Graduate Employability: WIL Holds the Key

“How employable are our graduates?” is a question all tertiary education providers should consider and analyse. According to an Australian research paper on employability, there are calls from professional associations for students to be better prepared to work professionally after graduation.

Students need to get equipped for professional work, and they want to see a return on their investment in higher education. Work integrated learning can be a valuable way to help students develop professional attributes, apply their academic knowledge to real-life work situations and effectively improve graduates’ employability.

What is Work Integrated Learning

Work Integrated Learning (WIL) is an umbrella concept that covers a mix of approaches that aim to merge theory with real-life work practices. WIL offers students a way to connect what they have learned at uni to what’s actually happening in practice at the business level.
According to 2017 data from Universities Australia, WIL can take the form of workplace placements (such as internships), projects, fieldwork and simulations.

Placements tend to be the most common form of WIL. Project-based practical experience is the second most common type of WIL and is gaining popularity. Students who participate in project work (such as capstone projects) work on authentic problems within a practical context. It helps them apply their learning, develop their teamwork and problem-solving skills and improve their employability.

What is Employability About

These days, companies focus more on the abilities and personal attributes of new graduates and don’t care as much about academic records as they used to. As highlighted by an Australian academic as far back as 2018, it’s expected that universities prepare their students for a smooth entry into professional work and that graduates have the generic skills employers seek, such as communication and problem-solving skills.

If graduates want to be successful in finding meaningful employment, they must have the skills and attributes that employers most value.

According to a study on science graduates’ employability, many employers were not satisfied with graduates’ skill levels in commercial awareness, ability to learn independently and to solve problems, the ability to use initiative and demonstrate leadership skills.

Work Integrated Learning and Employability

Employers want graduates with ready-to-use skills and qualities. However, studies on employability reveal a gap between what employers want and what graduates have to offer.

To bridge that gap, higher education providers need to support their students in gaining the skills and abilities that will increase their employability.

Making industry connections is vital. It’s important to create avenues where education providers and their students can interact with companies and other industry parties. Well-structured work integrated learning initiatives, from internship placements to capstone projects, can bring the three key players together to work on their common interests.

Work Integrated Learning as Part of the Curriculum

Research suggests that WIL programs are beneficial components of university curriculums. From the more traditional on-site internships to online internships and projects completed remotely on digital platforms, education providers can give their students an edge and help them become more job-ready by providing WIL programs. By incorporating structured and supported WIL programs into their curricula, education providers can also raise their own profiles and become even more attractive to prospective students.

Work Integrated Learning as a Means to Scope Talented Graduates

WIL programs offer a way for employers to gauge talent. WIL could be used more by employers to recruit and develop talented graduates. It provides a mutually beneficial way for companies and education providers to partner to develop well-skilled graduates.

There is a call for new graduates to be “fit-for-work” as they graduate and a corresponding wish to have supportive structures in place; when a study asked what universities could do better to support graduate employability, 53% of science graduates and 31% of employers said providing placements is the way to help students prepare for a career.

Partnerships for Structured Work Integrated Learning

It would benefit everyone if education providers and industry representatives, including individual companies and businesses, worked jointly on WIL initiatives. Many universities are doing it already. To support students even better in gaining practical skills that make them employable, WIL programs ought to be customised and offered to students across disciplines.

There is a need to facilitate work integrated learning and industry experience opportunities. Education providers and companies can work in tandem, or they can independently or jointly seek the assistance of a WIL facilitator, such as CareerDC.

According to ACEN, the Australian Collaborative Education Network, WIL placements are often limited, even where a placement, as is the case with engineering students, is necessary for professional accreditation.

If the next generation of graduates is to have the skills and qualities required to make a start on their careers, it is crucial to create more WIL program partnerships and to ensure there are enough structured opportunities for all students and that students get hands-on experience as part of their degree before they graduate.

Want to Know More About WIL Initiatives?

If you’re an education provider or a company representative interested in internship or capstone project collaboration, contact the CareerDC team to learn more about WIL programs and industry experience partnerships.