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This paper represents a plea for a renewed paradigm framing relationships between industry and universities – for the sake of the emerging Australian workforce. It argues that skills development needs a widespread approach in which learning is immersed in work environments. This is key to linking learning with constantly changing industry strategies and practices, technical and generic skill needs.

Through its members Ai Group sees many quality and innovative pockets of work-integrated learning where formal education and training is augmented in the workplace over time. However Australian university links are under-developed by international standards. Collectively we must significantly upscale learning and work interactions between companies, universities and students during a student’s learning journey.

The paper explains why closer connections between industry and universities are so crucial to the workforce. It describes the breadth of work-integrated learning forms – from microplacements through to degree apprenticeships. It explores how companies can work more closely with universities. It demonstrates how some companies are experiencing, and benefitting from, close connections with universities.

Finally the paper discusses what still needs to be done to embed and evolve the practice of work integrated learning. We contend that action involves all parties: government resourcing and funding support; joint responsibilities between government, industry and universities; and further actions by universities.

Amongst the barriers to achieving a greater volume of quality integrated work and learning, a key one is that time and resources are needed for companies to engage with universities and students, and this is a particular challenge for small and medium companies.

Ai Group sees the paper as an agitator for change around industry-university connections in Australia. Our Centre for Education and Training is working to influence key areas for action recommended in the paper. We welcome approaches to the Centre from like-minded companies, agencies, governments and individuals across the skills ecosystem.

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