Volume: 32, No: 2, Year: 2007  

The Rhetoric and Reality of Structured Tourism Work Experiences: A Social Representational Analysis social representations; structured work experience; work placements; internships; tourism education.


This paper reports on a study which explored the social representations of structured work experience (SWE) placements in university-based tourism education held by students, academic work placement coordinators, and industry professionals, and portrayed in public presentations of university tourism curricula. Social representations can be defined as everyday or lay theories about social phenomena. The paper explores the nature of the every day theories held by these different groups of actors. In particular, the analysis focused on perceptions of why structured work experiences are a necessary component of tourism education and the perceived benefits that such educational activities can provide. The analysis is based on a series of semi-structured interviews with academic coordinators, a semi-structured survey of industry professionals or placement hosts, a survey of students in one Australian tourism management programme and a content analysis of the public information about structured work experiences available on the websites of 25 universities from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. Two representations were identified one based on emphasizing skill building and one on reducing risk for employers and students. The data shows that the skill building representation exists only partially amongst academics and not at all amongst the other actors and this lack of specificity, and the fact that it is only held by academics, contributes to the range of problems that have been associated with SWEs. The second representation about risk is the one that closely connects students and employers and offers the best opportunities for reducing the operational problems of SWEs.

Keywords: social representations; structured work experience; work placements; internships; tourism education.

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