How Work Experiences While at School Affect Career Pathways

National Vocational Education and Training Research and Evaluation Programme

This research analyses how work activities undertaken by Australian students while at school affect their post-school pathways into work and between work and study. It finds that work experience does help open young people’s eyes to career possibilities; that young people who had undertaken school-based New Apprenticeships had smoother school-to-work transitions than those who had not; and that part time jobs at school remained important after leaving school.

Secondary school students are increasingly getting involved in work while at school in three main ways: work experience, paid part-time jobs and VET (vocational education and training) in schools such as through apprenticeships. In Australia, where this research was conducted, all secondary schools have work experience programmes due to the positive impact they can potentially have on students’ awareness of careers and learning about the workplace. The overarching aim of such programmes is to improve the employability potential of school leavers.

Methodologically, a comprehensive survey was sent out to respondents from two previous research projects, yielding a response of 126 people (16% response rate). The aim was to follow-up with past respondents of similar work experience surveys, who had been out of school for two or three years, to see what they had done immediately upon leaving school and how their aspirations had changed. Telephone interviews were conducted to follow up with 18 respondents. Most respondents in the survey had left school in 2001 or 2002 and had finished school in Year 12.

The research questions were as follows:

  • To what extent does involvement with workplaces while at school affect school leavers’ subsequent pathways, and in what ways?
  • How can multiple pathways be described and conceptualised?
  • What are the students’ views about the worth to them of their different involvements with workplaces?
  • Do different groups of students have different perceptions and experiences in relation to the links between workplace experiences while at school and post-school pathways?

There were three types of work-related learning which were examined by this research: school-based New Apprenticeships (an Australian work experience initiative involving a part-time job alongside gaining a vocational education and training qualification), work experience and part-time jobs.

In the analysis of the results, those on the New Apprenticeship programme tended to have an easier transition into further vocational education or training than those who did not participate in the programme, and were more likely to venture into a trainee- or apprenticeship in a similar industry despite long-term career plans which may differ.

All participants were more likely to work in industries where they had undertook work experience or paid-time jobs, such as in the retail and hospitality sectors. The majority of those in paid part-time work tended to be in the food and hospitality sector due to the nature of the work, which lends itself to part-time, junior employees. For all respondents, their work experience, part-time job or apprenticeship affected the length of time spent in education: for example, a quarter of school-based New Apprentices stayed in school for longer to gain further qualifications as a result of their apprenticeship. The projected pathway for those undertaking school-based New Apprenticeships was to go into full-time apprenticeships; the projected pathway for those doing work experience was to go into part-time jobs; and the projected pathway for those in part-time jobs was further study.

The findings from the telephone interviews expanded on the results above. Those who participated in the New Apprenticeship programme seemed to have the most knowledge and understanding about their careers and choice of industry. This was because they received on the ground experience as well as training for a qualification. Overall, work experience seemed to be very important to pupils in the decision-making process of choosing careers but many found that their work experience was too short.

One of the main limitations of the study was the ability to generalise more widely from the findings made because of the relatively low response rate to the survey of 16%. Nevertheless, researchers have indicated that a typical response rate from a large mail-out survey such as this one would be between 20-30%.

How Work Experiences While at School Affect Career Pathways