Embedding peer support and career development learning in Professional Internships

Case Studies


Swinburne University of Technology


  •  Health

  • STEM

  • Creative Industries

  • Business

Model/s of WIL activity:

Industry/community based placement

Embedding peer support and career development learning in Professional Internships

Collaborative redevelopment of internship unit to embed peer support and career development learning.

Swinburne’s Work Integrated Learning and Careers and Employability staff collaboratively re-designed an undergraduate internship unit to embed peer support and to purposefully integrate and contextualise Career Development Learning to prepare students for future world of work and career decision making. While completing a 140- hour internship, students engage in online workshops that facilitate learning with and from peers, while exploring career decision-making and management. Workshops and assignments enable students to reflect on their internship experience, develop strategies to maximise their internship, and enhance their employability by identifying and articulating links between their experiences, future career aspirations and career development strategies.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

Since July 2021. The unit is offered 4 times per year, in a 12-week mode and a 6-week mode.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The redesign of this unit addressed two challenges frequently encountered in WIL delivery: (1) purposefully integrating Career Development Learning (CDL) into curriculum and (2) ensuring that students are supported and connected with peers and the university while completing WIL. Since the redesign of the unit, there have been 113 students enrolled from across 11 disciplines, with 72 industry partners engaging in the program.

This unit is innovative as it contextualises CDL to the internship experience with practical activities to build and articulate self-awareness, opportunity awareness, professional identity, and networks. For example, when learning about planned happenstance theory (Mitchell, Levin & Krumboltz, 1999), students reflect on experiences and opportunities that led to their current internship. They then share ideas on how they might make the most of unplanned events to develop additional knowledge and skills while on placement. Integrating CDL through the unit was achieved through close collaboration among WIL and careers specialists. This enabled staff to build greater understanding of WIL and CDL, and of the synergies among WIL and CDL key aims, concepts, and activities.

The unit also demonstrates good practice by providing a connected and supported experience for students. Peer or social support is important for dealing with challenges and stress during WIL experiences; however, students completing individual internships typically have fewer opportunities to connect with other students or the university (McBeath et al, 2018). To bridge this gap, the online workshops bring students together to reflect and learn from and with each other. In this way, experiences are normalised, while key learning and strategies are shared. The unit can easily be adapted for other WIL and higher education contexts as the content is not discipline-specific and CDL and peer support are ideal frameworks for WIL more broadly.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Purposeful engagement with CDL develops students’ capacity to identify and apply career management skills to make the most of their WIL experience. Workshop content plus discussions with peers and teaching staff build strategies and confidence around professional practices and networking. By drawing connections between their internship, capabilities and future career options, students identify opportunities and actionable next steps. For example, student feedback notes that:

“This unit taught me so many valuable lessons that has advanced my professional career development through concepts I will utilise every day. This unit has also allowed me to develop my confidence as it increased my capabilities and showed how to use them to benefit my career opportunities.”

For Swinburne, the redesigned unit demonstrates how CDL can be embedded into WIL offerings, and the impact of cross-team collaboration where combined specialist expertise connects theory and practice to enhance curriculum. It also provides an effective, sustainable, and scalable model for internships with educator and peer support at its heart.

“Learning in a group along with practically implementing the skills learnt. “

“The level of support given by the teaching staff, it helps makes the experience less nerve wracking or overwhelming.”

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Evaluation surveys collect feedback from students and industry supervisors. Student feedback includes standard questions about unit satisfaction and teaching staff, as well as questions about their internship experience (for example, industry supervision, opportunities to apply their disciplinary knowledge), and the impact and outcomes of the internship and unit experience, such as career management skills and employment outcomes. Industry supervisors provide feedback on processes, and their experience of engaging with the university and student. Finally, each semester the teaching team documents reflections on the unit and delivery to inform changes for future offerings.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

Swinburne aims to support learners of diverse backgrounds to achieve their full potential and ensure that every learner gets work experience. This unit aligns with these aims and highlights the benefits of cross-team collaboration in designing meaningful learning experiences.

In several cases, students have gained professional placements and/or employment as a result of their internship. Broader impacts identified in the evaluation include students having increased confidence in career and professional capabilities including reflection, awareness of their career preferences, key skills, and future options. “Personal reflection has significantly enhanced my professional development, enabling me to effectively set career related goals and evaluate my progress towards achieving these.” (Amy, Semester 1, 2002 student)

The unit’s flexible and multidisciplinary model amplifies peer-learning and provides a more cost-effective model for the University. It enhances students’ employability by developing their career management capabilities with impact increased via a more scalable, sustainable 1:many (rather than 1:1 supervision) model.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

The teaching team collaboratively evaluate and refine assessments and teaching materials throughout each offering.

Students attend an induction lecture that articulates the online learning and teaching approach and prepares them for the transition to professional work through discussions on health and wellbeing alongside workplace rights, responsibilities and safety.

While completing the internship, students engage with self-guided online resources, synchronous online workshops and peer discussions on reflective practice, career decision-making, ethical, inclusive and sustainable practices, networking, professional futures and careers stories. They analyse and articulate their learning in reflection activities and assessments throughout the internship experience. As part of this, industry partners support students to set and pursue their own workplace learning goals and provide feedback on professional development. For the teaching team, ongoing improvements are generated through an iterative process of reflection and refinement of instructional materials. These form a robust, updated toolkit to build capacity and professional knowledge in staff who may teach in the unit in the future.

Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship.

The focus on connection and peer support is informed by evidence that highlights the importance of social connections while students engage in WIL especially as students may encounter stressful situations in the workplace, and may be less connected to other students and the university while doing internships (McBeath et al., 2018). Purposeful integration of CDL is informed by the alignment of the education aims and approaches of WIL and CDL, through reflection and learning about self and the world of work, and by evidence that CDL is beneficial for students (McIlveen et al., 2011).

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

We are working to offer the Professional Internship Unit to many more students through scaling up internship offerings, and partnering with academic staff in our Schools and other campuses to deliver this unit in ways that meet their students’ needs. We are also piloting a group internship model to build in peer support at the workplace end of the experience and enhance workplace project capabilities and outcomes through teamwork. Curriculum and activities in the unit are also continually reviewed for improvement using evaluation data and teaching staff reflections.


McBeath, M, Drysdale, MTB & Bohn, N (2018), Work-integrated learning and the importance of peer support and sense of belonging. Education + Training, vol. 60, issue. 1, pp. 39-53. doi:10.1108/et-05-2017-0070

McIlveen, P., Brooks, S., Lichtenberg, A., Smith, M., Torjul, P., & Tyler, J. (2011). Career Development Learning Frameworks for Work-Integrated Learning. In Developing Learning Professionals (pp. 149-165). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-90- 481-3937-8_9

Mitchell, K. E., Al Levin, S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of counselling & Development, 77(2), 115-124.


Case Study Leaders

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Dr. Matalena Tofa

Lecturer - Work Integrated Learning, Swinburne University of Technology

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Dr. Nicola Fish

Manager, WIL Academic Programs, Swinburne University of Technology

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Barbara Wels

Career Consultant, Swinburne University of Technology

The team would like to acknowledge Janet Jensen (Employability Programs Coordinator, Swinburne University of Technology) who is now Manager Employability Programs at La Trobe University.