New approaches are required to help 21st-century students transition into their careers with confidence and poise. As a college that prides itself on high employment rates for graduates, George Brown College is leveraging its unique Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) and Experiential Learning (EL) programs to build the best pathway to success.

A rapidly-evolving environment

Recently, the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities increased pressure on all Ontario post-secondary institutions to provide at least one quality experiential learning placement before students graduate. This change in policy has seen purposed collaboration between all levels of government, schools, and employers. In tandem, the federal government has increased funding for skill-development programs through investment in initiatives that improve students' ability to successfully make the labour market shift including the Future Skills Centre, Mitacs, the Youth Employment Strategy, and the Student Work Placement Program which matches students with co-op opportunities in the science, technology, math, and engineering fields.

"Students become more engaged and motivated while developing skills they need to transition to the workplace."
– Dario Guescini, Director of Work Integrated Learning

A leader in the experiential learning field, George Brown has seen significant progress in academic achievement after embedding WIL and EL experiences in coursework.

"Students become more engaged and motivated while developing skills they need to transition to the workplace," explains Dario Guescini, the Director of Work Integrated Learning at the college. "It helps them better understand work realities, cultures, and expectations while improving their job prospects." In fact, a study of graduates revealed that students who completed a co-op placement were 9% more likely to find full-time employment in their desired field.

A long history of progress

Within the last year, George Brown has moved WIL and EL forward on many fronts. "We have established a quality framework and we are working towards enhancing student participation in these activities," says Guescini. In fact, this past year, George Brown partnered with Riipen on a college-wide initiative to provide micro-experiential learning experiences to students enrolled in the many programs the college offers. "We are also working on supporting technical infrastructure and digitization, and creating a college community of practice to help embed experiential education as an integral component of our academic delivery," he says. These interactive modules provide students with professional experience before starting their field placement, providing an opportunity for them to discover how they will need to interact with colleagues. Plus, the skills-based approach ensures that students are constantly building their soft skills — those unsung habits that make the biggest difference in personal workplace success.

"George Brown [has a] goal of offering work-integrated learning in 100% of our programs."
– Dario Guescini, Director of Work Integrated Learning

And it's not only the students who benefit; employers gain access to a diverse group of students who bring energy and enthusiasm to the workplace. Participating in WIL projects can also help organizations find solutions to their specific business or industry needs thanks to fresh perspectives and diversified ways of thinking.

For educators, offering experiential learning provides an opportunity to evaluate and improve their curriculum while attracting and retaining high-quality students whose employability will increase due to on-the-job learning experiences. It's a reciprocal relationship that will build a thriving Canadian workforce for years to come.

"George Brown continues to refine the definitions and measurements we use to track progress toward achieving our goal of offering work-integrated learning in 100% of our programs," notes Guescini.

The college's commitment to experiential learning will continue into 2022 and is an integral part of its Vision 2030 strategy. "Our goal is to help make Canada a world leader in work-integrated learning."