Tuesday, 20 Jul 1999

Work placement programs may be encouraging some students who would not otherwise do so to stay at school, according to a national study of over 13 000 young people.

Coordinator of ACER’s longitudinal research program, Dr Phil McKenzie, said "This research suggests that participation in workplace learning programs is opening up opportunities for students who might have trouble with much of the senior school curriculum. Year 11 students participating in these programs are more likely to be those with lower levels of literacy and numeracy achievement. This also indicates that schools should continue to pay attention to the general education skills of students in workplace learning programs."

Higher than average rates of participation in workplace learning programs were also reported by students living in rural or remote areas. This suggests that such programs could be a particularly important means of opening up opportunities outside the metropolitan areas.

Workplace learning programs usually involve students spending an extended period of time in a workplace acquiring skills and knowledge in a specific occupational field. These programs usually help students gain qualifications that lead either directly to the labour market or to tertiary level vocational studies.

School participation in workplace learning programs is rising. In 1997 around 67 per cent of secondary schools provided some form of workplace learning program, up from 46 per cent in 1995. Although a high proportion of schools provide access to workplace learning programs, student participation is not as widespread. In 1997 only 8 per cent of Year 11 students participated in a workplace learning program.

The study also surveyed students about short-term (usually one or two week) work experience placements, and their views about participation in part-time work.

Many of the students surveyed said a part-time job was more useful than work experience in developing general employment skills such as working with other people, confidence and following instructions.

However, students considered work experience more beneficial than part-time work for looking at work conditions and the skills required for particular jobs, the survey found.

"This is probably because students often work in part-time jobs they do not intend to make their career, whereas the choice of a work experience placement may be more related to their career plans" Dr McKenzie said.

The majority of students participated in work experience for short periods in Year 10 or 11. Participation in work experience was widespread in most states, ranging from 96 per cent in South Australia to 66 per cent in Queensland. Girls were slightly more likely than boys to participate in work experience programs at both Years 10 and 11.

The study was based on over 13 000 young people who were in Year 11 in 1997. It forms part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth research program, which is conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research and supported by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.

Fullarton, Sue (1999) Work Experience and Work Placements in Secondary School Education, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, Research Report No. 10, Melbourne: ACER. fullarton@acer.edu.au