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Understanding innovation through the vocational student work-placement experience

Raymond Smith (Department of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia)
Steven Hodge (Department of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 20 August 2019



This paper aims to report and discuss findings from the first exploratory phase of a research project that examined how and in what ways the practice of vocational student work-placement contributes to innovation in host organisations. The focus of the paper is on identifying and clarifying how innovation is understood in this context and outlines six different meanings of innovation variably used by those involved in the work-placement provision – vocational education students, training providers and host organisation staff. The paper suggests that these six meanings evidence the disparity of work-based understandings of innovation and the need to be more explicit and accurate about what the term means in specific work contexts if innovation is to be realised.


The qualitative first phase of the project interviewed 41 students, trainers and organisational staff about the nature of their work and learning practices and the kinds of changes and improvements to those practices that they experienced through the placement program. Through these interview conversations participants were asked to describe and explain their understandings and experiences of innovation in their work. The interviews were transcribed and thematically analysed.


Interview analysis gave rise to a set of six distinguishable meanings that operate as definitions of innovation. These six meanings highlight the range of meanings the term innovation carries within small business work-learning contexts and the need of those who promote and encourage innovation to be mindful of these various usages.

Research limitations/implications

The findings reported emerge from a small sample and are only one aspect of the overall project. Further larger scale research is needed.

Social implications

The term innovation should not be considered commonly understood and accepted by those who promote it and within workplaces and organisational practice. Clear, accurate and specific work context consideration of the term is needed.


The project reports the voices and understandings of those whose work and learning are foundational to the emergence and enactment of innovation in work. These voices are all too often seldom heard and heeded. The six meanings they articulate for innovation contrast markedly with typical innovation research literature.



Smith, R. and Hodge, S. (2019), "Understanding innovation through the vocational student work-placement experience", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 31 No. 7, pp. 409-428.



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