How better to learn a job, than to do the job itself? This is the focus of work-based learning (WBL)—an educational technique where students complete real-world tasks related to their training. It’s an effective method for VET, being widely adopted across Australia.
For work-based learning to be successful, you’ll need a comprehensive Work Ready Program, which prepares students for the workplace. They’re often complex and can take weeks to complete, with a range of criteria to be satisfied before the student enters the workplace for the first time.
Here’s what you need to focus on when creating an effective Work Ready Program.
Safety is your number one concern, made even more important from the typical young age and inexperience of students, who are more likely to injure themselves. Safety training is essential to protect both the student, and their colleagues at the work placement. If the placement ends with one or more people missing limbs, you can consider it a failure.
To prevent this from happening, White Card training is a requirement for certain work-based learning programs, such as trade apprenticeships. For other courses, First Aid training may be required. These extra qualifications add time to the ready for work program, and must be accounted for during planning and scheduling.
Help is available from health and safety authorities, who offer tons of resources on how to make students workplace ready. There’s help with things such as hazards, risks, and codes of practice. Some of them will even come to your College and talk to your students for free. Here’s a list of the authorities for each state:
Complacent or incompetent employees are also an important safety consideration for your students, who should be encouraged to speak up if they feel they’re being asked to do something unsafe. The same applies if they don’t understand what to do for a task, at which point it’s critical for them to ask for confirmation, even if they feel stupid. Students shouldn’t feel obligated to perform every single task perfectly without help. Job ready training should encourage them to seek help in moments of hesitation.
Employability skills (or soft skills) are the fundamental skills that a student needs to get job ready, and succeed in a workplace. Newman College in Port Macquarie puts so much emphasis on employability skills, they’ve added them to a staircase to remind students (below). Before going on placement, every student at Newman College learns about employability skills, and how important they are for their work placement. To help with this, the college tries to simulate the workplace as much as possible during training.
Students should understand how to write a typical email, and the common courtesies that go with it, such as NOT SHOUTING AT PEOPLE IN CAPITALS. They should also be coached on how to arrange their initial work placement interviews over the phone, using agreeable tone and phrasing when talking to their employer. Practice phone sessions can help with this. When they finally meet the employer for the interview, steady eye contact and firm handshakes are a must.
If all goes well, the student will need to arrange their work contract. They’ll have to read and understand what they’re committing to, before signing and returning to the employer—real-world skills that they’ll use throughout their lifetime.
As the work placement progresses, the student will be met with challenges that must be overcome. This is routine for the lifelong workers among us, but for an inexperienced student, problems can be daunting. They need guidance on how to tackle problems, whether it’s breaking the issue down into smaller chunks, asking for help, or just trying to persist with the task. Feeling hopelessly stuck and lacking the confidence to ask for help can be the death knell for a work placement. If it happens regularly, the student is likely to quit.
This covers just a few employability skills, but the rest are equally important. They must be drilled into the students before they start their work placement.
Many students won’t have work experience, so are unsure of how to behave appropriately in the workplace. Thunderous back slaps are fine for your burly buddies outside of work, but not appropriate during an aged care placement, where poor old Margaret is just trying to get through the day without falling over.
Students need guidance on how to behave in their work placement, in areas such as conversational topics, body language, personal space and mobile usage. Some shyer students may even struggle to maintain eye contact, which employers and colleagues may interpret as disrespect.
When a student is in good health, they’ll get more out of their work placement. A healthy person has more energy, increased focus, and an overall improved mood.
Even for the mature and weather-beaten among us, keeping healthy is a constant challenge. Imagine how tough it is for a teenage student, who assumes that a litre of Ice Break is the best way to start the day. It’s even more concerning for tradies, who spend their days labouring in the relentless Australian sun, or for nurses who march across wards all day, straining their backs as they assist their hundredth patient into bed for the evening. A full-day’s work might also be a new concept for students, who believe that they’re ready to work, but when it comes to it, are shocked at how gruelling and long-lasting it can feel.
Teaching the value of good health can improve your students’ personal lives as well as their work placements, helping to instill favourable healthy habits. You might consider inviting a personal trainer or a nutritionist to convince them of the importance of keeping fit, eating healthily, and getting a good night’s sleep. As a bonus, these things will increase the student’s alertness, helping to keep them safe while on their work placement.
Some students might be surprised to learn that boardies, singlets and Adidas slip-on thongs aren’t appropriate for their work placement. They need definitive guidelines on what to wear, even when there’s a mandatory uniform.
Appearance is important to make the right impression to the employer and their clients. In some instances, it might be useful to hire a stylist to talk to the students, to help with clothing choices, hair styling, make-up, and more.
Personal hygiene should also be covered, as some students might think there’s nothing wrong with showing up to their work placements with grubby faces and unwashed armpits.
If your students haven’t yet decided which course to undertake, a Work Ready Program can help to reveal their strengths, and determine a career path that might suit them. Someone who shows themselves to be naturally caring and patient might be well-suited as a nurse, whereas a logical and creative student might become the perfect computer programmer. Work ready training can help to highlight the path to such careers. Similarly, it can help students to work out what they don’t want to do. If they struggle to empathise and connect with people, a customer service role is probably a bad choice.
Career testing is another way to determine potential careers for students, and might also be incorporated into your Work Ready Program.
No two students are the same. Everyone will have different skills, different personalities, and different needs. The Work Ready Program is when you’ll determine this info, better understanding the unique help that each student needs to be prepared. Under no circumstances should a student be sent to a work placement if you feel they aren’t job ready—it should take as long as required.
A little knowledge on how the industry works can smooth the student’s introduction to the work placement. This knowledge can be gained from industry experts speaking to the students, or site visits to show them exactly what it’s like.
Setting students’ expectations helps to reduce surprises, and will make students feel more comfortable when they’re placed in the unfamiliar workplace.
Sitting and listening to someone talk for hours is boring. Before you know it, you’ll have a classroom of disengaged students who are itching to look at their phones. This can be avoided by making sessions as practical as possible, with varied tasks, group discussions, or anything else that gets them moving and keeps them interested.
A well-designed Work Ready Program is imperative for the work placement’s success. It requires a lot of thought, and regular refinement to nail. You’ll get a gist of what works through observation and student feedback, enabling you to improve the program gradually.
Employers will recognise and appreciate the effort that you put into preparing students for their workplace. It’ll save them time, and they’ll be gaining a valuable employee for their business. Most importantly, you’ll have set your students up for success, placing them on a path towards a rewarding and fulfilling career.
Need more help? Check out our other work-based learning articles:
Thanks to Kylie Ham and Julie Agnew at Newman Senior Technical College, for their contributions to the article.
VET moves fast. Stay informed, with blogs straight to your inbox.