Work placement may be a compulsory or optional part of your course. Learning in the workplace gives you the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills you are developing in your studies to the real world of work, and to observe how organisations run. You will benefit by gaining a clearer understanding of how workplaces function and the range of career possibilities in your industry.
Your teachers will support you in identifying a suitable workplace, contacting the employer and setting up your work experience. Time spent planning and preparing will help you to feel confident and get the most out of your time in the workplace.
As well as developing new skills and experience, you will have opportunities to build relationships with employers and workers which can be useful in building your resume and list of referees. Asking questions, keeping records and reflecting on feedback you receive can add to a positive and worthwhile experience.
Things to do
Planning for work placement begins with you. Consider the following 5 questions:
- What type of work or job role interests you most?
- What are your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to this work?
- What skills do you have that you could try out in the workplace?
- What type of work experience would benefit you most?
- What would you like to learn? What skills could you develop?
As well as industry based knowledge that you are gaining through your studies, work placement provides ideal opportunities to develop what is known as employability skills which are highly valued by employers and often requested in job advertisements. These include:
- Communication – listening, speaking, writing and understanding instructions, conversing with clients and customers
- Teamwork – working collaboratively with people from diverse backgrounds, taking on roles that support the group
- Problem solving – working independently and with others to find solutions to problems as they arise
- Initiative and enterprise – taking responsibility for tasks and finding creative solutions, adapting to new situations
- Planning and organising – managing time and priorities, being resourceful and working towards goals
- Self-management – taking responsibility, evaluating and monitoring your own performance and working to improve it
- Learning – being will and able to learn on the job, use technology and ask questions to improve your learning
- Technology – using computers, mobile phones, new communication systems, software and devises
The next step is researching possible workplaces for your placement. You can use some of the following:
|Information Centres||Local newspapers||Your teachers|
|Chamber of Commerce||Online Yellow Pages||Career Counsellors|
|Neighbourhood Centres||Websites for local businesses||Library|
You might start with local businesses or organisations, but consider also other regions, especially if you are able to participate in block release for the placement. You may be able to organise accommodation through a friend or family, or use hostels or homestays during your placement. TAFE Counsellors can assist in locating this.
Keep notes on organisations that you research, including websites, addresses and contact numbers, so that you can find this information quickly later. Reading everything you can about the business, it’s market and customers, how it promotes itself in the media and through advertising,
You can use a table format to organise your research, such as this
|Contact person||Nature of business (What do they do?)||Career possibilities|
Your research should also include finding out about job roles and responsibilities and conditions of employment. When you feel prepared with a list of questions, you can contact the business to discuss the possibility of completing work experience. In the Activities at the end of this page you will find a more detailed template for recording your Workplace Learning Research.
Your teacher will provide you with a Letter of Introduction, which includes details on insurance and any requirements for your placement. Make sure you discuss your ideas with teachers before contacting employers so that you are prepared with this information.
Usually you will attend an interview with the employer before starting work experience. You will need to prepare for this in a similar way that you would prepare for a job interview. Make sure you are on time, well presented and bring with you your resume, information about your course and a list of questions that will help you find out more about your role and what to expect.
These could include:
- What sort of responsibilities would I have?
- Who will supervise my work placement?
- What days and hours will I attend?
- What should I wear?
- What opportunities will I have to observe and learn about other aspects of the work?
- Is there anything that I can read to help prepare?
Any work placement should start with an orientation to the workplace, meeting other employees and learning about workplace health and safety requirements and procedures. If you are not introduced to these initially, wait until a less busy moment to ask for this information.
Clarifying your role and responsibilities will help you understand what the workplace and your supervisor expect of you. If you are unsure, make some notes of what you have been asked to do and check if there are other tasks you can be involved in. Asking questions shows interest and initiative.
Tips for success
During work experience ensure that you:
- Do the work your supervisor asks you to.
- Observe the policies of your workplace (e.g. privacy, internet use).
- Be polite and respectful to other employees as well as clients.
- Be prepared to do some general, boring work, but don’t be afraid to ask to do more complex tasks.
- Ask questions if you’re not clear how or why to do things.
- Let your employer know about absences or late arrivals (e.g. if you have other commitments or you’re too unwell).
- If there are any serious problems or conflicts, ask your teacher before trying to handle things yourself.
- Keep a diary/log book of your learning and tasks you complete each day.
An important part of any job is working with others. You will impress employers and have a rewarding experience if you are able to listen, ask questions and communicate clearly. Try this quick quiz to test your skills in working with others.
After you’ve finished work experience you should:
- Finish all assignments related to work experience
- Send a letter/email of thanks to your employer, outlining what you got out of the placement
- Talk to your work experience coordinator about the suitability of the placement
- Keep a copy of your employer’s evaluation for use in future job applications or placements
- Stay in touch with your work experience employer to see if paid work becomes available
Reflecting on what you have learnt and how well you performed in the workplace will help you to identify areas that you need to work on in the future to develop your knowledge and skills. Be open to the feedback your receive from your work placement: even if you don’t agree with some comments, remember this is how others see you.
The Workplace Learning Log Sheet in the Activities section provides a model for recording skills developed on the job. You can use this to record learning during your placement. This will be useful in preparing a resume and future job applications.
It’s a good idea to send a letter of thanks even if you do not intend to work in that role again in the future. Include aspects of the placement that you found most rewarding and learning that was most valuable. You can also ask if they are happy for you to add them as a referee on your resume. (See the sample follow-up letter in the Activities below.)