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Work Integrated Learning (WIL): transforming futures practice, pedagogy, partnership: speech to the World Association for Cooperative Education (WACE) Asia Pacific Conference, Sydney.

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The Hon Brendan O'Connor

Minister for Employment Participation

01 October, 2008


Work Integrated Learning (WIL): Transforming Futures Practice... Pedagogy... Partnership

World Association for Cooperative Education (WACE) Asia Pacific Conference, Manly Pacific Hotel,55 North Steyne, Manly, Sydney NSW, 8:55am, Wednesday 1 October 2008


• Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of Manly and surrounds, the Guringai [pronounced Goo-ring-guy] people. • Professor Ian Goulter, ViceChancellor of Charles Sturt University and President of the World Association of Co-operative Education. • World Association of Co-operative Education members. • The Australian Collaborative Education Network.

I am pleased to be here with you today, on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, the Hon Julia Gillard.

This conference has brought together an impressive group of leading experts and practitioners from the higher and vocational education sectors—from across Australia and around the world—as well as many industry and community leaders.

All of you I am sure share the common aim of enhancing the immeasurable value of integrating real work experience into academic programs. By integrating practice and theory, students develop those important ‘softer’ skills greatly valued by employers, such as team work, self-management and initiative. These are often referred to as graduate employability skills.

Well-developed practical skills complemented by the technical skills gained through a more traditional academic education or formal training, puts students in the best position to contribute quickly and fully to their own development. It also means students are able to

make an immediate and meaningful contribution to increasing productivity and prosperity— for industries, businesses and the nation as a whole.

I want to talk today about Australia’s future, our nation’s role in the Asia Pacific region and the wider world, and the Australian Government’s challenging new agenda for education and workforce development.

I would also like to outline the important role that I believe everyone in this room plays— practitioners and advocates of work integrated learning, business and industry partners, and vocational and higher education providers.

Australia’s Outlook for the 21st Century

The theme of this conference resonates strongly with the Australian Government as we embark on an ambitious education and workforce development agenda.

It is a challenging agenda that offers fresh ideas and initiatives to help us succeed as a nation in the 21st Century.

Australia’s place in the world is unique.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister committed Australia to becoming more internationally active, and to what he described as "creative middle power diplomacy". To the Government it means Australia acting in partnership with our friends around the world in areas where we can make a real difference.

Australia supplies much of the world’s resource needs. Alongside our natural resources, Australia’s educational and financial services represent a major part of our trade with the rest of the world. As a country built on immigration, we have a diverse and highly skilled community, while at the same time there are around a million Australians living and working around the globe.

Australia is a modern, tolerant, creative and innovative nation. We value the benefits of a special and shared history with the British Isles. In addition to our close and strong ties to the US and Europe, we have important and growing links throughout Asia. Indeed, as the global

economic and strategic weight shifts over the course of the 21st Century to this part of the world, strong global and regional partnerships and institutions will be needed to underpin global stability and continuing growth.

It is not just that the balance of traditional global power and influence is shifting geographically.

Change is occurring in other ways too. For example:

• digital technologies and the internet are transforming global and national economies, • future energy resources and the need for a sustainable natural environment are key influences on the way we live and work, our national security and international stability,

• young people, in particular, are growing up with instantaneous electronic communication and many expect to spend significant periods of their lives working and travelling around the world, and,

• education is overwhelmingly acknowledged as essential to reducing global poverty and improving the prospects for international development.

The national and global challenges we face require us to consider not just what individuals learn, but how they learn—whether it is in the workplace or a more formal educational setting.

We must educate and provide skills to people to meet both national and global needs.

The generation now in our kindergartens, schools, in vocational education and universities face a rapidly changing world. The skills and knowledge they need is evolving incredibly fast.

Not that all of this is new but our students and learners need to:

• be creative • be adaptable and able to learn new skills as they are needed • have a strong base of core knowledge and the ability to build on that throughout their lives,

• communicate clearly and well, often using rapidly evolving technological hardware and software • have high level numerical skills • be problem-solvers • be organised and motivated • have a more entrepreneurial outlook • understand and value the importance of environmental sustainability and. • interact effectively with people from different cultures, societies and groups, and be

confident participating in diverse workplaces and communities.

Many of these qualities will improve graduates’ prospects of employment any are developed through work integrated learning activities, and will be discussed at great length during this conference.

Australian Government Education and Training Agenda

The Australian Government, along with many of you here today, has heard the calls from employers that we need to strengthen the work-related skills of Australians—particularly our young people.

We are doing this in several ways.

Our increased support for vocational education and training will give students the immediate job-related skills they and their employers need, across a wide range of technical, commercial and other fields.

The Australian Government is providing $2.5 billion over 10 years for Trade Training Centres in schools to teach both the more traditional trades like carpentry and hairdressing, as well as newer ones such as electrotechnology and gas industry operations.

However equipping students for the future will require more.

Not everything that needs to be learnt can be written into a school, college or university curriculum, or even measured through traditional testing.

Australia needs to develop new ways of teaching and learning that promote creativity, flexibility, self-reliance and other attributes that students will need for the this century.

Labor’s Digital Education Revolution will equip students with the skills that they need to thrive in the modern economy. We are investing $1.2 billion over five years in the Digital Education Revolution to improve access to world class information for Australian secondary school students.

We are also consulting with education authorities on the mechanisms to best support schools. We are providing a variety of teacher professional development initiatives, a Better Practice Guide: ICT in Schools and other support mechanisms that will assist teachers and schools to effectively use Information Communications Technology.

The Rudd Labor Government is committed to making sure that a strong and collaborative approach to our Digital Education Revolution will help deliver Australia’s sustained economic reform, productivity growth and global influence.

We have also pledged to boost the number of Vocational Education and Training places through the Productivity Places Program by 645,000 over the course of the next five years, including 253,000 places for job seekers. The program commenced in April this year and will help the Government address skills shortages and boost employment participation. Of these places 85,000 have been allocated to Australian Apprenticeships.

As well as extra training places, the government is modernising the nation’s employment services. We’re shifting the focus so we better meet the needs of individual job seekers, increase sustainable jobs, encourage flexibility, innovation and partnerships between governments, employers, providers and address skills shortages.

In the tertiary sector, the Government is establishing a new $11 billion Education Investment Fund. This fund signals the Government’s long term commitment to an Education Revolution in the tertiary sector. The fund will support much needed capital expenditure and renewal of facilities in the universities, vocational education and training sectors, and research institutes.

The fund will help these sectors deliver the training and education that individuals, industry and the nation needs, by supporting our institutions to develop state-of-the-art facilities and technology so that we can meet our goal to create a world class education system.

A Work Integrated Learning partnership with business and industry

For this capital investment to pay off, we also need to create new opportunities for innovative teaching and learning. We need to find new ways to engage all sectors in the pursuit of

learning, and we need systems of delivery that work across different education sectors, communities, and the economy.

We also need partners to make this work: organisations and the likes of those people present at this conference.

Only by working together can we build extra capacity into the national and global economy; so that individuals can participate fully and effectively in workforce.

Here in Australia, education providers, employers, business and industry leaders are working together to ensure that students are job-ready when they graduate. This is not just important for the students personally, but also so that they can contribute effectively to economic and social development in Australia and around the world.

Effective Work Integrated Learning is the key to developing a person’s job-readiness.

It combines professional and practical work experiences with classroom studies and comes in many different forms. These include:

• research, • internships, • studying abroad, • student teaching, • clinical rotations, • community service or volunteer work, • industry attachments or placements, • sandwich programs, and • professional work placements.

Despite the wide variety and range of opportunities available, gaining work experience while studying is not just a widely soughtafter goal of many students, it is also a challenge.

For example, in the field of engineering, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations conducted a survey of final year university engineering students in Australia in 2007.

Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said they had to organise their work experience themselves. University arranged opportunities represented only 11 per cent of the total. Yet the students made it clear that gaining work experience during the course of their study was a key motivator which drew them to their studies, and was the most common way to obtain a job.

The results of this survey won’t surprise you. You know, from personal experience, both the challenges and value of arranging and supervising appropriate work placements for students.

It is accepted best practice that collaborative education programs are structured to enhance the student experience in the workplace, align work and study, and most critically, they involve a genuine partnership approach to student learning. It is a partnership between

students, employers and education providers.

Effective Work Integrated Learning partnerships not only deliver personal and career benefits to the individual student, but also contributes to learning and teaching excellence by developing skills that make students more attractive to employers.

Australian Government Support for Work Integrated Learning

One of the ways that the Australian Government is supporting the development of Work Integrated Learning in the higher education sector is through the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund. We recently invited applications for projects that aim to enhance graduate employability skills as part of the 2008 funding round.

More than $200 million has been allocated to the fund in the four years 2008 to 2011. The Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, will announce the successful projects by the end of this year.

To enable Australian qualifications to be recognised and renowned throughout the world, the Minister for Education recently announced funding worth $3.7 million for the implementation of the Australian Higher Education Graduation Statement. This Statement will describe a higher education qualification in an easily understandable way, relating it to the system within which it was issued and describing qualifications in a clear and consistent way to potential employers and other higher education institutions.

The Government welcomes all ideas and contributions about how we can help education providers and employers better prepare students for the future world of work.

For example, we welcomed a position paper released earlier this year by Universities Australia proposing the development of a comprehensive National Internship Package. The ideas and issues raised in that paper in relation to the higher education and vocational education and training sectors will be considered as part of the current Review of Higher Education in Australia.

An expert panel, chaired by Emeritus Professor Denise Bradley—the former ViceChancellor and President of the University of South Australia—is examining and advising the Government on how to progress a number of key objectives for higher education. The Review Panel is expected to provide a final report by the end of this year.

The Bradley Review will focus on the future direction of our higher education sector, its fitness for purpose in meeting the needs of the Australian community and economy, and the options for ongoing reform. As part of its remit, the Review will look at the linkages between higher education and productivity. It will look at ways of ‘enhancing the role of the higher education sector in contributing to national productivity, increased participation in the labour market and responding to the needs of industry’.


The Australian Government has an ambitious and challenging agenda to increase national productivity. Our Education Revolution is part of this agenda.

As the Minister for Employment Participation, my focus is to boost workforce growth and lift productivity to ensure that Australia remains globally competitive and delivers prosperity to

future generations. I also want to ensure that everyone is included—particularly the most disadvantaged in our community—so that everyone can reach their full potential and participate.

All of you here have an important part to play in helping not only the Australian Government achieve our education and skills agenda, but also ensuring the future prosperity of our nation and our neighbours in the Asia Pacific region.

The next three days, I am sure, will provide an invaluable opportunity to share your experiences and ideas with your peers from Australia and around the world. Your contributions and discussions will help develop ideas, strategies and partnerships to enhance work integrated learning outcomes for millions of students.

It is through partnerships developed here that students will graduate ‘work-ready’ from our colleges and universities, with skills that are in demand.

Renowned international and Australian keynote speakers, a comprehensive and innovative program, and this stunning location, will—I am sure—result in a successful and rewarding conference.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

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