McGrane, Margaret Angela (2020) Work Integrated Learning and Self-Perceptions Regarding the Work Role: A Longitudinal Study. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

UK Undergraduate students are increasingly expected to undertake Work Integrated Learning (WIL) as part of their studies. The inclusion of formal work experience in the curriculum of study is often driven, from the University perspective, by a need to prove the ‘value’ of a degree by demonstrating employability in graduates. As a result, research into the impact of WIL often involves quantifying its effect on areas such as employment rates or academic attainment leaving students overlooked and the opinions of academics or employers taking priority. This thesis aims to redress the balance by exploring students’ views of how they change in the work role as they experience WIL.

A constructivist approach to understanding the lived experiences of the students was adopted, informed by Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory. The longitudinal study involved a group of students from two English universities, with three separate stages of data collection taking place. Stage 1 consisted of a questionnaire survey of first year undergraduates (n=644) from ten programmes across both institutions exploring their current and anticipated future views of a number of personal characteristics related to literature on employability. Fifteen of these students then completed self-characterisation sketches and semi-structured interviews at Stage 2 (second year). Eleven (of the fifteen) completed a second sketch and were interviewed again in Stage 3 (final year), and so were followed across the entire course of their studies. The Stage 1 analysis indicated areas for exploration in Stages 2 and 3, with the qualitative data from the sketches and interviews being analysed using Template Analysis and Longitudinal Qualitative Analysis (LQA). Template Analysis identified key themes about what was important to the participants, while LQA captured the changes which they felt were taking place and the conditions influencing these. Additional analysis of the sketches using Kelly’s protocol resulted in case studies of individual participants and their journeys.

Stage 1 findings showed that social work students, in particular, rated themselves lower in a number of areas. It was also notable that all participants rated themselves highly already on the survey characteristics and expected these to increase further by graduation. Findings from Stages 2 and 3 uncovered a complex interplay of reasons underlying how participants felt about their workplace identity and how they thought it changed through WIL. For some, it was exposure to people and situations that they would not otherwise have encountered that was important while in others it was the opportunity to experiment in a safe place that promoted change.

This thesis finds that participants thought WIL had changed their views about their workplace role in two dimensions. Firstly, experiencing WIL might have changed their ideas about themselves and what type of job they were best suited to. Secondly, they might have changed their view about what the job was and what it involved. This demonstrated that WIL could help participants develop clearer ideas about who they were and what they wanted. Subsequently, this might have led to some temporary uncertainty and a change in career direction, which is in contrast to previous research which tends to see one of the purposes of WIL as being to encourage a steady rise in career decidedness across the course of a degree. This uncertainty may ultimately be helpful to the participants as it could lead to a better ‘fit’ with a job in the long term, even though it would be regarded as a ‘failure’ in university terms. Finally, this thesis contributes to the development of knowledge about WIL’s influence on construal of self and job-role through the presentation of a new theoretical model.

FINAL THESIS - McGrane.pdf - Accepted Version
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