Work-Integrated Learning 101

For some students, the journey from school to work seems clear cut: if you are an engineering student, you can become an engineer. For others, the path to a job isn’t quite as easy.

Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) bridges the classroom and the world of work, helping students put their skills and education to practical use. Different forms of WIL have been around for generations: think of the apprenticeship a skilled tradesperson does, or the shifts nursing students do in hospitals.

Work-Integrated Learning programs, such as co-ops, internships and applied research projects, help students put the knowledge they picked up at school into a practical setting. This means that English majors can test their chops at marketing firms, economic students can explore working at a credit union, and culinary students can see how life really works in a kitchen.

Crucially, WIL helps students – and employers – figure out if they are actually well-suited for one another. Whether local government, large businesses, not-for-profits or small companies, employers of all types benefit from having students involved. Through their time in a workplace or practice setting, students build professional connections and a better understanding of the realities of the workplace, everything from good Zoom etiquette to how to handle issues with a colleague.

Are you an employer who wants to get started doing WIL? Contact us here.

WHY 100% WIL? 

In 2015, the Business + Higher Education Roundtable set a target: for 100 per cent of post-secondary students to have access to some form of Work-Integrated Learning. At the time, about 60 per cent of college and 55 per cent of university students had some form of WIL. Critically, students from professional programs such as engineering, computer science or business administration are more likely to have a WIL experience.

Reaching for 100%

  1. All students benefit from WIL – not just the ones who are in “practical” programs.
  2. Students with WIL get to build workplace skills and a professional network.
  3. If we don’t shoot for 100%, the students we leave behind will be those already facing barriers to employment.

Research already shows that students from rural communities, Indigenous students, first-generation Canadians, racialized students and those with disabilities face additional barriers moving from school into the workforce. If the target for WIL is under 100 per cent, the students most likely to get left out of WIL opportunities are those who already face an uphill climb. 

A major component of accessibility means ensuring that students are properly compensated for their experience. Some types of WIL, such as field placements, are typically for academic credit. Others, such as co-ops, are paid. Employers must follow all of the regulations of their province or territory about paying students for their work.