Work-Integrated Learning in Ontario’s Postsecondary Sector

Research Summary 

Postsecondary work/learn programs align student skills with changing labour market

Whether it is co-operative education, apprenticeships, service-learning placements or internships, work-integrated learning (WIL) can help Ontario colleges and universities respond to rapid change in the Ontario labour market. A recent Ipsos Reid survey found that almost a quarter of Ontarians with some postsecondary experience have participated in co-op education alone; more than any other Canadian province. The challenge is how to improve these programs and ensure they are relevant and accessible to an even wider range of postsecondary students.

According to the exploratory study Work-Integrated Learning in Ontario’s Postsecondary Sector, commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), postsecondary institutions and their community partners/employers are generally satisfied with WIL programs. But they agree that more focus should be placed on the learning outcomes for students and the distinct learning needs of different groups, such as international and First Nations students.

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

Project Description

The phase one study of institutional and employer attitudes toward WIL was conducted in collaboration with a working group of nine Ontario postsecondary institutions: Algonquin College, George Brown College, Georgian College, Niagara College, Laurentian University,University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, University of Windsor, and Wilfrid Laurier University. Thirty-nine staff members and 25 representatives from business and community organizations who are involved in WIL programs at these institutions participated in this preliminary study.


Both the postsecondary institutions and the employers view work-integrated learning as an important part of the student experience, preparing students to enter the labour market with relevant, transferable and marketable skills. They cite career exploration and improved prospects for employment as the top motivating factor for students – a perspective that will be explored more fully with a faculty survey at 12 Ontario colleges and universities this spring and a student survey in the spring of 2012.

For the PSE institutions surveyed in the phase one study, strengthening linkages with community and enhancing institutional reputation are the most significant benefits of WIL. Employers cite access to highly motivated and creative students and improved productivity as key attributes.

Among current challenges, both institutions and employers cite workload issues including paperwork and supervision, securing sufficient placements and/or meeting employer demands for students, and negotiating institutional processes and procedures.

The phase one study suggests expansion of WIL into more academic programs, including at the graduate level; more opportunities for participation by international students; and additional tax credits or other incentives for employer participants. Employers would like tobetter understand their role and contribution to the learning process, including the learning objectives of, and assessment methods for, students participating in the programs.

The exploratory report was prepared by Peggy Sattler, Senior Policy Analyst, Academica Group Inc.