Edited by Pierre Benckendorff and Anita Zehrer
Chapter 15: Learning from part-time employment: reflections from Australia
There is substantial evidence that greater numbers of university students are mixing their studies with paid employment. The high rate of student participation in the labor market raises a number of interesting questions, particularly for those students enrolled in vocational programs such as business and tourism. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these students are developing a range of practical skills and knowledge about the world of work and the operation of real businesses. While a number of studies have explored the outcomes of placements and internships, there is little empirical research investigating what skills and learning benefits business students might gain from part-time work. More importantly, it is unclear whether students can easily connect learning in the workplace with learning in the classroom environment. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the role of part-time work in helping business students understand the world of work and in allowing them to integrate theory and practice. Business students from two Australian universities were surveyed mid-semester following a one-hour workshop designed to encourage students to reflect on informal learning and tacit knowledge acquired in the workplace. The results indicate that paid part-time work is perceived as a useful activity for developing a number of transferable skills, most notably interpersonal skills, teamwork and adaptability, numeracy skills, problem solving and communication. In addition, a majority of business students perceived some congruence between their work and academic studies. Part-time work appears to contribute to academic performance by developing business knowledge and skills that are transferable to university contexts and by providing students with a more grounded perspective which allows them to grasp abstract academic concepts more quickly and easily. If part-time work does have useful integrative learning outcomes for students and if appropriately designed pedagogy can assist students to integrate their experiences in the workplace with the curriculum then paid part-time work may be a useful alternative to more costly Work-Integrated Learning programs in business.
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