Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) is a pathway to meaningful employment for post-secondary students and an opportunity for employers to access the talent they need - yet many students continue to be left behind. Students from equity-deserving communities face barriers to school and work. Systemic racism and discrimination, socioeconomic disparities, and a lack of resources and supports affect their well-being, school success, and career outcomes. This also means they are less likely to access and complete a WIL experience during their studies. 

These challenges also impact employers. In 2020, BHER spoke to employers from across Canada and industry sectors, including business owners and CEOs of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). We talked to them about the benefits and challenges of employer participation in WIL, and they emphasized that a greater focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in WIL is needed. This not only aligns with the values of many organizations — it would provide access to larger talent pools that can help drive innovation and productivity. But more often than not, employers don’t know where to start. 

In response, BHER developed this guide to help employers embed an EDI focus into WIL. This is a beginner resource for employers who are looking for help on starting their EDI journey. The guide is also built with SMEs and the realities they face in mind: limited access to dedicated EDI resources and limited capacity to prioritize EDI.  

With this guide, employers will be able to identify approaches to help develop an EDI mindset. By taking steps to understand and value the unique and intersecting identities, lived experiences, skills, and perspectives of equity-deserving students and how these impact their needs in the workplace, employers will be better positioned to go beyond diversity targets and take a critical look at workplace culture and systemic barriers. 

These steps include:

  • Understanding your organization’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to embedding EDI into WIL experiences and your organization as a whole.
  • Leveraging partnerships with co-op offices and building relationships with unconventional WIL partners like student unions and associations, campus resource centres, and community EDI-centric organizations to help drive inclusive, student-centered engagement.
  • Interrupting explicit and implicit biases and barriers during recruitment, through efforts like redacting information that might indicate gender or race during resume screening, or de-biasing candidate assessments. Transparency on where your organization is at in its EDI journey and openness to student feedback is important throughout recruitment.
  • Promoting inclusive experiences through equity-driven onboarding, mentorship, and professional development opportunities that support diverse student needs and connect them to other students, communities, mentors, and professionals with similar lived experiences, both within and across organizations.
  • Seeking feedback and focusing on continuous learning and improvement. The process of becoming inclusive is iterative. Check in with students on their needs and suggestions during recruitment, both throughout their placement and during their offboarding.

BHER is committed to developing tools and resources that strengthen WIL pathways for students from equity deserving communities and ensures they are engaged, supported, and feel a sense of belonging during WIL experiences. To learn more, download the full guide below.

This introductory guide provides employers with a place to start to build understanding, and take action on fostering EDI and belonging for WIL students. We welcome any feedback, emerging research, success stories, and resources on EDI in WIL that you think should be on our radar. Continue to watch this space for more resources on EDI in the workplace. You can contact us at @email.