Why it’s important for students to have real-world experience

Teacher with students fixing an engine

These days students may need more than a university degree to have the advantage when it comes to applying for jobs. Employers are also looking for evidence of work experience.

Research suggests that graduates with real-world experience are more desirable to employers than those without. Work experience at secondary school level is also considered important for positive long-term employment outcomes.

Work experience allows students to apply what they have learned in their studies to real work environments.

Here we take a look at the importance of work experience for secondary and tertiary students, and at some of the challenges of making it relevant for students.

Helping tertiary students build networks and create employment opportunities

Victoria University’s 2015 Student and Graduate Employability Survey found that employers are looking for graduates with “relevant industry knowledge and hands-on experience in the work environment”. This is also reflected in the Government’s Tertiary Education Strategy 2014–2019. The strategy emphasises the need for tertiary institutions to be more engaged with industry and provide students with skills that relate to employment opportunities.

Real-world experience in action

Victoria University recently carried out a study evaluating the effectiveness of authentic assessment (assessment based on a real-world task) for tertiary students studying towards a career in human resources (HR). Feedback from participating students and employers confirms the benefits of connecting students and industry.

Feedback from students

The assessment gave me an insight into how companies recruit. It prompted me to understand the challenges that organisations face and how these can impact on my own career. I know what to keep an eye out for in terms of progression and culture. Fantastic!

Student, 2014.

I learned it is difficult to apply theory to the real world – in practice, people do not act or react the way you expect.

Student, 2015.

Feedback from employers

I would be happy for them to do some work experience with us or provide information for them to connect with HR professionals or employers.

Employer, 2015.

One of the students I know got a job with the person she interviewed… the employers are saying the students are really bright, they really enjoyed it.

Interview co-ordinator, 2015.

The study also found that the quality of work experience is important and good communication between educators and employers about expectations is vital.

Inspiring secondary school students to choose a career path

Studies have shown that, at the time of surveying, young people who had four or more interactions with an employer while at school were five times less likely to be unemployed or in education or training than those who didn’t have the same employer contact.

Implemented in New Zealand in 2015, Work Inspiration brings secondary schools and employers together – providing a robust, relevant work exposure programme for students.

Work Inspiration is an employer-led, structured programme that takes away the challenge for schools to develop employer networks and work experience opportunities for students.
The programme gives students work exposure that is inspiring as they learn about themselves and explore career opportunities in the business and the career pathways of employees.

Jan Carter, Advisor for Education to Employment Initiatives at Careers New Zealand

The benefits of work experience

We work with businesses to structure programmes that provide a well-rounded experience for students. The programme has helped students develop a greater understanding of work and an appreciation of education to achieve their goals. So far, the feedback we have received from students and employers has been incredibly positive.

Jan Carter, Advisor for Education to Employment Initiatives at Careers New Zealand

Get in touch

If you want to contact us about how to make the most of work experience opportunities phone us free, even from a mobile, or chat online for expert advice.


Carter, J, advisor for Education to Employment Initiatives, Careers New Zealand interview, 18 July 2016.

Centre for Academic Development, Victoria University, ‘Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Authentic “Interview” Assessment on Student Understanding of Workplace Issues in Human Resources (HRIR320)’, February 2016.

Mann, Dr A, ‘It’s Who You Meet: Why Employer Contacts at School Make a Difference to the Employment Prospects of Young Adults’, February 2012, (www.educationandemployers.org).

Ministry of Education and Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, ‘Tertiary Education Strategy 2014–19’, March 2014.

Work Inspiration website, accessed July 2016, (workinspiration.nz).