A new report commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Employment looks at the state of Unpaid Work Experience in Australia.
Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that unpaid work experience (UWE) has become more common in Australia, in part as a response to a deteriorating youth labour market, but also in recognition of the value of ‘work integrated learning’ (WIL). This is part of a global trend with which many other developed economies are grappling (Owens & Stewart 2016).
The transition from full-time education to paid employment has become more prolonged and more uncertain (Circelli & Oliver 2012). Employers want an assurance that new recruits have ‘employability’ skills as well as good academic or technical credentials (ACCI & BCA 2002). Work placements are well entrenched in some university disciplines and vocational education and training (VET) courses, but their usage is expanding into new disciplines, as universities and vocational education providers are keen to provide their graduates with a labour market advantage (PhillipsKPA 2014).
Governments too are looking to place a greater emphasis on work experience, as part of active labour market schemes to address the needs of the long-term unemployed. This is evident in both the National Work Experience Programme, unveiled in October 2015 by the Turnbull Government (Cash 2015), and its more recent proposal to introduce the PaTH (Prepare-Trial-Hire) Programme, with effect from April 2017 (Australian Government 2016).
UWE arrangements have the potential to provide students, recent graduates and other job-seekers with valuable industry or professional experience as well as contacts. However, although they fit within a long-established tradition of work-based learning that includes apprenticeships and traineeships, their form can sometimes behazy and poorly regulated (Stewart & Owens 2013: 32–38). Yet analysis is limited because there are no reliable national figures as to the prevalence of UWE in Australia, its characteristics, or its impact on future employment outcomes (Parliament of NSW Children and Young People Committee 2014: 19; Stewart & Owens 2013: 28–29).