By: Emily Madden, Senior Director, Magnet
This year, Magnet and ICTC partnered to build on research exploring the impact of the Student Work Placement Program. The resulting report, The Impact of Work-Integrated Learning on Student Success and the Canadian Economy, was published with the support of six additional SWPP delivery partners (ECO Canada, Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium, BioTalent Canada, Electricity Human Resources Canada, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and TECHNATION).
This article is part of a series detailing the findings of the report and their implications. Here, we discuss the importance of sustainable funding in encouraging employers to provide work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences, which is crucial to fostering the human skills Canada’s workforce needs.
With Canada’s labour landscape changing at such a rapid pace, it’s increasingly challenging to know exactly what skills will be needed across tomorrow’s workplaces. That doesn’t mean hope is lost. In this scenario, investing in skills like adaptability, collaboration, communication, and problem solving–all falling under the umbrella of human skills–is one of the best bets we can make. If educators, industry leaders, employers, and government can work together to foster creativity and adaptability among young workers and learners, Canada can make great strides toward the resilient, future-ready workforce we need.
Research has continually demonstrated the effectiveness of work-integrated learning (WIL) in building those human skills. To position Canada’s economy and workforce for success, we need to bring more employers on to not only hire students, but create quality WIL experiences that include mentorship, proper onboarding and training, opportunities to network, and learning plans and objectives for students that align with the current and expected demands of the job market.
These are the types of experience that allow students to not only successfully transition into the workforce, but also take industry knowledge back to the classroom in a way that enriches the learning experience of their peers.
Since 2017, the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) has empowered employers and students to connect and create these kinds of experiences by offering up to $7,000 in funding support to employers for each eligible student they hired for WIL opportunities.
Magnet has served as a SWPP delivery partner since 2019. Through Magnet’s efforts alone, more than 40,000 students and counting have obtained work experience at thousands of employers across all ten provinces and all three territories.
Magnet’s experience as one of 18 delivery partners of the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) has continually highlighted a key lesson: The role of employers in training young talent is invaluable, but is only made possible by reliable access to funding and to technology that eases the burden of hiring students.
Developing and delivering quality WIL experience on the scale that Canada’s labour market needs is a significant endeavour, especially for small businesses. As noted previously, it’s a matter of designing and delivering a learning experience for students that includes multiple components and also reporting back to post-secondary institutions in the case of WIL placements that are part of a student’s program requirements. Employers are also required to shoulder the administrative aspect of WIL, completing required applications, managing payments, etc.
From an employer perspective, undertaking this effort to hire either a single student, or even a group of students for a single semester, is hardly worthwhile. By offering employers the assurance that funding would be available across multiple years, allowing employers to continually reap the benefits of their efforts to build hiring and training capacity, SWPP proved to be a game changer.
From Magnet’s experience, especially when the government increased our mandate from delivering 1,000 placements to 20,000 in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, we saw many employers willing to participate over multiple semesters and many large employers who were willing to engage in mass-hiring thanks to the increase in available placements and continued extension of the program.
It’s simple: The effort to train young talent needs to be worth it for employers. For Canada, the investment to make it worthwhile pays major dividends, a fact that was highlighted within Magnet and ICTC’s research. Long-term funding for SWPP is therefore also a long-term investment in Canada’s economy, boosting business capacity and economic activity.
In addition to wage subsidy support, SWPP also included investment into the promotion, administration, and marketing of the program. This support enabled the creation and maintenance of a technology infrastructure that allowed employers to easily find student talent across Canada, complete their applications, and receive their wage subsidy payout. Employers could hire multiple students and take part in SWPP across multiple semesters through one platform.
While wage subsidy funding is certainly appealing, this additional infrastructure was instrumental in creating an ease of experience for employers and removing long-standing barriers to student hiring.
Typically, employers would have to build individual relationships with career centres and co-op offices to share job opportunities. Outcome Campus Connect gave employers one channel to reach students across more than 125 post-secondary institutions. With the ability to target students by program and location, employers could also recruit students from more diverse populations and regions. Once again, this would normally be a heavy lift for employers, requiring extensive relationship building with individual institutions and faculties.
From the delivery partner perspective, the Outcome Adjudicator technology centralised application management, applicant communication, funding distribution, and reporting to the government.
With continued investment in this technology, we can ensure that more employers have a positive experience with SWPP and are encouraged to make WIL a pillar of their business. The potential result is a flywheel effect in which more employers get used to the program and the hiring process in a way that participation becomes reflexive, and in which word of mouth brings more employers on board to hire and train Canada’s future workforce.
The growing demand for human skills is not going away. If anything, the investments in those skills through WIL and more collaboration between post-secondary institutions and businesses will only become more necessary. With long-term, sustainable funding for programs like SWPP, we can enable more success stories around WIL and encourage more employers to join the movement.