There has been a shift in Singapore’s educational institutions towards an emphasis on industry placements as part of the preparation of learners for work in a more challenging labour market. This shift happens across all levels of the workforce, be it for the undergraduates through internship programmes, the unemployed seeking work or generally any individual seeking a switch to a new industry. Many of these educational programmes are often described as ‘work-integrated learning’. In its current form, however, they risk being little more than an extended work interview given the focus of such programmes to prepare the learner for the immediate work environment.
In this blog I am arguing that when we place the emphasis on ‘integrated’, in work integrated learning, it should contribute to changing who our learners are and constantly become. This demands dialogue and collaboration between educational institutions, employers and deep knowledge of relevant labour markets.
Work integrated learning requires moving away from didactic, transmission approaches to training and learning, to a focus on creating multiple, authentic spaces for learning. Learners need to be immersed in and move across different work settings, online spaces, educational institutional settings and more, in ways that reflect the practices of their craft. Yati, for example, comments on the need as a freelancer to be able to seamlessly move across different spaces – something learners are not exposed to in many programmes.
“Now if I shift you to another place, will you know how to do it? Will you use the same [techniques]? So that is where you need to switch your mind and not a lot of people can do that…Like I am somewhere else, I need to do it in a different manner, a different system,…different people,…a different way of doing things and you have to respect that…Because it is not the same everywhere.” (Nur, Bound, Karmel & Sivalingham, 2014)
Put simply, ‘integrated’ in WIL, means that the practicum, the internship, etc. is NOT placed at the end of a programme. Rather learners are move frequently across authentic spaces to experience the norms, the expectations, the language and war stories, the standards and quality of performance in which their profession or vocation works. This process starts very early in a programme.
The focus on learning is not alone on technical ‘skills’, but on ways of being and becoming, ways of knowing, doing and learning.
Figure 1: Integrated practice
Bound, Sadik, Evans & Karmel,2019, p.91
Figure 1 swirls together different kinds of capabilities often taught separately, but here shown as bound up each in the other. An example of a short one-day programme where cooks from a chain restaurant learn new menu items illustrates the point. When the cooks were asked to taste what they had produced (using their craft capabilities), it was pronounced by the chef as good (or not). Individual taste is varied, so what was it chef was looking for? These cooks did not find out. Language to describe taste needs to be introduced; once introduced cooks have a means to share, compare, understand better what cooking techniques and foods produce particular tastes, and thus to keep learning to learn about their craft. These cooks had to simply teach how to steps to their colleagues back in their respective kitchens (Bound, Chia & Karmel, 2016). The context, where the industry norm is to demonstrate, contributed to missed opportunities for learning to learn, being and becoming.
Disposition also mediates learning opportunities. For example, a human resource manager undertaking a master’s degree, was open and confident enough to reflect on different perspectives and change his initial solution to address a workplace learning issue. We will call him David. David initially thought the solution to complaints about his company’s foreign workers zipping forklifts across warehouse spaces outside the yellow safety lines meant he needed to set up some training in workplace safety for these workers. However, the course required him to go talk to these workers, peers and reporting officer. He struggled for some time with what he found – namely that there was a lack of trust between these workers, their RO and the locals, and that in fact they were quite skilled in driving forklifts, but that their country of origin did not have similar operating requirements (Bound & Yap, 2021).
Between critical questions from peers in a meta-thinking exercise as learners moved across spaces that represented individual, different groups and cultures in the organisation, processes and systems, he came up with a solution to address the misunderstandings about safety in Singaporean workplaces, cultural misunderstandings and lack of trust. This particular Master’s course used a dialogic inquiry approach to design learning that holistically integrated learning across different learning spaces. Learners learnt a great deal from each other in the dialogic, democratic learning settings. Elsewhere, Clarke, Winch & Brockmann (2013) has described this process as building occupational capacity, which is distinct from the mere preparation of the learner for the immediate workplace.
As a freelancer in her sector, Yati needs to not just be exposed to stories of entrepreneurial capabilities, but to be immersed in settings where freelancers live and breathe such capabilities that are bound up the way people interact in different work settings as they exercise their craft capabilities. For the cooks, like any other profession, knowing how to keep growing (learning) is critical for maintaining a place in the labour market as it moves between boom and bust and technology impacts on the design of the work. HR professionals, like many professionals can have profound impacts on people’s lives. Thinking outside the norms, outside the boundaries of standard solutions in David’s example, improved the working lives of those involved and potentially improved the journeys of these workers as they inevitably moved across different work settings and employers.
Bound, H., Chia, A., & Karmel, A. (2016). Assessment for the changing nature of work: Cross-case analysis. Singapore: Institute for Adult Learning.
Bound, H., Sadik, S., Evans, K. & Karmel, A. (2019). How non-permanent workers learn and develop Challenges and opportunities. New York: Routledge.
Bound, H. & Yap, C. (2021). Reconceptualising “Developing competence at work” to a journey of being and becoming. In U. Bollmann & G. Boustras (eds.) Safety and Health Competences: A Guide for a Culture of Prevention. CRC PRESS, Taylor & Francis (part of the series ‘The Interface of Safety and Security – George Boustras’)
Clarke, L., Winch, C. & Brockmann, M. (2013). Trade-based skills versus occupational capacity: the example of bricklaying in Europe. Work, Employment and Society, 27:6, 932-951.
Nur, S., Bound, H. Karmel, A. & Sivalingham, M. (2014). Masters of their destiny? Identities, learning and Development of Freelance workers in Singapore’s technical theatre. IAL: Singapore.