Work experience

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Category: Out of school learning

Suitable ages: Secondary


Work experience in a STEM-related field helps students learn about STEM careers and develop workplace skills. It can boost interest in STEM education by immersing students in real-world STEM environments.

There are different types of work experience / work-based learning / work-integrated learning. Some programs involve short-term placements, such as a one-week placement for a Year 10 student. Others are more sustained, such as structured work-based learning within a VET program.

Work-based learning is a strong feature of Australian VET qualifications, which are built on the foundation of close collaboration with industry and employers. Work-based learning employs a learning model suited to teaching skills in real or simulated workplaces. Work-based learning pathways, such as Australian School-based Apprenticeships and other VET qualifications undertaken by secondary school students, expose students to careers in STEM-related occupations.

Examples of STEM work experience initiatives include:

  • Regional Development Australia Hunter’s STEM EX program matches talented students from the Hunter Region of New South Wales with industry partners for work experience placements.
  • Sydney-based business gemaker has taken on secondary students for one-week STEM work experience placements.
  • Victoria’s Structured Workplace Learning Statewide Portal links schools and students with host employers.
Develops workplace skillsResource intensive on a per-student basis
Improves understanding of STEM careers
Can increase interest in STEM education


There is evidence that this initiative type has a positive impact on student STEM engagement or achievement.

Large scale studies conducted in the UK suggest most students and teachers believe that work experience leads to improved motivation upon returning to school. However, there is no strong evidence that work experience has a positive impact on student achievement.


  • Work Experience: impact and delivery - insights from the evidence by Anthony Mann. A 2008 survey of 15,000 students in the UK found that 90% either agreed or strongly agreed that “I understand better why it is important to do well at school” and 89% either agreed or strongly agreed that “I am more prepared to work hard in lessons and my coursework”.
  • Results of surveys in 2012 in the same report showed that 68% of over 700 teachers surveyed agreed that young people return from work experience better motivated to do well at school.
  • Work integrated learning in STEM disciplines: employer perspectives by Georgina Atkinson, Josie Misko and John Stanwick, National Centre for Vocational Education Research. This research report describes the benefits of work integrated learning for students and employers, including creating a STEM pipeline from school to work and fostering enthusiasm for learning.


Successful STEM work placements rely on schools and businesses working together to build an appropriate experience. There is a large amount of guidance available on how to implement work experience programs, including meeting legal and regulatory requirements. Examples include:

Similar guidance is available in other states and territories.

Implementation tips:

  • Matching is important – aim to link students and employers according to STEM interests and capabilities.
  • Ensure programs are planned well in advance, with appropriate school and employer input.
  • Assign a mentor/supervisor who will oversee the student’s experience, including workplace induction and debrief.

Industry involvement

By hosting STEM work experience students, businesses contribute to the development of young people and raise awareness of STEM career opportunities. Work experience can be one facet of a broader school-business STEM partnership or can be a standalone agreement. Some businesses and schools partner directly. Others find each other through hubs such as Victoria’s Structured Workplace Learning Statewide Portal.

Want to know more?

Research Reports

Case study: STEM Ex, Regional Development Australia Hunter

STEM Ex is a program by Regional Development Australia Hunter to support week-long STEM work experience placements for students from the Hunter Region of New South Wales. The program matches students with host employers and provides administrative support. Students are placed according to their interests and capability. Host companies include BAE Systems Williamtown, Obelisk Systems, Boeing Defence Williamtown and Jet Star. The program is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Defence.