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Dario Guescini, Director of Work-Integrated Learning, Experiential Education & Global Mobility

By Dario Guescini

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations in virtually every sector have needed to adapt and pivot, implementing new practices and technologies to support their sustainability and growth. This rapid change has accelerated challenges that Canadian companies were facing even before the pandemic, including the urgent need for workforce upskilling and the search for new talent with already acquired competencies. Here’s where Ontario’s colleges can help.

Our publicly funded college system was purpose-built to support local economic and social development, meet the needs of employers, respond to changing work environments, and – most urgently – to assist Ontarians in finding and keeping employment. We’ve built strong relationships with employers and community partners in a wide variety of sectors, allowing us to quickly and effectively respond to shifting labour market needs across the city and province.

One of the ways we do this is by providing sector-specific, hands-on skill development through experiential and work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences, building a seamless bridge between learners and employment. WIL activities can take the form of co-ops, internships, field placements, clinical placements, applied research and more. These opportunities allow students to apply their in-class learning to real-world situations and gain practical workplace experience with industry partners.

Offering meaningful benefits to employers and students alike, work-integrated learning is truly win-win. Host employers have a unique opportunity to help develop the next generation of talent, while meeting potential future employees who have already trained in their sector. Not only are students hard-working and enthusiastic, they also bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the workplace. And many colleges have students available year-round to help fill seasonal, peak or temporary staffing needs.

As pandemic restrictions have led to most people working and learning remotely, Ontario’s colleges have established processes and infrastructure to deliver innovative work-integrated learning opportunities virtually. At George Brown College, we have been collaborating with employers to offer online, work-from-home opportunities with organizations across Ontario and around the world. We also collaborate with industry partners through Riipen, a digital platform that enables students to work on sector-specific, real-world projects with employers.

Organizations of all sizes can benefit from work-integrated learning partnerships – and our federal and provincial governments are doing their part to make these opportunities more accessible to all.

For example, through the federal Student Work Placement Program, employers across Canada can benefit from up to $7,500 in wage subsidies to hire post-secondary students.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Drive Ability – Opening Doors program enables students, apprentices and graduates from a wide variety of business, technology and engineering programs to apply their knowledge and skills in paid work placements within the automotive and advanced manufacturing sector. This program provides employers with access to a diverse talent pipeline and up to $5,000 in wage subsidies.

Other organizations such as Cooperative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada and the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) are working closely with our governments and the post-secondary education sector to ensure the necessary resources, flexibility, and support are available for employers and students.

As the labour market continues to evolve at a rapid pace, collaboration between colleges and industry will be essential to Ontario’s economic recovery. Employers need workers with new and emerging skills, students need practical experience – and work-integrated learning partnerships can help bridge the gap.

To learn more about partnering with George Brown College on work-integrated learning opportunities, please visit our website.

Dario Guescini is the Director of Work-Integrated Learning, Experiential Education & Global Mobility at George Brown College.