Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs are associated with myriad benefits to students after they graduate and start their careers, including higher income and higher likelihood of fulltime employment that matches their level of qualification, but advantages of these programs may differ according to the type of program, field of study or even the gender of the student, a new study from the C.D. Howe Institute finds.
In From Class to Career: How Work Integrated Learning Benefits Graduates Looking for Jobs, authors Rosalie Wyonch and Bradley Seward encourage governments to take note of the many advantages that WIL experiences can have for students after graduation. For instance, benefits can include improved job matching, higher incomes and a higher likelihood of being hired, while also reducing wage and employment gaps that are traditionally associated with biases towards individual characteristics.
However, men seem to benefit more from co-op participation while women tend to do better with work placements, and university graduates who complete a WIL program tend to fair better than those who graduated from college.
“We found that women who participated in a co-op program received wages closer to those of non-participating male peers than women who did not participate,” Wyonch and Seward explain. “For immigrant and visible minority university graduates, research has shown that the returns to co-op participation were on average sufficient to overcome the wage gap,” suggesting that WIL programs may contribute to reducing the wage and employment gaps traditionally found between certain segments of the population.
For some fields of study, such as education and health, the vast majority of graduates participate in WIL and it has become part of standard training practices. In others, such as the humanities, business, management and public administration, less than half of students participate in WIL. As WIL has expanded, so has mandatory participation for some fields of study and programs. Yet, many students report not being paid for their work during WIL experiences. There are complex relationships between early-career labour market outcomes and WIL participation, the proportion of graduates with similar experiences and whether or not participation is voluntary.
Governments have also taken note of the many benefits of WIL programs and now offer dedicated funding and tax credits to institutions and businesses that offer practical work placements, with a priority on the skilled trades, STEM and business programs in particular. As WIL expands, the government should also invest in collecting additional data to enable provide insights for improving WIL programs and a deeper understanding of the nuances underlying differing results associated with level and field of study, as well as the demographic characteristics of graduates, and to ensure that the case for government subsidization remains evidence-based.
To close the labour market inequality gaps, the authors propose expanding co-op programs or offering more career-oriented learning opportunities.
“There are opportunities to adjust government policies to subsidize improved labour market outcomes more efficiently for post-secondary graduates by targeting the expansion of co-op programs at the university level and encouraging participation of international students,” the authors highlight. “It can also be beneficial to offer professional development elective options, to improve skills associated with real work experience, such as business etiquette, leadership, teamwork and creative/innovative thinking.”
Rosalie Wyonch is Senior Policy Analyst, at the C.D. Howe Institute.
Bradley Seward is assistant professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, University of Toronto.