A number of courses include work-integrated learning components to enable students to put their knowledge into practice in a real workplace. These programs use the institution's partnerships with industry to give students access to a range of employers. Work-integrated learning is incorporated into a wide range of courses at various institutions, although it is more commonly found in some disciplines than others. It might be called an internship, cadetship, clinical or cooperative learning (co-op).
Industry placements and internships
Some courses enable (or require) students to complete an industry placement or an internship (paid or unpaid) as part of the course. This is particularly common in hands-on fields such as hospitality, engineering, IT and communications. Industry placements may be offered in both degrees and VET qualifications, and can vary in length from a few weeks up to a year. Even if your course does not offer a compulsory or optional industry placement option, it may be possible to organise one independently.
While some degrees include work experience here and there, a co-op is a different thing altogether. "Co-op" is short for "cooperative learning", which involves a university getting together with industry partners to provide students with industry experience during their degree.
Co-op students are matched up with an employer that operates in an industry relevant to their studies. During their degree, students undertake supervised industry placements and are often paid for their trouble. They may also complete assessed projects or activities that count towards their degree. Placements run for six months to a year, providing excellent experience and perhaps a chance of a job. No guarantees, of course!
Not all universities offer co-op courses. Among those that do, only selected degrees are available as co-ops and they are generally very competitive to enter. There is an interesting range of fields with co-op degrees around the country, including:
- business information science
- human movement
- information technology
Clinicals and rounds
Courses like nursing, teaching and medicine always include extensive work experience components to expose students to the realities of a career in an education or healthcare environment. Students generally have to do a number of different rotations (called "clinicals" or "rounds") to experience various workplaces and specialisations, rather than staying in the same place for an extended period. This allows you to step outside of your comfort zone and receive a more rounded experience. Such placements are typically unpaid.