Industry-Based Learning (IBL) - Public Health

Swinburne University of Technology

Swinburne University of Technology

Louise Dunn
Director Industry Liaison
Program Manager, Public and Environmental Health
Faculty of Life and Social Sciences

Tel 61 +3 9214 8770

Louise Dunne

Vignette title and details

Industry-Based Learning (IBL)
Full-time, 6 months or 12 months


Public and Environmental Health

Employment sector

Local and state government agencies

Student numbers

15 20 per year

Credit bearing?

Optional. Students receive credit recognition for their participation in the Industry-Based Learning (IBL) program on their final transcript.


Portfolio, including written reports and assessment of technical and graduate attributes.


Paid (usually 70% of graduate income), tax free scholarships ($28,000 - $32,000)

Number of staff involved

The IBL program involves administrative management by the Faculty Cooperative Education Manager, academic management and supervision by the discipline leader for public and environmental health, and the appointment of industry supervisors. The program also benefits from staff input from the faculty and the university into elements relevant to the program such as marketing, policy development, career preparation, financial management of scholarships.


Key Words

Industry-Based Learning, Public
Local Government, Health, Sciences



Industry-Based Learning (IBL) at Swinburne is a program for undergraduate students. The University has been providing a 12 month IBL experience in environmental health practice since the early 1970s, when the discipline commenced at the University. Formerly referred to as a sandwich year, and now referred to as Industry-Based Learning (IBL), the program has been strongly supported by industry in Victoria, Australia. The program was formally compulsory but is now optional and involves students working in paid positions in industry after satisfactory completion of their second year of studies. Students who undertake this pathway complete their studies over a four year period rather than three. Student placement usually occurs within local or state government bodies.


Structure of program

The structure of the IBL program undertaken in the public and environmental health discipline is aligned with the Swinburne University of Technology model for Industry-Based Learning. This university model has evolved, developed and been refined over a number of years based on feedback from stakeholders and consideration of influences such as a changing economic and social climate. Due to the longevity of the public and environmental health IBL program, it has also been part of this evolving process. It involves:

  1. Promoting the program to students and employers
  2. Identifying and screening suitable industry partners for IBL placements
  3. Supporting IBL students in applying for positions
  4. Coordinating and arranging supervision of students
  5. Administering and monitoring placements, and troubleshooting issues
  6. Administering the evaluation of the program by students and employers
  7. Giving feedback from industry to course advisory boards on curriculum issues
  8. Brokering other links and access to the University for industry.


The University has identified a range of benefits for students and employers in relation to the IBL program across the University. This includes, for the employer, opportunities to have enthusiastic students, bring new perspectives to the organisation and cost-effective employment opportunities. For the student, it includes opportunities to develop practical skills, earn while learning, and clarify carer aspirations. Feedback from employers in the Public and Environmental Health program includes:

Enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Her attitude to work was infectious.
The importance of graduates coming out with real work experience, not just theory.

The program structure includes involvement of academic staff in the management of the program. This has been an important approach and has enabled a close association between the industry sector and students, and has benefits for the university, students and employers. Such benefits include increased opportunities for communication and a high level of interaction with the key parties, enabling a range of aspects of both the academic and industry placement program to be informed. For example, informal discussions, undertaken with public and environmental health managers during the recruitment and placement process, often leads discussion regarding topical issues that could be used for research topics or suggestions for guest speaker engagements relevant to the undergraduate program, or opportunities for students during their work placement. This is a highly valued opportunity to assist in ensuring relevancy and currency of the undergraduate program.

Special features

One of the special features of the program is the range of assessment practices which the students undertake to develop the generic attributes and technical literacies required of an environmental health graduate. Students develop a portfolio which is a cumulative collection of a range of student workplace experiences. Students are required to develop their own learning objectives in relation to a range of activities they have been involved in, develop reflective summaries of these experiences and provide evidence of the completion of the technical competencies. Students are also required to map their graduate attribute development. To increase the authenticity of this approach, the employer or mentor is required to authenticate the report.

To date, this type of structured approach to assessment practice, negotiated between the parties, has also been used to try and ensure students are exposed to a range of learning activities in order to maximise the placement experience and enhance graduate employability. Although no formal research has been undertaken testing this assumption, Swinburne University of Technology course reporting statistics, for a number of years, have indicated a 100% employment rate, with many students being retained by organisations to work in part-time capacity in the final years of study. This statistic must also be viewed in light of the high demand for graduates in this area, due to the general shortage of environmental health practitioners being experienced nationally. However graduates with a solid foundation of practical skills are keenly desired by employers, with Swinburne University of Technology 12 month salaried year being viewed by employers familiar with graduates from the program being more job ready (Queensland Government 2004). Bussell (2000) also advocates a structured and organised workplace for environment health graduates in order to assist in the development of professionals with strong generalist skills to meet the demands of industry.

Student feedback:

The positive aspects of my placement were learning about the day to day work of an Environmental Health Officer. I had gone out on field with all the officers in their assigned area to learn and understand how to conduct myself with proprietors and experience different kinds of environments feed premise (restaurants, cafes, food manufacturers and so forth), health premises (beauty salons, hairdressers, and so forth) to conducting immunisation sessions, investigating complaints, conducting single gastroenteritis investigations and much more. All the experiences I have gained through my IBL allowed me to improve myself. In addition to obtaining skills to conduct myself as an EHQ.

I would recommend to other students to undertake an IBL placement as it is a life changing experience; to allow one to understand their chosen industry, type of work involved and the personal and professional development during the IBL placement. It can also be an eye opener as to what life in the industry is like.

Future work


Currently in Australia, work placements in public and environmental health have been principally targeted at local government organisations which have been traditionally legislatively based. However, environmental health management is lo longer restricted to the domain of one particular sector. Therefore cooperative learning programs in this field need to also investigate other appropriate industry sectors which can offer work placements. Given the high demand for graduates in this field by employers (which has outweighed student numbers), it is important to investigate other ways to engage employers and students in placement opportunities to ensure program relevance and sustainability. Research surrounding cooperative education in the public and environmental health field is fairly limited and investigation regarding impacts of such programs would be of benefit for future practice.



Queensland Government, 2004, Public Health Workforce in Local Government: Functions, Skills, Recruitment and Retention,

Bushell, F, 2000, 'EHO training and the future profession', Environmental Health Journal, July,, 5 May 2006.

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