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A Review of the Terminology of Work Experience

This study reviews the terminology used to describe different forms of work experience in the UK. The work is one of the preparatory activities of the PRAXIS project. This study focuses on the terminology of work experience by looking at different word usage and meanings as used by Higher Education Institutions, Companies who offer Work Placement opportunities and Government Agencies relevant to work experience. The methodology used is a qualitative, inductive approach using a cross section of UK University, Company and relevant UK Government Agency websites and publications as the data, to establish whether a common nomenclature for work experience types can be proposed. The findings of the study suggest that there is not good commonality in usage of the terminology, in fact there is evidence of conflicting meaning used by different bodies which could lead to confusion for students. 
In the UK there are a range of terms commonly found onUniversity, Company and relevant Government Agency websites and publications relating to work experiences. It is starting to be recognised that as terms, especially internship in the UK, become more widely used they are also used more flexibly. The following is a summary of the way the terms are commonly used. The terms are presented in alphabeticalorder.

A. Casual Work
Casual work is generally work of an unstructured nature (in relation to the student degree programme or future career), can be during term time or be ‘Casual Vacation Work but is considered valuable for general employability.

B. Gap Year
By definition, a year placement between academic years.Can be undertaken overseas

C. Internship
The common UK definition of intern is one who stands in for someone else, usually in a professional capacity such as a doctor (also locum) and schoolteacher. In the HE sector a useful definition is: “An internship is a short-term paid work placement available to graduates. Internships tend to be project-led and include an element of graduate development”. This alignment of the activity to the student study programme is reflected in some institutional definitions, for example Cambridge University makes the distinction that an internship is where an individual gains “relevant professional experience”, however others do not limit the definition, for example the internship “may or may not be relevant to [the student’s] course of study”.According to the National Council for Work Experience,Internship is “A phrase that is increasingly used by large companies and refers to a placement within their organisation”. Usage of the term, in the broader sense, is increasing but is leading to a more flexible interpretation of meaning.Some examples are: “… internship provides supervised work experience in the 'real world' …”.characterised as structured, formal work placements, one states it is a form of work experience but it is structured and the“participant can expect a significantly higher level of responsibility and involvement”.The duration of an internship is very variable ranging from6 weeks to 12 months, equally there is variability in whether the internship is paid or unpaid.There are examples of the synonymous use of ‘internship’ and ‘placement’ in the context of professional experience and some institutions define internships in relation to graduate activities or identify a specific variant, the ‘Graduate Internship’. Internshipis also sometimes referred to as a type of work experience.

D. Part-time work (or job)
Part time work usually refers to paid or unpaid work during term-time or vacations. This work can be relevant to the study programme by is often just to raise money. Some institutions state a maximum, for example 15 hours per week, there is also a limit of 20 hours per week for Tier 4 overseas students.

E. Placement
The dictionary definition of a placement is: “The action or process of finding a person employment; a position or job found for a person. Also (Brit.): (a period of) attachment to a workplace or educational establishment in order to gain experience”. A placement can be defined generally as a period of time spent in an organisation for some purpose. TheQAA Code of Practice on Work-based and placement learning confirms that such activities are “usually undertaken as part of a programme of study”, the Code goes on to say that learning outcomes should be agreed for such activities. Some HEIusages support the relatedness of the placement to the study programme, for example “… a placement is [defined as]:Work experience, assessed project work or a period of course based study … where there is a transfer of direct supervision of the student to a third party …”. Or “Placements have specific aims and objectives of what a student will learn and gain from the placement”. There are also examples of a less rigid relatedness, for example “Placement is just one of the terms used to describe a period of work based learning that boosts a student’s employability and complements their academic studies.” and “… they may be part of your course …” or more generally “… opportunities to put theory into practice and demonstrate skills in a work environment”.In the HE sector there are a number of variants or subdivisions of placement.

F. Extra Mural Year
Extra Mural literally means organised for persons other than its own and hence the term can be used to describe a range of externally organised activities. An example of its use is “The Extramural Year Programme enables you to gain work experience in industry as part of your degree.”. The term is variously synonymous with internship and work experiences in general.

G. Industrial Placement
An ‘industrial placement’, or ‘industrial work placement’ is typically a year long (although they may last for less) activity undertaken in industry, closely related or complimentary to the student study programme.“An "industrial placement" (or "industrial work placement") is an extended period of (usually paid) work experience that many major firms offer to undergraduate students. Students who enrol on industrial placements are usually required to do so as part of their degree course.Typically industrial placements will last for a year (12 months,although they may last for less) and form the third year of a four year degree course.”. They can be accredited as part of your course or be a compulsory part of a vocational degree.The distinction between industrial placement and sandwich placement also varies. For example: “Industrial placements are similar to sandwich placements but can last for less than a year”. There are also examples of industrial placements being synonymous with sandwich placements.

H. Sandwich Placement
Two of the many definitions of sandwich placement are“assessed paid work which is part of a student's course. It is often of one year's duration”, which supports the similarity to industrial placement and “Sandwich placements are yearlong placements usually during the third year of a four-year degree course. This year is spent in an organisation where the work you do is related to your degree.”. This later usage adds in the timing of where during the degreeprogramme the activity is undertaken. There is also flexibility in the duration of the sandwich placement with some as short as four months or vacation sandwiches.

I. Summer Placement
Typically 10 to 12 weeks in duration, a summer placement is work experience gained in the period immediately before the start of the academic programme or between years. The usual distinction between the summer placement and the summer work experience lies in the degree of structure of the work and the benefit (to the student study programme) gained from it.

J. Work Placement
This is a more generic term used to describe “A period of work experience, which can be paid or unpaid, and is part of a course of study”. The emphasis again here is the link to the student study programme.

K. Vacation Placement
Vacation placement is a synonym of Summer Placemental though this clearly assumes the vacation is only the summer one. Shorter vacation placements are possible alternatives over Christmas and Easter.

L. Year in Industry
The term ‘Year in Industry’ is offered as a synonym to the‘Extra Mural Year’, ‘Industrial Placement’ and ‘SandwichPlacement’. The relevance of the work undertaken to the student study programme is also usually made.

M. Summer Job
The term ‘summer job’ usually refers to casual paid work undertaken during the summer vacation. The link between the work and the study programme is optional, so too is whether the job is paid – although a common objective is to work for general living money.

N. Work-based Project
A useful definition of this is “A specific piece of assessed work for a course, undertaken at an employer's premises”.

O. Work Experience
“‘Work experience’ is defined as a period of work that is designed to encourage reflection on the experience and to identify the learning that comes from working.”. In his report 8 types of work experience that form part of the academic study programme are identified: Sandwich course,professional experience, work experience element, overseas placement, work-linked individual project, work-linked group project, work-place visit, simulated case studies. They also identify 12 types of organized work experiences that are relevant to work but do not form part of the academic study programme: structured vacation work, work-experience vacation placement, organized world-wide placements, short vacation ‘courses’, work shadowing and mentoring, traditional vacation work, term-time part time work, working in family business, voluntary work during term-time, voluntary work during vacations, time off during programme, gap year before or after the programme. The report summaries the different types of work experience into three distinct groups:

The National Council for Work Experience also sees work experience as an overarching term and states it can be variously described as: Sandwich placement, work-based project, work placement, voluntary work, part-time working,work shadowing, internship, vacation work. Usage of the term in the HE sector is equally variable. One interesting point is that there is one suggestion that work experience is more commonly used to “describe junior-level tasks or the purpose of gaining experience and insight into industry” a description that separates work experience from internship.

P. Work Shadowing
“Where a student observes a member of staff working in an organisation, and so gains an understanding of what a particular job entails”. Work shadowing is generally a less formal form of experience gaining. The duration of this activity can be a day or more and is usually unpaid.

Q. Vacation Work
Vacation work is work undertaken during a vacation, it can be paid or unpaid and related to or unrelated to the study programme.

R. Voluntary Work
Voluntary work is defined by Volunteering England as: “An unpaid activity where someone gives their time to help an organisation or an individual who they are not related to”.
Such work can be related or unrelated to the study programme.


The definitions of the above terms illustrate variability of terminology usage. Having reviewed the way the terms are used, the next step is to look for characteristics or dimensions that enable distinctions to be drawn to enhance clarity on what is meant in each context. The objective is not to try to force consistency of usage, this is seen as potentially counter productive and a possible constraint on innovation.The key dimensions of the different forms of gaining real world experience are:




Research

Research