Image of publication cover for Prevalence and outcomes of workplace-based delivery in VET

Prevalence and outcomes of workplace-based delivery in VET

By Kristen Osborne Research report 20 October 2021 978-1-925717-80-8


This publication reviews the current trends in how workplace-based delivery of training is distributed, including where entire programs are delivered in this way. Additionally, data from the Student Outcomes Survey was used to model the effect of a student receiving workplace-based delivery on employment and achievement outcomes.


About the research

Extensive evidence demonstrates a trend of positive outcomes related to learning in the workplace. Despite this, no examination of the outcomes has been undertaken using the available Australian vocational education and training (VET) data.

This publication uses VET administrative data to examine trends in the delivery of workplace-based training, including where entire programs are delivered in this way. Additionally, data from the National Student Outcomes Survey are used to model the effect on employment and achievement outcomes of a student receiving workplace-based delivery. As previous work has extensively examined the role of workplace learning in apprenticeships and traineeships, this publication does not include these students.

Key messages

  • Workplace-based delivery was used for about 4.1 million subjects (representing 17.2% of all subjects delivered outside an apprenticeship or traineeship) in 2019, either as the sole mode of delivery or in combination with other modes.
  • Around 800 000 students experienced workplace-based delivery as part of their VET journey in 2019, outside an apprenticeship or traineeship.
  • The most notable predictor of a student receiving workplace-based delivery when available factors were modelled was the field of education of their study.
  • The relationship between mode of delivery and factors such as the field of education studied complicates efforts to understand the effects of workplace-based delivery. As a likely consequence of this, the analysis of the impact of workplace-based delivery using administrative data did not identify a material impact on student outcomes.

A more conclusive understanding of the extent of the impact exerted by workplace-based delivery on student outcomes may only be possible through a randomised trial, whereby the only difference in the program is the presence of workplace-based delivery.

Executive summary

Learning on the job can be a valuable and rewarding element of a program of study, with a recent review of evidence in this area finding it to have positive effects on the outcomes of vocational education and training (VET) students (Osborne et al. 2020). The specific benefits of workplace-based education on the long-term outcomes of young people in training have also been identified (Waugh & Circelli 2021). This publication uses administrative data from the National VET Provider Collection to summarise the trends in workplace-based delivery of subjects for VET students, as well as analytic modelling to examine how different factors might predict this type of delivery. The modelling is also used to identify the factors that affect outcomes, and it attempts to quantify the positive effects of workplace-based delivery.

Three modes of delivery are possible for each subject: internal, external and workplace-based or a
mix of modes. To summarise the use of workplace-based delivery, subjects were split into three general categories:

  • those that were workplace-based
  • those that were workplace-based alongside other modes
  • those that were not workplace-based at all.

In 2019, over 20% of all subjects were delivered with some degree of workplace-based training, representing more than 5.5 million individual subjects. Of these, just over 74% (or around 4.1 million) were not part of an apprenticeship or traineeship. Around 800 000 students experienced workplace-based delivery as part of their VET journey in 2019 outside an apprenticeship or traineeship.

Many programs use workplace-based delivery for all of their subjects. For example, the Certificate III in Electric Passenger Train Guard and the Advanced Diploma of Competitive Systems each had more than 2000 student enrolments in 2019, all of which were delivered in the workplace. Other programs, such as the Certificate IV and Diploma of Ministry, used workplace-based delivery when combined with other delivery modes. Although the programs that were reliant on workplace-based delivery often had a structure intentionally similar to formal apprenticeships and traineeships, no contract of training was required.

Investigation at the student level shows variation between the proportion of students receiving workplace-based delivery depending on their residential state or territory. For example, higher proportions of non-apprentice or non-trainee students in Tasmania (29.5%) and Queensland (21.3%) received some amount of workplace-based learning when compared with those in other states and territories. There was also significant variation in workplace-based delivery received between non-apprentice and non-trainee students with different study modes: 27.4% of full-time students experienced some amount of workplace-based delivery, compared with 19.9% of part-time students. Other student factors, such as gender and disability status, were also compared, but within these factors there was generally variation of fewer than three percentage points between the different categories.

An analysis of the factors that predict workplace-based delivery reveal that students’ field of education is often the most relevant:

  • Fields such as radiography and pharmacy increase the likelihood of workplace-based delivery more than 20 times, compared with the benchmark field of business and management.
  • Philosophy and religious studies, medical studies, forestry studies and justice and law enforcement are all more than five times more likely than the benchmark to include workplace-based delivery.
  • On the other hand, biological sciences, accountancy and behavioural science were all associated with a reduction in the likelihood of workplace-based delivery of four times or more, again compared with the benchmark.

A further analysis focused on outcomes, specifically improvements in employment status following training and the achievement of a student’s main reason for training. The analysis compared students who had received any amount of workplace-based delivery with those who had not (once again excluding apprentices and trainees). The analysis demonstrated no conclusive impact on these outcomes resulting from the use of workplace-based delivery in a student’s training; however, the model could only account for a limited range of known factors and make a broad assessment of impacts. Nevertheless, previous research has found meaningful positive effects from learning in a workplace during training (Bahl & Dietzen 2019; Billett 2019; Kamaliah et al. 2018). Given the evidence supporting a positive impact on student outcomes from workplace-based delivery, the results from this empirical research should be viewed in the context of the limitations of administrative data.

The lack of material differences in outcomes may be due to the interrelated nature of many of the factors used; for example, workplace-based delivery is often concentrated by field of education and level of education. When these factors are included in the analytic model and are considered, they may also account for the impact of workplace-based delivery and result in no material effect of the delivery mode. However, as factors such as field of education are also outcome predictors, it is important that these are included in outcome modelling.

Furthermore, specific programs tend to include similar amounts of workplace-based delivery across all students, since the mode of delivery and/or assessment are routinely mandated by program rules. This means that for many programs there will be no ‘comparison groups’ of students − those who did and those who did not experience workplace-based delivery. While historical evidence supports the positive effects of learning in the workplace, ultimately, it may only be possible to distinguish the effects of workplace-based training on student outcomes through a randomised trial, one in which the only difference in the program is the presence of workplace-based delivery. This would provide more reliable data on the degree of effect of workplace-based delivery on student outcomes.


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