Participating in a work-integrated learning program is a win-win for employers, students and educational institutions. Small businesses in particular can benefit from hiring a post-secondary student who needs the work-integrated learning (WIL) experience as part of their academic studies. The employer gets help with their business and the student gains real-world experience they can apply to their education and career.
While the idea of an organization hiring a student for a WIL experience is simple, ensuring the placement is successful can be more complicated. The employer, the educational institution, and the student all need to be engaged and understand what defines success.
Let’s look at how employers can create and benefit from a successful work-integrated learning placement.
Before the placement begins
Potential employers should understand what type of WIL placement is being made available. Is it an apprenticeship where the student will work under a certified tradesperson and gain the skills needed for the trade, is it fieldwork where direct supervision isn’t needed, or is it service learning where students are partnered with an experienced co-worker?
It’s also important to know whether the placement is a paid position or is for academic credit. The type of placement will determine payment: Apprenticeships and some internships are paid and count towards academic credit, while field placements are unpaid but count towards academic credit.
Employers should also define their expectations. This can be done by creating a basic job description. That way, there is clear documentation of what the role entails, and students can better decide whether the fit is right.
Highlight the pros of a placement at your company to prospective student employees. This includes outlining what a student will learn while working for your organization, the culture, even future opportunities once students graduate.
Work with the institution on the screening process. Collaborating with the school means both of you can choose the student who would benefit the most from the WIL placement, and will benefit your organization.
When the placement begins
It’s important to provide proper introductory training, or onboarding, for your WIL student. It doesn’t have to be a complicated, weeks-long process, but you should have some documentation and guidelines to explain what a new hire needs to know in order to be successful in the role. This includes expected work hours, duties and responsibilities, introductions to key personnel, and making sure they know their supervisor.
Make sure your student has the tools they need. If they are working on site, this should include a designated workspace, tools, materials, and a security card to access or leave the building. For remote placements, this could mean making sure the student has access to any necessary office equipment or software.
You’ll also need to set clear expectations. You can build that into your on-boarding process but it’s a good idea to connect with students and go through what you expect, explaining any relevant employee guidelines such as dress codes, deadlines, and overtime.
As the placement progresses, hold regular one-on-one meetings with your student. This will help both of you understand what’s going well and what needs improvement. It’s also an opportunity for you to adjust their responsibilities as they learn and grow.
While it may be tempting to assign students tasks that regular employees don’t enjoy, resist the urge to only give students drudge work. The placement is an educational experience and an opportunity for students to learn about the relationship between their work and how they help meet the overarching goals of the organization. Give your student a few projects and invite them to meetings. They may have fresh insights that could be good for the business.
After the placement
Have an exit interview with the student. Ask them for feedback on their experience, what they learned, and recommendations for improving the placement experience. This is also an opportunity for you to give them constructive criticism that can help them after they graduate.
Provide or fill out the formal assessment. Most institutions will ask employers to give feedback on a student’s performance. This is an opportunity to evaluate the success of the placement and the relationship between your organization and the academic institution. You may also wish to talk to the institution to discuss the possibility of future student placements.
Successful WIL placements mean organizations benefit from having students who are eager to learn, and bring knowledge of the latest innovations. In return, students get an opportunity to gain relevant experience that will help them when they graduate and are ready to work.
Magnet’s Student Work Placement Program provides employers with wage subsidies to hire post-secondary students for paid work experiences. Learn more.