The state of WIL Placements at RMIT

We asked, you answered.

The WIL program has stood within the context of the Higher Education Standards Framework (2015), where a student undertakes a series of work-life experiences to train them for the work force outside of on-campus learning.

“The nature and scope of WIL may vary considerably, as will the extent of ‘integration’ of the workplace learning with the activities of the workplace or with the remainder of the student’s course work.” (TEQSA 2017)

As RMIT’s mandated online learning demanded the same requirements for students across the board for the WIL program, some students lead to an online simulated work environment while others were left to defer in defending their pass.

What does WIL stand for?

WIL stands for Work Integrated Learning, essentially an ‘internship’. WIL programs span across the country with the same interning system.

How do students secure an internship placement?

Majority degrees run on a DIY system of finding placements with a foundational RSS feed and newsletter style advertisement of incoming placements based from industry connections.

Is Interning a form of elective at RMIT?

Yes and no. Some courses offer an option of a WIL placement or university elective, while most have a mandatory working hour requirement outside of core structure. There is also an ‘internship’ University elective called ‘Business Internship elective’ which does not add additional hours to WIL’s internal system.

What do students currently have to say about the WIL system?

This is a complex question, and while students of degrees with higher industry connections have an easier time with placements, an equal amount also feel left behind.

One student studying Nursing at RMIT stated, ‘RMIT were very good at securing nursing placements throughout 2021. Better than most unis’. While this is true, it has been a common stereotype that ACU and other Catholic-based higher education offer pathways into the private sector.

From the Bachelor of Communication (Journalism), another student admired the quality of internships but was let down by the lack of financial schemes for students who have to leave part time work to balance education and a living wage. She said, ‘It would’ve been a lot better experience if there was a financial support scheme for students on placement like they have at Deakin’.

So what is the financial schemes from other universities? How could RMIT match the incentives to other higher education paid experiences?

We were referred to research the WIL Student Support Scheme at Deakin University which eases the financial stress from students by funding of the Commonwealth Government grant via the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program (HEPPP). This is primarily to students from a low socioeconomic background.

How does the hours work?

After completing 160 hours myself within my Communication degree, the combination of my peers stressing about to find a last year internship is mixed in a melting pot with students who had generally bad experiences.

The hours system is clocked weirdly with the WIL program, you indicate dates and timetables expected but never approve or check off the days attended leaving maluable hours and overtime to not be clocked on due to a fixed schedule. A fellow media student said ‘On MyPlace it’s so hard to understand how many hours have been confirmed to be completed which was something I wanted to make sure was done correctly’. This is true, once the expected dates are done, it simply says ‘completed’ and that is what’s left.

During the 2021 RUSU election, campaign ‘Student Voice for RUSU’, ran on the campaign promise of facilitating a discussion with RMIT to remove the mandatory unpaid internship system with the quote ‘sells its students off to the highest bidder’.

Image Description: Student Voice for RUSU campaign image, titled ‘Down with unpaid internships @ RMIT. RMIT sells its students off to the highest bidder, students are made to do up to a year of work with no pay! Student Voice will fight to ABOLISH all unpaid work. Campaign images and authorisation on the bottom third.

The post gained attraction, with the purpose of naming and shaming horror stories of RMIT internships. In my own experience, perhaps it is unethical just ‘a little’, that some of the horror stories of the WIL program come direct from RMIT’s industry connections.

Jasper’s Story

I may say that my experience with WIL was rewarding, but I struggled to get a response from the head of school to be approved in the first place.

The only positive experience was the work itself, but getting there made me teary. I reflect now on how an unpaid job may have been lesser than what I was required to do for the job, but I worked every week towards fundraising for social and crisis work. Call it human-first volunteering.

You see, from a ‘DIY’ perspective where I found a fitting internship in the mediaspace, the school just wasn’t prepared enough to approve an outsider even though it was a reputable organisation. From 6 months of back and forth with the Dean and system errors, I almost gave up to get an acceptance with a week left until my internship ‘started’.

Imagine a 6 month rejection once-a-week for a new problem. Police check rejections because my pharmacist didn’t sign a date on an authentication form, the head of school ghosting me and passive aggressive emails from an ominous email with no names attached.

No record of your work attachment in inPlace means no graduation

How could there not be a better system than 200+ students enrolled at one time simultaneously emailing the Dean for a signature. No way to mitigate such a serious system? We fail if we do not finish 80 hours, but our forms are lost in email threads.

In fact the link to access the WIL intranet portal through canvas isn’t even correct with the URL saying ‘studenthom’ instead of ‘home/student’. So you can imagine that most students can’t even figure out how to access it with a peers help. So who has the time for that?

I consistently hear from classmates that they’ve got to get their internship done, like it’s a last minute interference to a passive education. The more a year continues on, the WIL program becomes a bludge to obstruction of the norm. What could possibly inspire us to strive for the greatest work experience in our degree when the modes to get their are just tedious. It’s not a situation of an early bird gets the worm, or survival of the fittest, it’s just loose pebbles on a cobbled road.

In my uninformed belief, the WIL program shouldn’t be a debate of pay or minimum wages, but a bare minimum inspiration for work ready youth. On top of a tedious entrance system, the program is just incredibly tiresome with no race to get a sweet gig (excluding medical and science degrees of course).

The industry partners connected to RMIT are amazing, with fullfilling experiences, (my degree had access to ACMI, NGV, Cinema Nova, Peter Mac) so why do students have this lack of taste for getting it done?

That’s a question no one could really answer, other than the factors of time. Students just can’t fit 6 months worth of internships in between an education and working towards a stable future. The WIL program is understandably a stable part of education more than any exam, but businesses just won’t accommodate for wages with the potential that most could pull out tremendous opportunities.

With strong business partners connected to RMIT programs, could we see a reform in the future? At a bare minimum, a future with financial grants for students to be able to live without fear of falling under would be a start.

Article written and curated by Jasper Riley.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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