I’m a big fan of work-integrated learning (WIL). Without it, there would be no D2L. Or, more precisely, D2L exists because I turned my formal WIL opportunity into a more flexible entrepreneurship opportunity.
When I was an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, I skipped my summer co-op term interviews with Microsoft and other large tech companies. Instead, I began knocking on the doors of some professors and asking whether they would trust me to put their courses online.
That was the start of D2L.
Back then, co-op was a relatively new idea. Today, it is only one of many types of WIL experiences—others include apprenticeships, field experience, mandatory professional practice, service learning, internships, and more. Below is an exhaustive list of WIL experiences shared by the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, of which I sit on the board as a founding member. What they have in common is that all WIL experiences formally (and intentionally) integrate a student’s course work with a work or practice opportunity. WIL requires an academic institution, a host organization, and a student.
For some, the benefits of WIL were thought to be unidirectional—benefiting only the learner. And that’s understandable because learners get a lot out of the engagement. The benefits include—but are by no means limited to—gaining or improving transferable skills, building a professional network before graduation, having practical and real-world experience in a chosen profession before graduation, enhancing a professional identity, and enjoying increased employment rates after graduation.
However, there are obvious benefits to the employer too. WIL offers a powerful glimpse into the future of the workforce for industries, organizations, and their leaders. As learners bring innovations into organizations, those organizations get the benefit of the newest and latest ideas as well as a sampling of up-and-coming talent and potential hires.
At its heart, WIL is about connecting people. Rather than waiting four years to get a taste of a chosen profession, students work with their potential employers as they train, helping them better understand the demands of a job before they begin. And for employers, WIL makes the case not only for bringing in new people with fresh ideas, but also for demonstrating the benefit of providing ongoing learning opportunities for all learners.
But there is another, deeper economic imperative at work.
In a time of rampant technological disruption in the economy—across all industries and sectors—when universities struggle to keep pace with the future demands of employers, WIL is a powerful way to better align the skills of graduates with the needs of the workforce. Addressing this skills gap is one of the great challenges of economies around the world—and WIL is one powerful way to bridge that gap. It’s a virtuous feedback loop that helps align the workforce and educational institutions.
Which is why—at this year’s Fusion Conference—I made a bold prediction: in 20 years, all learners will participate in at least one kind of WIL experience in their academic career. The benefits are simply too great to ignore, which is why I think it’s such a safe bet.
Let’s check back with each other in 2039.