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Tourism Australia’s approach to work experience

Work experience programs are a great way to inject young thinking into your business, but why not taking things a step further and host diverse young talent?

As a fresh-faced graduate ripe with potential and surging with passion, you feel as if you could take on the world. Tourism Australia (TA) is not only keen to harness that youthful exuberance and run with it, they go even further. They don’t just want the new perspective that comes with youth, they want the differences of opinion that come from a comprehensively diverse program.

Work experience has been an important thread of TA’s business for ten years now. Indeed, head honcho John O’Sullivan’s career sprung from similar beginnings. During his final year of study, Brisbane-born O’Sullivan utilised his spare time to chase work experience opportunities, launching his career into the tourism industry of which he is now a leading voice in as the organisation’s managing director.

“It’s almost a social responsibility for businesses to [host work experience programs] now. We’re in a really interesting time as a country. We’ve got great economic prosperity and we’ve also seen a big change in the way our economy is structured… and a rise in the services economy.

“I therefore think it’s really important that businesses in the service sector embrace the opportunity that these types of work experience programs offer – not just for yourself as a business, but more importantly for young people who are coming through [the workforce],” says O’Sullivan.

Dr Sandra Barker is a lecturer at the School of Management for the University of South Australia Business School and has been facilitating work integrated learning programs for students for the last nine years. She says not only can businesses benefit by having an extra set of hands on deck but they can also utilise the student’s knowledge.

“These students are going into their final years of  study, so they have a large amount of theoretical underpinning that they can bring into the workplace. This gives businesses the opportunity to tap into current research and theoretical backgrounds,” says Dr Barker.

“As a university, we’re here to teach the theory and some of the practical skills… but we can only give them so much background. To give them the practical skills, we need to send them off into the workforce.”

Hosting digital natives in your organisation is a great way to remain ahead of the pack with current trends, but you can also take your inclusion efforts a step further and host diverse talent in your work experience program. This approach could benefit organisations that might be struggling to get a solid diversity and inclusion plan on the agenda.

Not only is it the right thing to do, there are statistics outlining bottom line benefits. According to Diversity Matters, a study from the McKinsey Global Institute, gender diverse organisations are 15 per cent more likely to perform better and ethnically diverse businesses are 35 per cent likely to do so. And for a work experience case study, Indigenous internship program CareerTrackers delivers $4.40 in value for every $1 invested, according to Social Ventures Australia.

TA understand these benefits more than most. O’Sullivan says they take diversity very seriously. “Our organisation has 70 per cent female representation, our executive team are made up of 80 per cent females and we have 50 per cent gender diversity on our board.”

A balanced workforce

From a student’s point of view, appropriate work experience programs offer a foot in the door in a workforce crawling with keen, capable and determined graduates.

Jonathan Chim was excited to score a two year placement as an IT graduate for TA’s service desk. His responsibilities are widespread, ranging from technical support to maintaining systems to ensure smooth sailing across the department.

“What I like about my role at TA are the challenges that are thrown at me every day. An example is, one day the mailing servers were down, and [I was] trying to assure people that we were looking into it. The next day, I’m at a staff conference trying to absorb what’s going on. There is no such thing as a dreary day at TA,” he says.

Speaking on Chim’s impact, O’Sullivan is quick to offer praise. “He’s the future of our business. He’s got a great understanding of Asia and of technology, and he loves the diversity of our businesses.”

It’s also crucial that Indigenous Australians are represented. This is why TA operate a paid Indigenous Cadetship as part of their work experience program. Indigenous cadet Maddy Wright says the program allowed her to “ease her way into the workplace environment”.

“I have been tasked with responsibilities such as researching information that could help with upcoming campaigns, implementing ideas from our Reconciliation Action Plan, using information systems relevant to the team’s needs, coordinating and publishing booklets for distribution at career expos and organising internal staff activities during NAIDOC Week,” she says.

Left to right: Graduates Maddy Wright and Jonathan Lim.

Students or new graduates are given the chance to work across different departments within TA with a focus on marketing – the organisation’s bread and butter. This means various departments can reap the benefits and experience firsthand the impact young, culturally diverse employees can offer.

“We see people come out with enhanced knowledge, a better understanding of how we operate and broader enthusiasm. Where we can, we try and keep people on full time at the end of their programs or give them offshore opportunities,” says O’Sullivan.

Work Integrated Learning programs are highly beneficial for international students, says Dr Barker.

“Their communication skills go through the roof. The opportunity to see how Australian businesses operate is very valuable,” she says.

“There can be some language barriers but international students are like sponges. They really want to learn. We had one international student who did her placement here at the School of Management, working on a research project. Since completing that, she’s had a full year contract working in our school office. She’s fantastic, a real asset to our team.”

Leaders of the future

To make the most of your workforce, and to encourage continuous professional development, look at the entire scope of your workforce and encourage people to look for learning opportunities outside of their regular responsibilities.

O’Sullivan supports this point, saying there could already be untapped potential hiding within your organisation – though the nature of his organisation means when he says “hiding” he really does mean in a remote location.

“Perhaps they’re working on a dive boat in tropical North Queensland or as a tour guide in Tasmania. These people could one day manage our business,” he says.

TA has embedded diversity in both their permanent hiring plan and f their work experience or graduate program – a great example of where most organisations should aim to be –  but others could take a bite size approach and start by taking on a diverse intern or new graduate. Their success could help to show your wider organisation why diversity should be more than just an idea thrown around at your next board meeting.

This was originally published in the December/January 2019 edition of HRM Magazine.

Work integrated learning sits at the heart of the AHRI Practising Certification Program (APC) – a postgraduate equivalent course for experienced HR professionals. Expand your professional HR skills by becoming a Certified HR Practitioner via the APC Program. Enrolments for the January 2019 intake close 14 December.

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