Significant progress is being made on the 66 projects funded under the BC Government Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) Initiative. Project coordinators across the BC Post Secondary Institutions (PSIs) are busy working hard to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 and complete projects that will have positive impacts on employers, WIL practitioners, and most importantly, students. These projects are focused on developing new WIL curricula, building relationships with employers, creating targeted resources for under-represented student groups, and conducting research that will inform best practices.
ACE-WIL is currently collecting information on the projects to prepare for two symposia planned for spring and fall of 2021. The symposia will allow project coordinators to showcase the outcomes of their projects, and discuss the successes and challenges they experienced. All project coordinators are now providing regular updates to ACE-WIL on their project status, milestones and completion dates.
In anticipation of the symposiums, ACE-WIL has used the information gleaned from project coordinators to put together a preliminary breakdown of the overarching themes of the many projects. Keep reading for a big picture look at the many project’s impact levels, focus areas, targeted student groups, type of WIL, and adjustments due to COVID-19.
The majority of projects are focusing their efforts institutionally. Many of these projects are developing curricula and resources to increase WIL participation. For example, the BCIT Trades and Curriculum Project is in the process of tailoring employability skills curricula and building an online employer toolkit to support and encourage hiring co-op students in trades programs.
Around 6% of projects are building partnerships with other institutions or employers at the regional level. One project based out of the University of British Columbia- Okanagan has partnered with the University of Northern British Columbia and Thompson Rivers University to help coordinators engage with stakeholders across central and northern BC. The aim is to increase opportunities for WIL in these regions.
At the provincial level, about 24% of projects are producing strategic level research and resources for the benefit of WIL across the BC PSI system. For instance, the ACE-WIL Partnership with BC Chamber of Commerce project is working to develop an educational plan directed at employers across BC in order to increase awareness of co-op and WIL. So far a survey has been sent out to chamber members on employing WIL students. Keep an eye out for the survey results as they will be made available soon!
Project Focus Areas
The hard work on the many projects includes diverse goals. However, 7 overarching focus areas emerged including:
- WIL program development and design (e.g. curriculum revision or development)
- Support for targeted students (e.g. indigenous students, students with disabilities, international students etc.)
- Support for practitioners and/or faculty (e.g. professional development, learning communities, learning/teaching support)
- Employer engagement, recruitment and/or partnerships
- Strategic system-wide support
- Support for targeted employers (e.g. non-profit sector, trades)
- Resources for equity, diversity, and inclusion in teaching and learning
Of course, many projects have multiple objectives they are working towards. For instance, a project at Thompson Rivers University is targeting three Employer Liaison and WIL initiatives to increase employer participation in WIL, develop an indigenous-focused WIL program, and launch a virtual reality project to help prepare students for the workplace. Though still in the early stages of hiring a project coordinator, this project’s intended outcomes will provide support for targeted students (indigenous students), engage with employers, and will develop resources to support equity, diversity and inclusion in teaching and learning.
Targeted Student Groups
Intended outcomes of many projects are focused on increasing WIL opportunities for targeted student groups. Around 30 projects have been identified as targeting specific student groups, including:
- Indigenous students
- International students
- Students with disabilities
- Students in rural/remote locations
- Students in trades
- Students enrolled in specific targeted programs (e.g. Nursing Students, Entrepreneurship, PhD students)
- Multiple targeted groups (e.g. indigenous students and students with disabilities)
Projects are responding to the unique needs of targeted student groups by developing resources, expanding curriculums, and creating specialized programs.
For instance, the Accessibility Initiative project out of Okanagan College is one of the 4 projects focusing on WIL for students with disabilities. Now in the implementation stage, this project aims to increase co-op participation for students with a disabilities by understanding the barriers they face to enrolling in co-op. This will be accomplished through research and interviews with current students with disabilities enrolled in the co-op program at Okanagan College.
Many projects also have a wider focus, aiming outcomes at multiple targeted groups such as the Co-op Curriculum Redesign for Inclusivity Project at Kwantlen Polytechnic. Currently, the project team is in the research stage, and its ultimate outcomes are to revise the Co-op and work-integrated learning curriculum & educational materials so it reflects equity, diversity and inclusivity and employment readiness. In collaboration with KPU students, alumni and employers they will also be creating a series of short & powerful videos/digital resources that give voice to KPU students and alumni to share real issues students face regarding inclusion and diversity in the workplace. The purpose of these digital resources will serve to increase awareness of EDI in the work-integrated learning context, increase awareness of how cultural influences affect intercultural communication and interactions and systemic racism in a work-integrated learning context (applying for jobs, hiring, interviewing, on the job, discrimination, stereotypes, bias, privilege).
One project will be providing an opportunity for many of these projects targeting specific student groups to host the resources developed on an online resource hub. The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Resource Hub project based out of Simon Fraser University and BC WIL Council will benefit all PSIs and aims to include resources and tools for WIL practitioners and employers to work with students who experience marginalization. In addition, the site is aiming to meet accessibility needs by exploring the potential for screen reading on the site.
Types of WIL
Although most projects are focusing mainly on developing co-op and work experience programs, another important targeted group is students enrolled in other types of WIL. CEWIL Canada identifies nine types of WIL including co-op, applied research projects, apprenticeships, mandatory practicums and clinical placements, field placements, entrepreneurship, service learning, internships, and work experience.
Looking deeper into the types of WIL represented in the BC Government WIL Initiative projects, 11 projects are specifically focusing on supporting types of WIL other than co-op. There are four main groups of non-co-op WIL identified, including:
- Mandatory Practicum or Clinical Placement
- Service Learning
The chart below illustrates the distribution of projects among these categories:
An example of a practicum focused project is the Expanding Child and Youth Care Practicum Opportunities project out of Douglas College. Work on this project involves developing practicum partnerships in the surrounding areas as well as expanding to the Kamloops-Okanagan, Cariboo, and North (North Coast/Northeast/Nechako) regions.
Some projects are also looking generally at WIL outside of the co-op framework. For example, the Bridging Diverse Bodies of Knowledge and Practice in WIL project out of UVIC is conducting an environmental scan on how institutions integrate WIL (including co-op) and establishing a community of practice at UVic that reflects all types of WIL available. This project has formed a working group and will soon be starting to gather information through focus groups with all WIL types across UVIC.
Projects like this are trailblazing the path to more support for all types of WIL in BC.
Adapting to COVID-19
COVID-19 has posed unique challenges to many projects, resulting in delays in initiation and adjustment of activities. Almost half of all projects have applied for extensions on their project completion date. In the chart below you can see that most of the 50 projects that have provided a completion date to ACE-WIL aim to finish between March and September 2021.
Due to the current pandemic, aspects of several projects are on hold or completion dates can not be provided as large parts of the projects require in-person engagement. However, many have been able to adjust their project goals to align with the constraints that the current reality poses. Budgets have been adjusted as virtual events are less costly than in-person activities. Now funds can be directed to more robust or new initiatives within projects.
For example, the Job Development Initiative project out of Camosun College is collaboratively hosting and delivering the Beyond 2020 career fair in collaboration with Vancouver Island University, Royal Roads University, and North Island College. Like many others, this project has been adjusted to comply with the constraints of COVID-19 by holding the event virtually. The strategic purpose of the event is to bring together employers, students, alumni, and industry associations on Vancouver Island to; re-connect, engage and share employment and work experience opportunities, as well as, business intelligence to help students prepare for the future of work with the shifting demands and gaps in a post-pandemic job market. Live video presentations will include topics such as; innovation & leadership in an age of disruption, AI, machine learning & automation: humans needed and the value of work-integrated learning.
In addition, this project is developing a communication strategy for job development during and post COVID-19. In addition, this project is developing a digital toolkit that will support Job Developers in their engagement and service delivery with industry partners. This digital learning resource will include targeted strategies and communications for connecting with different sectors, market-based research, resources for both employers and Job Developers, integrated marketing tactics, as well as, how to integrate funding into creating work-integrated learning experiences for students. Successful job development in a post-pandemic economy requires a shift in strategic focus.
Thus, institutions across BC are ensuring their projects will still be impactful despite the shift that COVID-19 has brought.
Though some of the projects are still in their infancy due to COVID-19 delays, we’re looking ahead to an opportunity for all to share the resources developed in their projects and the lessons learned. Certainly there will be a lot of lessons learned in regard to adapting projects to the virtual world!
The Impact of WIL Funding on Post Secondary Programs project, coordinated by UVIC and ACE-WIL, is underway on behalf of all PSIs. The express goal of this project is to host two symposia to showcase the project outcomes and resources developed out of the 66 BC Government WIL Initiatives. The symposia project also ties into enhancements of the ACE-WIL Resource Hub, which will feature many of the resources showcased at the symposia.
Planning has started on these events, with the formation of a planning committee. Dates will be confirmed later on but the intent is that one symposium will be held in spring 2021 and another held in fall 2021 and will include opportunities for sharing ideas, showcasing results and networking.
It’s an exciting time for ACE-WIL and our member institutions as we work hard to support students, employers and practitioners to expand WIL to new bounds. The work of many projects is just beginning, but the results of the projects will leave a wide-reaching legacy to benefit post-secondary students in their future careers.
By: Hannah Ahluwalia, ACE-WIL Co-op Student, Project and Administrative Support Assistant. Questions? Contact Hannah at email@example.com