A new approach is offering students a unique perspective on the inner workings of a business, and it’s not just increasing their prospects for employment – it’s changing industry attitudes towards the traditional business degree.
“It’s possible to bring the workplace closer to the students, even if they still call campus home,” said Dr Rose Kling from the University of Tasmania.
Dr Kling is coordinating Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs for students at the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics. WIL provides many opportunities to combine theory with practical experience, increasing a graduate’s preparedness for the "real world".
Observing the value of WIL for students, many Australian universities, lecturers, and businesses have joined forces to adopt this approach.
As Dr Kling explains, one of the most important aims of WIL is to provide students with the opportunity to observe themselves, and the application of their knowledge and skills, in a real workplace environment.
“So when students complete their university studies, not only have they acquired this high-level insight and knowledge into the study field, but they’ll have tried out the practical side of the learning, too,” she said.
At the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, Dr Kling is facilitating learning environments for students that are both realistic and interactive, from internships and placements to business simulations and virtual online communications.
A successful WIL program will provide critical learning outcomes that a student may not have access to within a predominantly theoretical learning environment.
Students need to know how to interact and behave in workplace situations, making them more employable in the corporate world.
For example, a student studying accounting will acquire advanced theoretical accounting ability, but they might not necessarily acquire the communication and management skills required to interact with a variety of clients.
“By placing students in a WIL project where they can use their new accounting skills while also communicating with people in a workplace, they’re given an advantage. They’re able to experience industry-relevant business communication,” said Dr Kling.
But is this ‘hands-on’ approach actually working? How do we know these strategies are any good?
That’s where Dr Kling’s research comes in. She’s developing a system of analysis that will examine the long-term effects of the WIL program on business degree students.
The first step will be to collect data at the University of Tasmania to help ‘calculate’ WIL outcomes. All aspects and stages of a WIL program will be measured, and the research will include both the students’ and employers’ perspectives for industry-specific outcomes.
The end goal is to develop an applied measuring tool to determine the kinds of skills that are learnt through WIL programs – and how to improve and adapt the tool across many disciplines.
Dr Kling said many of her students have already gained a new perspective, not just on their subject, but also on their own abilities and choice of career.
“Some students realise their interest in numbers means they’re more suited to research. So instead of mainstream accounting, for example, they’re interested in sustainability outcomes, such as calculating the cost of carbon emissions or green accounting,” she said.
“In this respect, their ability and learning is still applied, but often in a related field.”
It’s the kind of direction graduates have always wanted, and now WIL is making it happen.