Guidance for students

10:36' 19/12/2019

  • Work-based learning
  • The harmonization of on- and off-the-job training activities Work-based learning

Work-based learning, work experience, or internships, offer training institutions the opportunity to start the development of personal relationships. These relationships may lead to long term beneficial public private partnerships, as well as, providing beneficial industry relevant formal training to students.

The keys to successful engagement include:

  • Clear information – what are the roles and responsibilities for the company training institution and student, what are the learning objectives to be achieved during the training
  • On-going communication - who is the designated contact person in the training institution or company if something happens
  • Flexibility with approaches – company production cycles, deadlines and operational practicalities means training institutions need to be flexible in when the work-based learning occurs
  • Committed and skilled teachers who support students – structured learning should not stop once the student leaves the institution. The work-based component is a value part of the learning programme and teachers should follow-up not only to ensure students are attending and achieving their learning outcomes but to ask questions that require the students to think about the theory and practice covered in the institution.
  • Engaged students – Students who feel that they are gaining valuable experience and skills are going to be more enthusiastic than students who believe they are not learning anything and feel they are cheap labour.
  • The commitment of business and education leaders to drive work-based learning. – Recognition of the value of work-based learning at the leadership level will more likely mean time is set aside for supporting the work-based learning initiative.

An additional key to the on-going success of structured work-based learning is well prepared students for the workplace. Students that have received an induction into workplace expectations, communications styles and what they will be doing means their transition into the workplace is smoother and less stressful for the student and less time consuming for the workplace supervisor. 

A major 14-country study entitled From Initial Education to Working Life: Making Transitions Work, by the OECD, identified ten characteristics of high quality work-based learning programs.

These are:

  1. Work placements that are long enough for real learning to take place.
  2. Systematic analysis of the training capacity of the workplace, to see what it can realistically supply.
  3. A formal training plan, setting out what has to be taught and learned, and clarifying the work- based and institution-based parts of a student’s program.
  4. Employer involvement in student selection for work placements.
  5. The presence of a trained program co-ordinator, able to liaise between the school and the firm and troubleshoot when problems occur.
  6. The use of qualified, highly competent workers as workplace trainers or mentors.
  7. Regular face-to-face contact between the co-ordinators and employers and in-firm supervisors.
  8. Monitoring of the students on the job by the program co-ordinator.
  9. The evaluation of student performance against the training plan at the end of the placement, with the evaluation carried out by the job supervisor and coordinator jointly.

10.  Deliberate efforts by the training institution to relate what has been learned at work to the students’ institution-based learning

Whilst these principles should be considered as a description of an ideal work placement, they clearly offer a set of principles and a checklist for TVET institutions to work towards.

A number of international studies highlight the importance of preparing the students for the placement. This preparation makes the work-based learning experience easier for the company to manage, making them more willing to participate in other work-based learning placements. Importantly, this preparation includes preparing the student for the workplacement by providing them with information about the particular company and the industry sector they will be working in.

  • knowledge of what work is like (for example, what happens in the workplace);
  • knowledge of what the job consists of (for example, a description of the tasks without practical experience);
  • knowledge of 'what they are in for', what will be required from the employer (for example, timeliness, length of the day routines, structured work schedules);
  • working in groups and teams, independence and responsibility; and
    • Confidence in doing things well.

Work-based learning is often the only contact that companies have with TVET institutions. This contact should be developed and carefully managed so that potential partnerships can be fostered over the long-term.

The harmonization of on- and off-the-job training activities

The Astra Manufacturing Polytechnic is located on the grounds of the Astra International company compound. The compound contains the the automotive manufacturing factories and the distribution centre. The training approach is completely integrated with the workplace at all stages of the learning process, not relying on an upfront or backend model of training and work-based learning.

The different divisions within Astra International provide detail on the competency standards required for the students to achieve. The competency standards are aligned to job opportunities within the Astra group of companies. Astra Manufacturing Polytechnic then develops the curriculum to match competency standards embedding basic knowledge and skills. The teachers all have workplace experience of varying degrees, updated regularly to ensure workplace best practice approaches are incorporated into workshop training.

First year students visit the factories before they start their first semester of training to observe what is happening in the workplace. A teacher visits with them and explains what they are observing. During these visits, they are encouraged through questioning to reflect on what they have learned back in the workshops and classrooms. The approach in the first year is about observing particular work practices. In the second year, they must be able to identify various aspects of the work, such as the processes that lead to cleaner production and zero waste or lead to environmental compliance. In the final year, the students work to apply their technical, process and soft skills in the workplace.

During the first year, students learn basic and technical competencies and develop a sense of quality through the process of assimilating technical competencies with their workplace observations. From the second year, the programme offers management competencies to develop a sense of productivity. Building on the technical skills developed in the first year, the second year leads to new learning around the interplay of technical skills and productivity. In the final year, the emphasis is on developing innovation skills. In the final year, students undertake a 6 to 9 month internship or apprenticeship with one of the Astra affiliate companies as part of the structured learning process. This structure of learning is not only informed by pedagogical considerations, but also by the formalities of the workplace, where there is no room for less skilled workers attempting process changes or innovations until they have developed these skills.

The student is assigned a mentor who will teach the best practices in the workplace, including environmental compliance and ensure that they are given exposure to a number of different areas to develop general skills. The mentor will also help the student to devise an idea for their project. Astra International encourages its staff to participate in 'Kaizen' (continuous improvement) through quality control circles to create continuous improvement.

Staff members are divided into several circles (groups) and every year have to create an improvement process in their area. The ideas for the final project originate from a list of areas developed during these group meetings. Once a student has started an internship or apprenticeship, s/he then chooses two areas that are of interest. The quality control circles identify which aspect of one of these areas the student should explore. The company assigns an additional mentor, if needed, who could be from outside the factory or an international person to advise, support and improve the project.

When the student completes the final project, the teacher and workplace mentor assess the student’s project. If there is an external mentor, they are also involved in the project assessment. Workplace learning is different to classroom and workshop learning in a number of fundamental respects. For example, workplace learning is usually focused on behaviour, and classroom and workshop learning is usually focused on cognitive processes and the formation of skills. The aim of the internships is for students to apply their newly acquired skills and tools in authentic workplace environments, applying theory to their practice. Furthermore, students develop their technical skills within workplace processes and at the same time are complying with procedures and deadlines whilst developing the company culture.

The final project must be completed by all students, which is not a theory based project, but is a practical quality improvement project. The aim is to develop innovation skills and reinforce skills in problem solving and continuous improvement. An example of a past final improvement project is one in which a student worked to control air pollution in the automotive workshop by developing a pollutant reduction device. Another example involved improving the control system on a snap ring checker machine, which resulted in a decrease in the lead time and a reduction in the number of people required to undertake the task.

Whilst mentors do not have formal training skills, the teachers engage with the mentors and monitor the students in the workplace at least once every 10 days or every 2 weeks. This provides a formal structure to workplace learning, as they discuss student progress with the student and mentor, identifying any problems and discuss coping strategies. The teachers also review progress on the design of their final projects. There is a strong connection between the teachers, students and mentors in the factory, providing a structure and creating a formal process for the work-based learning component. The company factories would like to have more interns, however, the Polytechnic cannot meet their requirements, as they have a small student body.

The Astra Manufacturing Polytechnic model of integrating on- and off-the-job training is a sophisticated good practice model. Whilst the Polytechnic has the advantage of being owned by the company, where students eventually find employment, useful insights are offered for all TVET institutions on good workplace and institutional integration arrangements. The workplace training component is inherently pedagogical, as students move from structured workplace observations of experienced practitioners at the commencement and in the early stages in the course, to learning as participatory practice in the latter part of the course. The course structure, as a whole, is intentionally sequenced to make the most of the complimentary learning opportunities offered in the workplace and institutional context.

What is found in the Astra Manufacturing Polytechnic model is that the workplace component is not treated as a separate adjunct to the learning process, but the learning through participation in work are inseparable. The success of this approach is indicated by the high number (69%) of graduates who are immediately productive in the workplace.

All assessments involve the teacher and the workplace mentor undertaking the assessment together, emphasising the value of workers' expertise and their knowledge of applying technical skills to meet workplace standards.

Emphasizing the success of the Polytechnic several companies have visited Astra Manufacturing Polytechnic with a view to establishing their own polytechnics

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