CEWIL Canada showcases universities and colleges commitment to create innovative student work experiences in response to COVID-19
Securing co-operative education work terms and practicums has been a challenge for many Canadian post-secondary students during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the support of Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, many universities and colleges, and their partner employers are offering innovative opportunities to help students fulfil the hands-on learning requirements of their programs.
Throughout the pandemic, CEWIL Canada and representatives from 110 member institutions, employer and industry organizations as well as various government representatives, have met regularly during virtual town halls to share work from home alternatives created to facilitate learning that would normally happen on a job site. These range from health equipment repair simulation for biomedical students at a college in Atlantic Canada to students at an Ontario university helping organizations transition to digital workplaces
As of June 5th, CEWIL Canada member institutions reported that nearly 57 per cent (up 7% from 2 weeks prior) of their students enrolled in work-integrated learning programs have secured co-operative education work terms collectively as a result of those efforts. Meanwhile, they continue to find ways to shore up more opportunities for students going forward, including encouraging partner employers to postpone, rather than cancel, student work terms or tap into government subsidies to aid in hiring students such as the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP).
“CEWIL Canada is committed to bringing together the co-operative education and work-integrated learning community during this uncertain and unprecedented time,” says Cara Krezek, CEWIL Canada President. “We’re seeing lower work term employment rates than this time last year, but we’re also seeing our membership and partners joining together to work through the unpredictable challenges they’re facing with incredible and inspiring results.”
Some of the unique ways Canadian colleges and universities are assisting students in fulfilling their program requirements include:
- At the College of the North Atlantic – Ridge Road Campus in St, John’s, Nfld., biomedical students learned from home how to troubleshoot medical devices, including ventilators and infusion pumps, by investigating mock scenarios that can arise in a clinical setting. Students learned the ins and outs of as many as three devices each day over a six-week period by studying service manuals and figuring out solutions to problems that can occur while using the equipment. This learning model, which was supported by Newfoundland and Labrador’s health boards, exposed students to more equipment than they might otherwise work with on a job site. “They missed the hands-on part of it but they experience the process of troubleshooting and the thought process behind it,” says instructor Kelly Spencer. “That gives it validity.”
The college will also offer some of its engineering students applied research positions to help support community stakeholders such as the local mining industry, wooden boat museum, and food security network, complete research that they would not have had access or time to undertake previously.
- At Quebec’s Université de Sherbrooke, more than 91 per cent of students in co-operative education programs have found placements thanks to university administrators personally reaching out to alumni, including Peter Cassar, co-founder of cloud computing company Sherweb, to secure work opportunities. Professors have also hired students to work in their labs.
In addition, the university promoted federal financial programs for hiring students, offered flexibility on work term duration and format, and encouraged delaying the start of placements. “It’s a collective effort that led to our numbers,” says Alain Tremblay, the University’s director-general of internship and placement services. “For most students, getting work terms during the COVID-19 pandemic gives them fantastic opportunities to learn in a different environment and to participate in the transformation of employers’ strategic sectors while employers benefit from the energy and creativity of our students during this difficult time.”
- The University of Waterloo in Ontario tapped into the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) to create more than 300 student jobs assisting faculty with the development and delivery of online academic courses. SWPP provides up to $7,000 of a student’s salary during their placements. The university is also connecting tech-savvy students with organizations needing help to transition to virtual and digital workplaces. All students have access to a suite of free courses covering specialized digital skills fundamentals, including digital marketing, web design and video marketing, to help them better support employers during this time. “Waterloo has facilitated online learning for students for many years through different campus units, including the WatPD (Waterloo Professional Development) program,” says Anne Fannon, director of Work-Integrated Learning Programs. “With this existing infrastructure, these new resources, and support from the faculties and other campus partners, we can ensure our students have the skills they need to adapt to this unique work term.”
CEWIL Canada and its member partners meet virtually every two weeks to discuss strategies and share data and resources about student work opportunities during the pandemic. The information, collected by Judene Pretti, director of the Waterloo Centre of Advancement of Co-operative Education on behalf of CEWIL, aligns with numbers from other agencies, including Statistics Canada, that show the impact of COVID-19 on work-integrated learning. Currently CEWIL data shows that student work terms have been affected with a 29% decrease from the same time in 2019. “The commitment of CEWIL members to helping their students and employers has been clear in their participation in regular town hall online meetings and through the submitting data to help us understand the impacts of COVID-19 on their WIL programs,” Pretti says.
CEWIL will continue to collate and showcase institutional responses to COVID-19 throughout the course of the pandemic which can be found on our website here.
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