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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 876

Ms JAKOBSEN(10.36) —I would like to talk tonight about the work experience program. I am prompted to do so by a letter which honourable members received at the end of the last session from the Department of the Special Minister of State. The letter outlined the conditions which should apply when and if senators and members provide for work experience opportunities for high school students in their electorate offices. During the past two years I have been in a position to assist a number of local students with work experience through my office and I am delighted that some guidelines are now available for other members who wish to participate in this scheme. I would certainly encourage them all to do so.

Although it is not always possible for members to be involved personally in structuring the program for a work experience student, at the very least they should attempt to discuss the role of a parliamentarian and the electorate office prior to the commencement of any training. This discussion helps the student to understand the pressures which may arise from time to time in the office and renders the experience more useful. It also enables the student to raise any queries he or she may have about the job. Generally speaking, our electorate office staff are well qualified individuals who have a lot of experience of their own which they are able to call upon in these situations. For consistency it is preferable that one staff member should accept the sole responsibility for supervising any one work experience student in the office. This reduces confusion and improves the co-ordination of the general training program.

Work experience benefits both the student and the employer, especially in situations where some basic training is available to the student, as is the case in our offices. The students who have been involved with my office have usually had a commercial course orientation and have welcomed the opportunity to tackle the mysteries of an electronic typewriter, electronic franking machine and a sophisticated photocopier. The telephone systems in our offices are also sufficiently sophisticated to provide the students with experience in the niceties of operating a small switchboard. Some of us are even fortunate enough to have computers in our offices at the moment and work experience students would be able to have a look at them.

In order to provide these students with useful and relevant training, my staff and I have endeavoured to design a program of representative work activities for the two weeks' stay of the students. Towards the end of that time we arrange for a work experience student to undertake from go to whoa a task involving some area of interest to the student which in some way coincides with our office requirement. I hasten to say that the work we give them is not political. I have found that all the students who have worked in my office have been charming, diligent, capable, keen to learn and willing to assist in any way at all. Their attitude and ability gives the lie to suggestions that young people do not want to work. We can help them to obtain work by giving them meaningful and positive work experience in as wide a range of skills as possible. We can also assist them by taking the time to talk to them before and after their period on the job and by writing an honest and constructive reference which they can present to any prospective employer.

To date the work experience students with whom I have had contact have been from the Girrawheen Senior High School. They have done their school, themselves and their parents a great deal of credit in the process and I have been delighted by the contribution they have made to my office operation. I would happily provide a place in my office for any student who feels that work experience in a modern office environment would be helpful to him or her in determining a career direction. On occasion it may be necessary or desirable to clarify a student's career choice by contacting local employers and job link co-ordinators to arrange for counselling and additional information on the area of employment being considered. All in all, involvement with work experience students is a rewarding and useful way in which our offices can assist the community we serve. I urge all honourable members to contact local high schools and offer their assistance for this worthwhile scheme.