CIC - Winter 2021

The Evolving World of The School-Work Partnership

CICan and Work-Integrated Learning 

Experiential learning has certainly evolved from the traditional co-op model that has dominated that education landscape for so long. Now experiential learning has morphed into much more comprehensive and meaningful placements that fall under the Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) umbrella. Beyond co-operative education, WIL can involve anything from an applied research project to a field placement—all that’s needed is a school, a student and an employer, community partner or stakeholder to work together to make the experience happen.

Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) represents our nation’s leaders in delivering WIL programming. The members of the organization—close to 140 colleges, institutes, CEGEPs and polytechnics across the country—work on a regular basis with employers to provide opportunities to not only allow students to learn, but also to ply their trade. They are doing this by consulting with employers to determine their specific needs while working with all levels of government to see what kind of supports—both financial and resources—are out there to grow and strengthen programs.

Types of Work-Integrated Learning

CEWIL Canada, an excellent source of information about the different types of WIL, identify ten WIL specialties. They include ones you may already be familiar with­—apprenticeships, co-operative education, internships, clinical/field placements, and work experience—and a few that are worthy of a deeper explanation. Beyond offering the traditional and popular forms of WIL, most CICan members are innovatively promoting things like:

Entrepreneurship—where local business leaders’ partner with colleges and institutes to mentor up and coming entrepreneurs, partner with students to bring innovation to unique business challenges, and/or supervision of students at their own companies. While the supervisor model seems more like a traditional co-op experience, the mentorship and partnering models provide students with creative opportunities to explore issues with local businesses and business leaders.

Service Learning—this type of WIL focusses on the health and well-being of the community. In this case, CICan colleges and institutes partner their students with agencies (alternatively, the agencies can approach schools with their own initiatives and needs). Students then join the organization, helping to address community issues, as part of their college or institute program.

Applied Research Projects —Sometimes known as Community and Industry Research Projects, this type of WIL allows businesses to bring challenges and problems to CICan member institutions to collaborate to find solutions that will improve the way their businesses work. This collaboration can happen remotely or in the workplace, with students often bringing the creativity and innovation that helps a business form a new or renewed strategic plan. The focus of this type of WIL is research that enables a business to find a path to move forward.

WIL: Part of the program!

Remember, all these WIL opportunities are embedded as part of a student’s course of studies. These are credit bearing learning experiences that contribute to the diploma or credential they are trying to earn. More importantly, WIL strengthens the employability of the student—a cornerstone of what CICan members are continually striving to achieve. The plan is working: currently 95 percent of college and institute graduates find work in their field.

Setting themselves apart

CICan members set themselves apart by pursuing paths of collaboration and cooperation with the business community. Instead of assuming that an academic perspective must be correct (because the textbook says so!), colleges and institutes form partnerships where the needs of businesses are heard. In turn, member programming is adapted to the needs of these businesses. This is how WIL evolves and morphs for the betterment of companies (and, in turn, the Canadian economy) and the students enrolled in college programs. More and more, guidance counsellors and students are recognizing that Canada’s colleges, institutions, CEGEPs and polytechnics are offering robust programs that allow students to pursue studies that are specifically related to the career path they are pursuing. CICan members currently offer over 10,000 programs to students from coast-to-coast-to coast and help generate over $190 billion in additional income to the national economy via education, training, and the efforts of their students and partners. WIL plays a key role in the success of these students and schools.


The COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant challenge to the education community across Canada and around the world. It forced the introduction of remote learning platforms that, while proving less than ideal in many situations, managed to keep all levels of the learning ecosystem operational for months at a time. CICan and its partners have taken the logical next step in laying the groundwork for a more permanent platform for future virtual work-integrated learning. Virtu-WIL, launched in September 2021, allows healthcare students in nursing, medical laboratory sciences and paramedicine to take part in virtual WIL opportunities that will not only enhance their learning, but allow for uninterrupted, remote learning outside a classroom setting. According to CICan President and CEO, Denise Amyot, “…[Virtu-WIL] will go a long way towards supporting our future healthcare professionals in developing practical, job-ready skills before entering the labour market.” Depending on the success of the program (and by all indications, the program is working), Virtu-WIL is positioned to expand beyond the realm of healthcare. In essence, CICan is positioning itself to create as many WIL opportunities as possible for students both inside and outside the formal classroom setting.

The future of education

Expansive, creative and collaborative learning is really what the future of education should be. CICan is setting the standard. They are working with their members to introduce bold programs that see students become immersed in the fields of work where they hope to one day land. While a lot of talk has been paid to this idea over the years, CICan members are making this happen for the students they serve by creating alliances and partnerships with Canada’s business community. The beneficiaries of this approach will not only be the Canadian economy but the students who will soon drive the economy forward.

By: Sean Dolan