It is not an add-on to curriculum, but an integral part of the educational process. There are academic programmes at WSU where students cannot graduate unless they complete practical work experience. This provides students an opportunity to integrate theory and practice.
Essentially WIL is a partnership between the educational institution, the student studying a particular program and the employer with specified responsibilities for each party.
Promoting experiential learning
The Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) Unit (formerly Department of Co-operative Education) at WSU was established to facilitate and promote the philosophy and application of WIL (also known as experiential learning) at the University.
The WIL programme supports the WSU mission in pursuit of its vision as a developmental university.
The university has established partnerships with a variety of businesses, government departments, community organizations and non-government organisations (NGOs) to facilitate the placement of students for work-integrated learning.
All parties to WIL (students, employers and educational institution) benefit from this partnership.
Students work in a setting where they put theory into practice; develop work-place culture and expectations; develop “soft” skills; get an opportunity to develop a range of attributes; their employment prospects are enhanced; they get assistance in developing career strategies and awareness of opportunities and building up a network of contacts.
Experiential learning time frames differ
The period of experiential learning varies from programme to programme, for example, Engineering and Hospitality Management students spend a year (six months during second year and another six months during their final year of study) in industry.
While at the workplace the student is allocated a subject expert with several years of appropriate experience in his or her area of study.
He/She receives experiential learning under the direct supervision of the mentor who is responsible for guidance in respect of the field of study for which the student is registered.
The Academic Department in which the student is registered determines the outcomes of the WIL.
The outcomes are then incorporated into the logbooks. The outcomes are areas to which the student must be exposed during the experiential learning period.
All tasks and activities completed by the student are recorded on the logbook and signed by the mentor or supervisor. The student’s performance at the workplace is supervised and evaluated by the mentor or supervisor. The evaluation of the student’s work by the mentor is used in part to determine the mark for experiential learning.
At the end of the training period, the student is evaluated by the relevant Academic Department.
Subsequent to the successful evaluation of the total experiential learning experience, confirmation on the completion of experiential learning will be officially given to the Examinations Department of WSU.
The student will be informed of the outcome of the evaluation by the Examinations Department once all the outstanding fees have been paid.
MANAGEMENT OF WIL
Work-Integrated Learning is managed through three areas:
The integrated model involves a multifaceted approach of co-ordination relative to serving students, employers and the University.
This is done by centralising student placements and employer and marketing administration at the Work-Integrated-Learning Unit and decentralising student’s monitoring, visitations and assessment to academic departments.
The period of WIL differs from programme to programme. The academic programmes listed below are those with a compulsory component.
Gaining practical experience by applying lecture room learning in a “real world” work environment. This involves observing theory in action and the opportunity to integrate theory as well as receiving feedback on the ability to apply it.
Experience the realities of the workforce and the business environment and in the process have an opportunity to acquire adaptable work habits.
Utilising the workplace employer’s educational resources, that is, equipment, laboratories, training materials, databases, for example, that may be unavailable on campus.
Refining existing and developing new professional skills.
Learning the criteria for the success of and continued work in the commercial and industrial environment.
Opportunity to investigate/explore, test, identify and establish career choices and paths.
Opportunity to define personal areas of interest, values, strengths and aptitude thus experiencing professional development and personal growth.
Obtaining a feedback on interpersonal skills.
Developing a relationship with employees and mentors that provide an opportunity to start developing a network of professional contacts within one’s field hence obtaining referees and references: An opportunity to identify professional role models in the business environment.
Be more sensitive towards different learning styles, expansion of previous learning experiences and negotiable learning methods that suit the individual.
Opportunity to develop responsibility.
Gaining an edge in the job market.
Taking a break from school but retaining “full-time” student status.
Students seeking WIL positions provide employers with a pool of prospective employees who can benefit employing organisations.
Students are a source of low-cost temporary, motivated employees who are able to productively contribute to the organization and are available to meet fluctuating workloads.
Improved staff efficiency, as students can be used to relieve higher paid permanent staff from routine tasks, to handle peak workloads and to carry out special projects.
Employers and students are provided with an opportunity to determine, in a non-threatening situation, whether there is a suitable “match” for permanent employment, a cost-effective method of staff recruitment. Student’s work performances are evaluated during the co-op assignment and then successful ones (students) hired upon graduation.
WIL offers an ideal opportunity to assess the potential of employees for further development and advancement.
The employment of students can increase the motivation of permanent staff with whom they work.
WIL strengthens the relationship between employers and educational institutions. Advantages include cross-pollination and improved career-directed education as employers contribute to curriculum design.
The objective of the work-preparedness programme is to explain the concept of work-integrated learning (WIL), what is expected of the student while on training and what the student must expect from the employer.
Students are each given a work-preparedness handbook which contains all the information necessary for students on a WIL programme.
The purpose of the career expo is to provide WSU final year students with face-to-face networking opportunities with employers.
It is also meant for employers to enlighten students on opportunities available in their companies on WIL, internship, permanent and part-time employment and bursaries.
The role of the WIL Unit is to invite employers to the expo and coordinate everything that has to do with employers in the expo.
Advisory board meetings
Walter Sisulu University, as an engaged university offering a comprehensive range of programmes, supports two-way communication on academic matters between the University, external stakeholders and the community it serves.