Demographic change, economic globalization, and the emergence of an increasingly knowledge-based economy have triggered rapid and unprecedented change in the Ontario labour market and in the skills required by employers. Since colleges and universities provide the largest inflow of workers into the labour market – generating four out of five new labour market entrants (Lapointe et al., 2006) – an effective, flexible, and responsive system of postsecondary education and training has been recognized as an essential investment in human capital. In an interconnected global economy, a diverse, well-educated, and highly skilled workforce is critical not only to innovation, productivity, and economic growth, but also to maximizing the human potential of all Ontario citizens.
This report summarizes the findings of an exploratory study commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) on the impact of work-integrated learning (WIL) on the social and human capital of postsecondary education (PSE) graduates, with particular reference to the quality of student learning and labour market outcomes associated with WIL programs. The project was undertaken by HEQCO in collaboration with a working group of nine Ontario postsecondary institutions: Algonquin College, George Brown College, Georgian College, Laurentian University, Niagara College, University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, University of Windsor, and Wilfrid Laurier University. The study had three overarching goals:
1. Develop a typology for understanding work-integrated learning in Ontario’s postsecondary sector;
2. Identify the learning, labour market and other benefits associated with WIL, as well as challenges and opportunities;
3. Recommend key issues and questions that would provide the focus for a second and larger phase of the project, including research with postsecondary students.
The research involved 39 key informants from Ontario colleges and universities, and 25 representatives of businesses and community organizations that provide WIL opportunities for students. Institutional key informants interviewed for the study expressed strong support for the overall project, including the goal of developing a shared framework and common language for WIL programs in order to minimize the potential for confusion between institutions, students, and employers. A typology of work-integrated learning was viewed as important to facilitating communication about WIL within and between institutions, and among institutions, students, employers, and community partners. Employers and community partners, meanwhile, valued
their participation in work-integrated learning programs, and appreciated the opportunity to share their perspectives on how WIL programs could be enhanced.