Evaluating how the ICMS Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program helps students combine practical experience into their degree, ultimately improving employability post-graduation, came under focus in research presented by ICMS academic Dr Chengeto Chaderopa at the Barcelona Conference on Education in September 2022.
Dr Chaderopa, a senior postgraduate lecturer at the International College of Management, Sydney (ICMS), presented Enhancing Employability Skills: Evaluation of the Student Experiences of the Work-integrated Learning Internship Program.
The research sought to investigate the student experience of the ICMS WIL program through hearing the WIL students’ experiences and their views about the impact of these experiences on their perceptions of employability or readiness for their chosen careers.
The research was based on qualitative, in-depth interviews conducted with 36 WIL students, with an even split between men and women being interviewed. Interviews lasted around an hour and participants had to have completed their WIL internship or be in the last term of their WIL internship to be able to take part.
“If academic institutions and employers are serious about achieving quality employability outcomes through internships, it is important to give students agency by harvesting their voice,” Dr Chaderopa said.
As an experiential tool, WIL programs aim to assist students achieve ‘deep’ as opposed to ‘surface’ learning.*
Research objectives were to give voice to the students regarding their WIL experience in terms of employability skills development; to identify the WIL students’ level of awareness of any employability skills gap before embarking on the internship program; to identify the WIL students’ awareness of employability skills gained or improved during internship; to explore students’ perceptions of the range of affordances and barriers impacting on their ability to improve their employability skills; and to recommend strategies to improve the WIL practice with a view to enhancing its effectiveness in developing work-ready graduates.
Students recognised the effectiveness of the ICMS WIL team’s efforts in preparing them for their industry training and interviews.
For example, most of the students praised the ICMS WIL team for helping them sharpen their interviewing skills and CV preparation before their internship.
“My English is not very good. The mock interviews helped me to learn the words to use in actual interviews,” said Participant 17*.
Likewise, Participant 34 felt the mock interviews helped her develop confidence.
“Employers use the STAR interviewing technique these days (and) our WIL facilitator helped me in this. So when I attended interviews, I was already aware of their (employers) requirements. The mock interviews also helped me to develop confidence. I attended three interviews at different organisations, and they all offered me the job. Without the mock interviews I don’t think I was going to be that popular with interviewers.”
Participant 22 discovered new skills on placement that will direct his future career path.
“My placement is at the X Hotel, (which was) a quarantine hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the topics we learned in class is about how people handle adversity and to solve problems in the workplace since they are prone to happen time and again. I handled difficult guests and now I am confident that I can do such jobs.”
Some students had a good experience with supervisors or seniors at their placement offering guidance and advice.
“My supervisor sat down with me when I started the internship. She told me that she was going to evaluate my performance and she told me to approach her anytime if I needed help,” Participant 10 said.
Participant 19 appreciated the link between academic studies and practical application that was made clear by her supervisor in her industry training.
“My supervisor was very helpful to me and made me understand how work was connected to what we did in class. He is very educated and has a lot of experience in the hospitality industry.”
In terms of the value of an internship, students said that the internship experience helped them to develop a better idea of what they wanted to do with their lives after graduation.
“I am a very shy person, but during my internship I was able to meet different people and my manager wants me to come back and work here after my studies,” Participant 20 said.
For Participant 27, performing well during the internship may change the course of his life.
“I already have a job. I worked very hard. All my supervisors like me. They say I have a good attitude. They have told me that I can work here after graduation. They also said that they can support my VISA application and this is because of internship… the internship has given me opportunities.”
WIL is a fundamental part of ICMS’ educational offering, with industry training incorporated as subjects into degrees and courses offered at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level. Most degrees offer a minimum 600 hours industry training pre-graduation; this is part of ICMS’ career-focused strategy aiming to produce highly employable students who are able to successfully enter the industry of their choice post-graduation.
The candid and honest responses of the students interviewed as part of Dr Chaderopa’s research can inform the continued implementation of a successful ICMS WIL Program.
“This study established that most of the students recognise the benefits of real-world opportunities for skills development and practice inherent in the WIL placement program, and perceive WIL as having provided them with an opportunity to improve their employability skills through participating in an internship,” Dr Chaderopa said.
“Some of the students praised the role of WIL assessments in helping them to recognize the link between theory and workplace practice, and also for presenting them with networking opportunities important for their future career.”
Perhaps Participant 19 sums up the very best of what ICMS’ WIL program hopes to achieve: “I have a permanent job because of my internship. ICMS is the best.”
* Student interviewees were guaranteed anonymity