Surfacing strategies for effective workplace learning: Smith Family Cadetships

Navitas has recently been sharing its learning and teaching expertise with the ‘Cadetship to Career’ program, a joint initiative of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and The Smith Family, an Australian children’s charity. Launched in April 2017, the program supports young people who have faced disadvantage in life to complete a tertiary qualification, and gain skills and work experience, to successfully transition from education into the labour market. While they complete their university study or vocational training, these students undertake 8 weeks of paid work experience through BCA member companies, including Navitas.

Surfacing workplace learning
Many students undertake internships as part of their studies and are asked to reflect on, or document, their experience in some way. It can be challenging, however, to explicitly connect what they’re learning during an internship to future work situations. Sometimes it isn’t clear that real life situations in the workplace, such as dealing with a customer complaint, are actually building valuable skills.

The Smith Family ‘Cadetship to Career’ program includes learning components designed to run in parallel with students’ work experience. Whilst the workplace provides an opportunity to build skills and confidence to succeed in a professional work environment, workshops offer a formal chance to connect experiences to prior learning.

Together with Learning and Teaching Services, a group of Navitas teaching staff recently co-designed and facilitated a workshop called ‘Making the most of your cadetship’, hosted at Navitas campuses in four different states. These highly interactive and engaging sessions were enjoyed by facilitators and students alike, so for those who may be involved in similar activities, here is a quick summary of the workshop activities and some reflections on what worked well for us.

A collaborative approach
Sharing resources from The Smith Family, Business Council of Australia and Navitas helped the workshop design meld quickly. For example, an exercise on the values, behaviours and skills needed in the workplace was adapted from the Business Council’s Being Work Ready booklet. Some tasks and activities were also adapted from Navitas Careers & Internships curriculum, including topics looking at organisational culture and workplace behaviour, and processes for giving and receiving feedback at work.

The teachers and trainers who facilitated the workshop come from diverse backgrounds and business units around Navitas, including Navitas English, Careers & Internships and a former Curtin College Academic Coordinator turned IT Business Systems trainer.  All have worked in very interactive classroom environments and put those facilitation skills to use, leading to some lively, collaborative sessions focused on bringing the best out of the participating students.

Designing the workshop
Run as a half-day or full-day workshop in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, this formal training component was designed to achieve the following objectives:

  • Reassure cadets and minimise worry at the start of cadetships;
  • Provide an opportunity to articulate and discuss common concerns and questions;
  • Raise awareness of structures and frameworks to help the students manage their cadetships more proactively with weekly reflection, conversations and planning.

Learning was designed to facilitate as much student-led discussion and hands-on activity as possible, giving participants a chance to surface any questions arising from early experiences at their new workplaces, or to consider what to expect if they had not started. All activities were designed to encourage active learning as well as to develop important workplace skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communication. Topics included:

  • Organisational culture and workplace behaviour
  • Values, behaviours and skills for being ‘work ready’
  • Teamwork
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Using a ‘Professional Skills Portfolio’ to reflect on skills acquired during the cadetship

What worked well?

  • The ice-breaker activity. Most students hadn’t met before the workshop and were participating in their cadetships at different companies. Having an activity to break the ice and get everyone talking not only helped start the workshops on the right note, but also provided an opportunity for questioning and information sharing. Students were asked to write down “Something I’m nervous about…” or “Something I wish I’d known in my first week” depending on where they were up to in their placement, then paired up to discuss. These prompted students to share personal experiences and reflect together on a range of ‘unknowns’ about those first weeks in a job, including workplace dress codes, travel and reimbursement norms, what kinds of tasks to expect, and even things like whether you’re expected to remember your new colleagues’ names.
  • Student-led discussion and activities. From the outset, our teacher-facilitators noted how engaged the students were, and in one case so much so that they chose not to have a morning tea break! This meant that the discussions and activities during the workshops went particularly well, with students able to share their knowledge with each other and build on that rather than relying on ‘information delivery’ from the facilitator.
  • Structures for self-reflection. Connecting various work experiences with longer term learning and skills-building can be a real challenge, and facilitators noted that the final session of the workshop was particularly valuable. This focused on the Professional Skills Portfolio the cadets had been given and some structures and scenarios to practise linking work activities to skills such as ‘communication’, ‘business literacy’, ‘networking’ and ‘research skills’, to name just a few. Using the ‘STAR’ model (Situation, Task, Action, Result), cadets could work through scenarios such as dealing with a customer complaint to identify the skills practised in each situation. Being able to use these in situations such as future job interviews made the reflection process more relevant and practical, rather than just a theoretical roleplay exercise.
  • Giving and receiving feedback in the workplace. Cadets found the role-plays in this session particularly helpful in developing strategies for giving and receiving feedback effectively and professionally, especially in cases where performance improvements were required. The role-plays encouraged cadets to re-frame the situation and gain a more objective perspective, meaning the feedback was perceived as an opportunity for growth, rather than a personal criticism.

From the facilitators’ perspectives, working with the cadets in these workshops was an uplifting experience:

The training was great. Wonderful group of students with countless potential
…it has turned out to be the best thing I have done in a long while. There is so much “hidden curriculum” stuff that we as experienced career people and as women in industry can share with new graduates. It really was an awesome and humbling experience – so can’t thank you enough for asking me to be involved.

Thanks go to all four of the facilitators and to those at local campus locations who helped to organise each workshop. 

Designing your own workshops?
Get in touch with Learning and Teaching Services if you would like to grab a copy of the workshop plan we used. The activities are easy to adapt and include great prompts for student-led discussions and hands-on activities.
If you have your own approaches to work-integrated learning that you would like to share with this community, please get in touch! We would love to hear from you.