Work Integrated Learning: The Benefits of Giving Back

Posted: 05/05/2021

by: Ian Thomson

Two significant changes over the last few years have had a substantial impact on my life. The first was when my son secured a very competitive place to study at a UK university ranked #1 in the world for his chosen field. The second was COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns and work from home mantra.

The result of both of these events was a very quiet life in a very quiet house. On a scale from the gregarious extravert to the hiding in the corner introvert, I’m skewed a little to the introvert side of the centre. So, at first, the quiet house and working from home were both pretty appealing. I was still seeing workmates online and still able to catch up with close friends. I avoided the commute, could work as I wanted, and found that I worked harder and more productively.

But something was missing. It would have been easy to blame my son, but I realised it was more than that. I was missing community. My son had been a conduit to a school community, coaching cricket and soccer, chairing Parents & Friends and numerous school committees and volunteering activities.  And the office had been about colleagues, banter and shared experiences.

The answer, I concluded, was not only that I needed to be with people, but that I also needed to help people. I need to be giving back. While they didn’t know my story, two local universities came to my rescue.

The University of Adelaide advertised for local businesses to provide a ‘project’ for international students stuck here during the Christmas break due to COVID. I took on six students, a combination of engineering, science and law students, who spent some of the holidays doing market research for me. It was great for them – real-world work experience and breadth all in one process.

I enjoyed this so much that I took on a University of Adelaide project management student on a 10-week internship in project management. This was also a great success, and I have subsequently given that intern a part-time job.  This inspired me to join the UniSA Business School mentoring program, and I have been allocated a mentee for the next eight months.

I’m excited and enthusiastic again. I’m in the community and giving something back.

I doubt the universities are aware of how they have helped me, although I’m sure they know how their students are getting help and support by being in these programs. I see it firsthand with my son, who has just completed 12 months of full-time work experience as part of his degree (three months internship followed by nine months in a paid position). He has learnt so many things that could not have been taught in the classroom.

But the benefits aren’t only there for the students, in fact, schools and universities who are paving the way for placements to be incorporated within their teachings are giving themselves a powerful competitive edge and improving their position as a school of choice. Find how placements can benefit your institution here.

The government is trying to create job-ready graduates through legislation. I hope universities realise the role they can (and should) play in creating job-ready graduates through work integrated learning (WIL) across all disciplines. But I wonder whether they realise the impact WIL can also have on the wider community.