Unlocking the Potential of Ontario’s WIL Data Landscape

Author: Sophie Lanthier

Work-integrated learning (WIL) and other forms of experiential learning (EL) offer several well-documented benefits for students, postsecondary institutions (PSIs) and employers. Students who learn in a workplace environment can apply classroom learning and develop employability skills. When WIL programs are aligned with industry needs, they address skills shortages and support postsecondary students’ successful transition to the labour market. As student interests and labour market needs change, PSIs monitor and adapt WIL programing to maintain high-quality experiences, enhance their graduates’ employment outcomes and attract prospective students. A more robust data infrastructure would benefit PSI and government decision making around WIL programming by enabling a deeper understanding of how WIL can continue to benefit Ontario students.

Decision making around WIL programming would benefit from a strengthened data infrastructure.

PSIs and government have shown a strong commitment to expanding WIL opportunities for students. Both the Ontario and federal governments have provided funding to support WIL and other EL initiatives, and performance-based funding is also connected to student EL participation rates. Improved data collection, organization and access would enhance the WIL experience in a number of key areas, including:

  • program quality, including structure, industry relevance, mentorship opportunities and the skills and knowledge gained by students;
  • student retention and graduation rates for WIL participants, which can provide insights into WIL’s impact on student success and academic achievement; and
  • post-graduation employment outcomes, including income, employment status, employer satisfaction and relation to students’ field of study.

Establishing a robust data infrastructure on WIL programming could provide invaluable insights.

BC is an exemplar for its sector-wide co-operative education data-collection efforts, which span over 30 years, and for collecting data beyond counting students participating in WIL. Despite the fact that government funding for this initiative ended 15 years ago, administrators at most BC PSIs remain dedicated contributors, reflecting the PSIs’ continuous commitment to better understanding the dynamic WIL landscape in BC. In Ontario, information on EL is reported by institutions through Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. The SMA metric reports the percentage of graduates participating in at least one course with a required EL component, which includes a broader range of experiences than WIL. Some institutions gather and connect data on students’ WIL programming, skill development and outcomes, but the piecemeal approach to WIL data collection in Ontario makes high-quality analysis a challenge.

Some Canada-wide data sources also offer helpful information about the percentage of PSE students engaging in WIL, however there is a significant gap in connecting these data to information on student outcomes. CEWIL collects comprehensive program-level data, including student participation rates, program details and employment specifics through its National Statistics Database. While it isn’t integrated with information on graduate outcomes, CEWIL’s data provides a meaningful snapshot of WIL activities in Canada and Ontario. Fifteen colleges and 17 universities from Ontario contributed to CEWIL’s data in 2022 and there is potential for richer insights if more institutions joined. The fact that most Ontario PSIs participate is an encouraging sign for the feasibility of collecting and sharing this type of data across the sector.

There is potential for richer insights if more institutions collected and shared data.

While there are notable data-collection initiatives in various jurisdictions, concerted efforts are needed in Ontario. Institutions actively collect data but need a centralized platform and shared metrics for data aggregation and discussion. One avenue for improvement is finding sector-wide agreement on sharing data within a framework that ensures consistent terminology and collection. Ontario government could also leverage existing WIL data collection initiatives in Ontario’s PSIs.

The time is right for exploring how better WIL data can be collected and utilized. When MCU renegotiates institutional SMAs in 2025, there will be an opportunity to consider new approaches to data collection. Data will also be an important topic for WIL practitioners and leaders at the upcoming CEWIL conference in Calgary this June. These efforts can help pave the way for more effective measurement and enhancement of WIL experiences in Ontario.

Special thanks to Alexandra MacFarlane, Hagar Effah, Hiroyoshi Hiratsuka, Jessica Antony and Julia Colyar for their valuable contributions to this blog.

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