Work-Integrated Learning: WIL You or Won't You?

By Logan Bright Modified on July 11, 2019

Read all about the benefits of learning on the job.

Students happily work on an engine in class.

You may know the concept of "work-integrated learning" by one of many terms: internships, co-operative work placements, apprenticeships, experiential learning, and so on. Work-integrated learning, or WIL, is a catch-all term for education on the job instead of the classroom.

WIL is becoming more popular, and rightly so. There are lots of benefits to taking part. But first, let's talk about the basic types of WIL, as laid out in the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario's 2011 report (pdf).

Types of Work-Integrated Learning

Structured work experiences are probably most familiar to you. These include co-op placements, internships and so on. Students come to know a particular work environment through enrolment in a post-secondary program. Universities and colleges often have affiliated firms where co-op students and interns can engage and learn on the job in a position related to their field of study.

Systematic training includes things like apprenticeships, where the workplace is central to the learning experience. This structure is common in the skilled trades. Indeed, you're unlikely to ever become a licensed electrician without apprenticing first.

Finally, institutional partnerships are post-secondary courses and programs built to serve community or industry interests. "Service learning," in particular, is becoming more common: these programs typically have a community focus, where students synthesize their learning while practicing genuine service for a social cause.

The Benefits

Okay, classifications are all well and good, but what's the benefit to you, the hard-working student, already pressed for time? WIL offers you the chance to get some professional experience in your field of interest, and apply what you've learned in real time. WIL also gives you fantastic networking opportunities, and could mean an easier transition to full-time work when your studies are complete. Plus, you get to learn by doing, which is one of the best ways to retain and sharpen your skills. If you need even more incentive, consider that university grads with WIL experience earn on average almost $10,000 more a year than their peers. Not a bad reason to get involved!

Employers who take part in WIL benefit, too, by bringing in students with innovative ideas — and access to the latest developments in their field. Employers can develop their coaching, training, and leadership skills while keeping access to students open for future employment. When the time comes to hire a graduate, employers can be sure they're "work ready."

It's not just students and employers who see the rewards — schools do, too. By facilitating community engagement between students and employers, schools help open lines of communication with industry and governing bodies. The curriculum can be tested and enhanced, and rates of student engagement, satisfaction, and recruitment rise. The real challenge for employers and institutions is meeting demand for placements!

WIL isn't for everybody, but it might be for you. Look for opportunities to test your skills in real-world environments. From a full-time placement to a one-off visit, checking out the scope of your future career can only help you reach your goals.