Work-integrated learning placements are an opportunity to see first-hand what your future career might look like, learn some of the skills you’ll need, and build on what you’re already learning in school. During a paid internship or co-op placement, for example, you’ll get to test your academic knowledge in a real-world setting and work alongside people with more experience in your field.
Be a sponge and absorb everything you can.
Cara Krezek, President of CEWIL Canada, says it’s about setting personal key performance indicators, keeping track of your responsibilities at work, and making sure you track and measure your success. These important steps will help you thrive during your placement, and gain valuable skills and knowledge that can be applied towards your program of study.
Create a plan
What would you like to accomplish during your work-integrated learning (WIL) placement? You definitely want to learn more about your chosen career path, but is there a particular area you’d like to focus on or learn about to address an academic weakness.
If that’s part of your plan, reach out to your professors as part of your preparation process. They can help you navigate the options and decide on a placement that can help you improve academically.
Set and measure your own goals
“I would say that students should have goals going in, so then they know what they’re measuring them against,” says Krezek. “So if the goal is to increase their skill in X, then they can measure it based on the experience that they’ve gained and if they feel more competent in it.”
One way to set that goal is to sit with your manager at the placement and discuss your work responsibilities. This is the opportunity to understand what is expected from you and for you to share your personal goals. That way, both of you can be aligned and you can gain the knowledge you need and apply this hands-on information when you return to school. Krezek also suggests sharing your goals with your co-workers so they can help you achieve them.
While there might be the urge to create a long list of goals, it’s best to focus on a few goals in the beginning. As you accomplish those, ask for more responsibility and focus on the next set of goals. Don’t worry if you don’t get through your entire list. There will always be more opportunities to learn and grow.
Look at your grades
While grades aren’t the most important part of a job hunt, it’s a really easy way to personally track improvement. Take a look at your grades before and after a placement. Krezek explains that a student who was engaged during their placement will often see that engagement reflected in an improvement in their grades.
Learn about yourself
Your education will give you the academic knowledge you need to graduate and get a job in your chosen field, but the work experience you gain from your student placement will expose you to real-world situations and teach you how you react to different situations. This knowledge can help you improve on your weaknesses and can be applied to your education, both academic and personal. Let’s be honest, part of going to school and doing a placement isn’t just about learning whether you like a job, it’s about learning who you are as a person and how that person might perform in a particular career or industry.
Ask for feedback
Make your one-on-one sessions about active learning and feedback for both you and your manager. Ask for feedback on your performance, such as what you’re doing well and areas of improvement. Let them know if you’re struggling in a particular area, if you need more support, or if you want more opportunities to broaden and gain more experience.
It’s not just about hard skills
A WIL program isn’t just about learning transferable hard skills, it’s also about learning soft skills that can help you both academically and professionally. Some soft skills to focus on during your placement include:
While it’s important to leverage a work placement for future career plans, it’s also the ideal place to learn the hard and soft skills that you can translate to improved academic performance. As Krezek says, it is an opportunity to explore, learn and take risks.
Looking for a placement? Find postings for WIL opportunities from employers across Canada on Outcome Campus Connect.