Work-Integrated Learning and Postsecondary Graduates: The Perspective of Ontario Employers

Research Summary:

New HEQCO survey: Employers want graduates with relevant work experience

One of the first things employers look for when hiring graduates of Ontario’s colleges and universities is relevant work experience, according to a new study from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The lesson for students: from summer jobs to volunteering, work experience matters. The lesson for postsecondary institutions: work-integrated learning (WIL) programs such as co-op, internships and field placements may be more important than ever to the portfolios of job-hungry graduates. 

The latest in a multiphase HEQCO study on WIL and its impact on students, faculty and employers, Work-Integrated Learning and Postsecondary Graduates: The Perspective of Ontario Employers explores employer motivations and barriers to participating in WIL programs, as well as their perspectives about the impact of WIL on the skills, competencies and employability of Ontario postsecondary graduates. 

Visit our work-integrated learning page to read more of HEQCO’s research on this topic.

Project description

Last spring, a survey of 3,369 Ontario employers was conducted by telephone for the study, which was a partnership with 14 Ontario postsecondary institutions, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and the Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. A working group for the study also included the Canadian Federation of Students, the College Student Alliance and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. 

Two previous HEQCO reports in the multiphase study find broad support for WIL programs, both from the institutionaland faculty perspectives.  In its recent discussion paper, Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities posits increased WIL opportunities “to make future Ontario students more career and job ready than ever before.” WIL is also endorsed by career development practitioners and business associations as contributing to effective workforce development and improving the competitive position of graduates as they enter the labour market.  According to the latest HEQCO study, employers agree.


Over the last two years, 40% of Ontario employers surveyed hired postsecondary graduates who were entering the workforce directly from college or university. Of those, more than 60% hired at least one graduate who was a WIL participant, and most of those participants worked at the employer’s place of business. Indeed, WIL employers overwhelmingly preferred to hire graduates who had gained WIL experience at their own workplace. Among WIL employers who had not hired their WIL students, the single most important reason was lack of job openings.
WIL graduates also make more money, according to the survey, which found that employers consistently offered them higher average starting salaries across all levels of educational attainment.  

More than a third of employers surveyed offered WIL programs for postsecondary students and cited “developing the workforce skills needed for their industry or profession” and “pre-screening potential new hires” as their top rationales. The survey also found that 79% of these employers provided WIL opportunities for students from Ontario colleges, versus 49% for students from Ontario universities. The majority of WIL employers worked exclusively with either the college or university sector. Some 12% worked with private career colleges, 6% with postsecondary institutions in other provinces and 3% with international colleges or universities. Close to one-third of non-WIL employers said they had plans to provide WIL in the future – half within the next two years.

Policy implications

To meet the growing appetite for WIL, the survey responses suggest that postsecondary institutions could increase employer involvement by providing more information about the full range of WIL options available and simplifying processes for employers to recruit and select WIL students. Institutions should also use targeted messaging to engage potential employers in WIL, tailor their messages to individual WIL programs and fields of study, and consider specific employer needs by size and sector. Finally, institutions should look at ways to increase flexibility for WIL employers by adjusting the length and timing of WIL opportunities to better align with business cycle needs. 

With continued growth in WIL programs comes the likelihood that employers will be approached by a greater number of institutions, says the study. The province should consider a coordinated approach to employer involvement in WIL, such as standardized procedures across institutions and a centralized employer database. 

“A key challenge in the coming years will be to ensure that the supply of WIL opportunities offered by employers is able to meet demand from students, faculty and postsecondary institutions while providing high-quality learning experiences for students,” say the study’s authors. The final phases of the HEQCO study will include an exploration of student perspectives on WIL and its impact on learning outcomes and postsecondary satisfaction.

The authors of Work-Integrated Learning and Postsecondary Graduates: The Perspective of Ontario Employers are Peggy Sattler and Julie Peters from Academica Group Inc.​