strong, quality partnerships of which WIL can be a central part.