Student Experiences of Work Placement in School-Based Vocational Programmes

An article by Peter J. Smith, Jennifer Dalton and Robyn Dolheguy, Journal of Education + Training, 46(5), pp.262-268

In this study, the experiences of students (aged 15-18) undertaking a work placement as part of their school-based Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) programmes are compared with students who didn’t undertake a work placement, and the results set in the context of recent research in this field. The researchers added questions to a nationwide survey of student work placement experiences in Australia, receiving 446 responses.

The results show that enjoyment of the VETiS programme was significantly increased by experiencing a work placement, and that it assisted students to decide whether or not to stay on at school. Factor analysis reveals that a work experience placement positively affects students’ self-confidence about finding employment, and increases the likelihood of their viewing their VETiS participation as helping them achieve specific post-school goals such as gaining an apprenticeship (this latter result was stronger for boys, suggested to be due to more boys having undertaken work placements and securing placements relevant to their future goals, though further research is recommended in exploring this gender difference). Reasons behind these benefits are discussed, such as increasing students’ clarity about options available, understanding what employers required of them, gaining specific workplace skills and contacts.

The proportion of VETiS students undertaking work placements has decreased in recent years, which is raised as a concern and potential policy issue by the authors, given the positive effects of undertaking such a placement. The onus of organizing placements is on schools, a significant workload given the increase of participation in VETiS programmes, the authors suggest finding ways to motivate employers and providing mechanisms to assist the organization of placements. They also suggest examining the gender disparity revealed by the research, to increase the numbers of girls undertaking relevant, high quality work placements. Noting that school-to-work transitions are often complex and fragmented, the authors advocate a view of work placements as providing some of the agency required by young people in making such transitions.

Student Experiences of Work Placement in School-Based Vocational Programs’ – full report