Tips for Providing Students with a Quality WIL Experience

Work-integrated learning (WIL) is quickly gaining momentum as a key resource for supporting businesses in our community, both large and small. It is a valuable opportunity for businesses to build a strong talent pipeline and students to improve and learn new skills. The Access Student Talent program works with our local post-secondary schools (Conestoga College, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University) to connect our local small businesses and not-for-profit organizations with work-integrated learning opportunities.

What is work-integrated learning?

Work-integrated learning (WIL) is an umbrella term describing the process of learning where students incorporate what they have learned academically into an experience working with an industry partner (business or not-for-profit organization) within a workplace or practice setting. There are a variety of different ways that businesses and students can work together including field placements, in-class projects, capstone projects, co-op work terms, apprenticeships, and more.

Why is ensuring a quality WIL experience important for businesses?

As work-integrated learning continues to grow, the quality of the WIL experience is becoming more important. When businesses are given the proper resources and support to create a quality WIL experience, they maximize the ways they can engage the talent and skill of their students. An engaged student is often eager to produce quality work. They feel more inclined to learn and ask questions and can approach you with any questions or challenges they have.

Additionally, businesses have the opportunity to recruit graduates down the road. During a business’s time engaging with a student, they can evaluate and observe potential future hires, and recruit from a strong talent pool for future openings. This significantly reduces the business’s recruitment and training costs.

Moreover, participating in a work-integrated learning experience can provide your staff with an opportunity to develop their mentorship and leadership skills. Supervising and/or mentoring a student can provide your staff with a valuable professional development opportunity that provides them with growth and can act as a retention tool for your business.

Perhaps one of the most crucial reasons for creating a quality WIL experience is investing in the next generation of future skills and workers. Students entering the workforce will need to develop real workplace strategies and skills to navigate their careers for the future. A quality WIL experience ensures that they take away important skills to help them find meaningful work after graduation.

With the different work-integrated learning options available, there is no one way that a business can ensure a quality WIL experience. Nevertheless, the Access Student Talent program has outlined some tips and guidelines for businesses looking to provide a quality WIL experience.

1. Provide meaningful onboarding

You should consider reviewing some important workplace basics to set expectations, whether the engagement is virtual or in-person. Walk the student through your organization’s overall mission and company culture. Introduce them to any other key team members that the student might cross paths with during their time at your organization. Networking is an important part of the work-integrated learning experience for the student and enriches the connections they make. Taking the time early on to familiarize the student with the organization and staff allows them to feel more comfortable in this new environment, creates a more valuable experience, and sets you both up for success.

2. Set up a work plan or task list

Creating and communicating clear objectives for their duration with your organization will help them anticipate what is expected of them every week. It gives them quantifiable tasks and will help keep them on track and overall, be more productive. Outlining specific tasks also helps students measure their accomplishments and refines their attention to detail.

Students are always eager to learn and absorb as much as they can. If you can communicate why certain tasks are valuable to the bigger picture, the student will understand the purpose of the task they’re working on, which can lead to a higher quality of work. It allows them to focus on the specific task while at the same time, giving them insight into the overall structure of the workplace.

As the student becomes familiar with using a work plan or task list, they will gain a better understanding of deliverables, deadlines, and how to communicate effectively. This teaches them important skills like time management, organization, and good communication which will all be beneficial to prepare for their future in the workforce.

3. Check-in often and provide feedback

Checking in with the student gives both of you a valuable opportunity to identify and discuss progress and challenges. Whether you set up a video chat, phone call, or in-person meeting, the open dialogue helps you gauge how the student is enjoying their experience and gives you a chance to learn more about them and vice versa. Taking the time to talk to and manage your student throughout the experience gives you a chance to interact with them beyond giving them weekly tasks and projects. Scheduling regular check-in meetings promote communication and provide opportunities for the student to ask questions, express any concerns or challenges that are happening, as well as highlight their progress.

Check-ins allow the student to hear any feedback on their performance, which includes celebrating wins and accomplishments, as well as learning where improvements in their performance can be made. It gives you a chance to clarify any confusion, find out how you can support your student, and work to find solutions together. Giving the student constructive feedback helps them grow professionally and prepares them to receive feedback in any workplace in the future.

4. Challenge them and let them challenge you

When business and students work together, it is an incredible opportunity for both parties to learn and grow. Each day that the student is exposed to new practices and experiences is a teachable moment for them to carry on for their career. You have the platform to make a lasting positive impact on them. Push them to take risks in their approach or encourage them to try a strategy they have the potential to succeed with. If the student is facing challenges, make sure you are framing them as a learning opportunity and reiterate that it is a necessary and inevitable part of career growth.

You also have the unique opportunity to learn from a bright, eager fresh mind and gain feedback on the student’s perspective of your organization’s culture and product or service. They can challenge you with proposing new ideas, different strategies, or alternative approaches as they learn more about your organization. Growing up in a more digitally advanced world means the students can introduce you to new tools for your workplace.

Work-integrated learning helps you train and look for specific and valuable skills and create a stronger future talent pipeline for your business. You’ll have the unique chance to not only develop a student’s skills but also give your staff the opportunity to develop their own leadership and mentoring skills. Overall, providing a high-quality WIL experience will give your business the most positive outcome for the present and the future workforce. In today’s business climate, you have the opportunity to tap into work-integrated learning as an effective resource as your business continues to grow.

Start exploring working with students!

Working with post-secondary students is an incredible opportunity to foster innovation and success in your business and get the support you need at a low or no cost. The Access Student Talent program is here to help you with the planning and preparation. Our program shares webinars, blogs, and additional educational resources so you can feel confident as you plan to work with a post-secondary student. If you are interested in learning more about the Access Student Talent program, contact us today!