Work-Integrated Learning at HEQCO: Student Perspectives

The term work-integrated learning (WIL) refers to a range of experiences including apprenticeships, field placements, co-op programs and internships. Some WIL experiences may be a required part of an academic program while others may be a transitional experience either from academic life to the workforce or from one level of schooling to another.

Thanks to the work of postsecondary institutions and organizations like Experiential and Work-Integrated Learning Ontario  (EWO) and Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL), WIL has become an important part of the postsecondary conversation. The Ontario government has made recent investments to support hands-on training for postsecondary students. HEQCO continues to evaluate different types of WIL experiences.

HEQCO serves as a WIL site through two separate programs, one in association with the Humber College research analyst graduate certificate program and the second through a paid internship program that is available to current postsecondary students and recent graduates. These programs provide opportunities for participants to increase their knowledge of the public education policy landscape while developing and honing transferable employability skills.

We asked our 2020/21 HEQCO interns to reflect on their perceptions of WIL; what makes a good WIL experience and what advice they’d like to share with future HEQCO interns. While Victoria Barclay, Jennifer Han, Steven Han and Shakira Leslie were all recent postsecondary graduates when they began their internship at HEQCO, their reflections are applicable to students at any stage of the educational journey who are considering a WIL placement.*

WIL can encompass a range of experiences and mean different things to different people.

“I expected to gain work experience that would complement my academic studies.” -Victoria

“I wanted to partake in opportunities that would allow me to sharpen my skills while applying them in the workplace, as well as develop new skills that are essential for working in my field of interest.”

“I expect a WIL experience to allow students to get a taste of working while also having to complete ‘traditional’ school assignments such as reflections and reports.” -Jenn

“Coming out of undergrad I wanted to gain professional work experience and learn more about research in the policy field.” -Steven

Mentorship is key.

“The mentorship aspect of the program was by far the most valuable part.” -Victoria

“Through repeated constructive criticisms from my mentor and other staff I was able to target what areas I specifically needed to improve.” -Shakira

“I was able to communicate to my mentor which skills I was looking to develop and strengthen, and she found projects that would enable me to fulfill those goals. This was really valuable.” -Jenn

WIL can be a practical experience for students and new graduates.

“I wanted to pursue a WIL experience for the practical experience it offered. WIL provided an opportunity to apply the skills I had developed during my studies in a work environment as well as develop other professional skills.” -Jenn

“I wanted to gain practical experience so I would have a better chance at getting a job after school.”

“I wanted to assess the usefulness of my skill set to my field of interest and to better evaluate how I could tailor my learning to ensure I am prepared to enter the workforce after graduating.” -Shakira

Interns look to WIL to gain a variety of different skills.

“When I started, I hoped to gain research skills and learn about the research process up close. I have definitely done that, taking on new tasks such as conducting interviews with stakeholders, using NVivo, writing briefing notes, and contributing to a program evaluation. Another goal of mine, as a graduate fresh from school, was to develop good workplace habits and professional skills. Doing just simple routine things everyday, such as providing feedback for shared work and participating in meetings, has allowed me to do that.” -Steven

“The skills I was hoping to gain were mostly research skills: data collection, analysis and visualization, writing proposals, interpreting and synthesizing information to tell a story.” -Shakira

“I have been able to develop better quantitative skills by creating graphs and working with software such as STATA. By participating in meetings with stakeholders and ministry staff, I’ve also developed the ability to think analytically and strategically especially within the context of program evaluations” -Jenn

Advice from HEQCO interns about WIL.

“Be open to exploring many options especially if you are in an interdisciplinary program.” -Victoria

“Have an idea of what you would like to get out of the WIL experience before going into it.” -Shakira

“Think carefully about what specific skills or knowledge you want to gain from your experience. Be proactive in setting goals and talking to those in your workplace about how you can accomplish them.” -Steven

“Have an open and curious mind!” -Jenn

We are currently conducting research to understand the experience of students in remote WIL and experiential learning environments which is also the method in which the 2020/21 HEQCO internships were conducted. This work explores how institutions, employers and students are faring during this unprecedented time. It attempts to determine how institutions have adapted to support students in remote WIL and how this has affected their learning and employment outcomes.

Hiring for HEQCO interns takes place throughout the year. Check the careers section of our website or sign up for our mailing list to learn about future opportunities.

*Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

One reply on “Work-Integrated Learning at HEQCO: Student Perspectives”


Thank you for sharing the students’ perspective on work-integrated learning (WIL). At a first glance, this approach intends to combine academic studies with the practical application of the theories. The pedagogical conceptions that support this approach to education have components of social efficiency curricular with experience-centered design. Work-integrated learning brings together essentialist and progressist curriculum philosophies to help prepare students for the 21st-century workplace.

Recent research shows employers are finding job applicants with baccalaureate degrees to be incapable of performing basic tasks. For example, graduates can not explain complex problems, collaborate with others, or perform basic tasks, like writing coherent paragraphs (Harvard Business Review, 2019). Higher-education institutions are implementing WIL curricular strategy by integrating the theoretical and practical components of a vocational program to produce more employable graduates. Is work-integrated learning intended to close the gap between academic programs and employer’s needs? Can WIL help employers identify competent workers?

Thank you again for this valuable post!


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