Work-integrated learning (WIL) is a valuable strategy to prepare graduates for their futures. However, not all students who want, or need, a WIL placement gain access to one. This raises an important question:

How can organizations and universities work together to better address issues of equitable student access to WIL placements?

At the recent PACE Community of Practice session, Dr. Jacqueline Mackaway shared findings from her recent PhD research about partner perceptions about equity, diversity and inclusion and the potential role(s) for partner organizations in addressing issues of access and equity in WIL. The study found that:

  • Individuals with specific influence over student access are identified as organisational ‘WIL gatekeepers’ and their decisions/stances are shaped by a range of factors
  • Gatekeepers’ ideas about inclusion may be affected by a focus on equal opportunity and merit, or shaped by a lived experience of marginalisation by the gatekeeper.
  • Purposes for WIL that focus on ‘talent spotting’ and ‘getting work done’ create expectations about an ‘ideal intern’ and influence which students are included/excluded.
  • Decisions about which students to host are influenced by a complex range of interconnected factors and forces at organisational, occupational and individual employee levels.

Strategies for building an inclusive approach to WIL

The study argues that universities and industry need to work with intentionality and a shared sense of responsibility to remove barriers so the full potential of WIL can be realised for all students, employers, the economy and society more broadly, now and into the future.

For partner organisations, strategies to ensure that WIL placements are inclusive and accessible:

  • Building the inclusive capacity of WIL gatekeepers, including HR professionals, workplace supervisors and others involved in making decisions about which students gain access to placements
  • Removing or reducing organizational barriers to placements to enable equity of access to occur 
  • Leadership support to build organizational capacity for inclusive WIL

Dr. Jacqueline Mackaway presents to PACE CoP

For PACE and other WIL programs, steps to make WIL inclusive and accessible to all students include:

  • Building open and trusting relationships with partner organisations and knowing your gatekeepers – then you can shift or work with stances
  • Acknowledging that all stakeholders have their own purpose for WIL, but that these different purposes may have implications for equity of student access to placements
  • Talking with organisations where selection criteria and/or process may be inherently biased
  • Identifying inclusive conditions you can shape or create 

Find out more

If you want to learn more about this study, please do get in touch with Jacqueline and check out these publications:

Mackaway, J. (2016). Students on the edge: stakeholder conceptions of diversity and inclusion and implications for access to work-integrated learning. Paper presented at the 2nd International Research Symposium on Cooperative and Work-Integrated Education, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Mackaway, J., & Winchester-Seeto, T. (2018). Deciding access to work-integrated learning: Human resource professionals as WIL gatekeepers. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 19(2), 141-154.

Join the PACE Community of Practice

If you’re interested in joining the PACE Community of Practice (CoP), or have ideas for future PACE CoP sessions, please do get in touch with me.

Posted by PACE (Professional & Community Engagement)

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