The role of work-based learning (WBL), or work placements, has been one of increasing importance for the past decade.
WBL is an education program that includes learning in a work environment, including apprenticeships, traineeships, work placements, internships and cadetships.
Work based learning is a highly attractive aspect of vocational education and training for learners, as it offers a learning experience that goes beyond the theoretical constraints of classroom-based training.
In a WBL environment, learners have the opportunity to gain better communication skills, to learn how to work effectively in a team, and gain a stronger level of confidence. Although these things can be learnt in the classroom, a real work environment allows for application and practice. Learners are also able to apply classroom-learned theory by using critical thinking and decision-making in the workplace, further enhancing their learning experience and preparing them to be industry-ready.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of WBL is the improved employability prospects that come with successfully completing a program. Many learners find it challenging to not only get into their chosen industry, but also to be work-ready. Although classroom learning can provide important knowledge, applying that theory in a hands-on experience allows the learner to gain knowledge of employer and industry expectations, exposure to real work situations, and the ability to establish contacts for future job prospects.
WBL also gives learners work experience. This is an obvious statement, but it’s a solution to the larger problem surrounding employability. Many young people and others who are new to the workforce find it difficult to get a job without previous work experience, but they also find it hard to get work experience without a job. It’s a vicious cycle that WBL can help to solve.
According to a 2018 study by Comyn & Brewer, exposure to authentic work contexts also contributes to the exploration and development of occupational identity, which “cannot be achieved through programmes that are delivered only in education and training institutions”. An occupational identity is an important aspect of being prepared for work, as it allows learners to more easily transition into a worker role, with assertiveness, work-specific knowledge and confidence already developed before the post-training work even begins.
WBL is great for learners to explore a range of different career opportunities, choices and roles within an industry or an organisation, especially for learners in secondary school who are undertaking vocational education. Without the opportunity to take on a WBL program, it may be a bit more murky or confusing for learners when wondering which career to go into, or which job they should take. WBL can help to clarify for learners their true feelings about a role, job or industry.
One interesting finding in NCVER’s article was that learners undertaking WBL could help to improve the current workplace status-quo through applying up-to-date theory learnt in the classroom to the work. This in turn can help current employees to improve their practices, and improve how the business functions overall. Through theory supporting practical work, a synergy can be created for the learner, where the knowledge they learned through classroom-based training supports and is enhanced by the knowledge they are learning in their work placement, and vice versa.
Overall, WBL can be a highly valuable thing to offer for your current learners, and to attract new learners. With its many benefits outweighing the challenges, WBL is important for the future of VET.
If your school or training organisation is looking to enhance the student experience and offer improved work placement programs, learn more about how aXcelerate can help you here.
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