Manitoba’s Digital Agriculture Table recognized Work-integrated Learning (WIL) Month by dedicating its most recent meeting to a panel discussion on the impact of providing students with WIL opportunities such as internships and co-op terms.

The Table is committed to creating opportunities for people to learn about and envision themselves in digital agriculture careers, identifying and reducing barriers for industry and academia to engage in WIL, and increasing opportunities for training to fill identified skills gaps.

Rachel LeClair, EMILI’s Manager of Skills and Talent, moderated the panel which included Faun Rice from ICTC, Joanne Jordan from BioTalent, and Holly Klann from the University of Manitoba.

WIL provides economic benefits, hands-on experience

Faun Rice, Manager of Research and Knowledge Mobilization at ICTC, shared insights from ICTC’s report The Impact of Workforce Integrated Learning on Student Success and the Canadian Economy.

This study shows that work placement programs are an essential way to support Canada’s economy and labour market. Students surveyed say that participating in the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) earned an average of $1,038 per month more than they would have if they had found work in their next best alternative. Employers reaped huge benefits as well. According to ICTC, “each student creates $401 in additional value for employers per month.

Having access to wage subsidies allows employers to offset hiring costs, making it more feasible to hire and train workers to increase workplace productivity. Wage subsidies can cover 50 percent of student wages and may be renewable over multiple quarters. When hiring students from underrepresented groups such as women in STEM, Indigenous Peoples, newcomers to Canada and other visible minorities, the subsidy can be as high as 70 percent of wages.

In addition to this economic value, hands-on experience is an important way for students to gain insight into what their future careers might look like.

“One of the most interesting things that we found in this study and other literature reviews is how beneficial it is for students to try out a new career and see if it’s for them,” said Rice. “This allows them to make informed decisions about their career path early.”

It also allows employers to make informed decisions. Approximately half of the employers ICTC surveyed say they hired a student full time after taking part in a student work placement program.

WIL introduces students to essential skills, new career paths

As Joanne Jordan, Manager of Business Development at BioTalent, discussed wage subsidy programs and available skills training, she shared how she wished she knew about work-integrated learning when she was in university. During her undergrad in math, she didn’t realize how many career paths she could follow outside of traditional math roles. Since joining BioTalent, she has seen how vast the opportunities are. (BioTalent’s national job board is a great place to view some of these opportunities).

Jordan is passionate about increasing WIL opportunities, because she sees firsthand how it helps talented individuals develop the transferable skills needed to succeed.

The wage subsidies offered through programs like Digital Skills for Youth, Science Horizons Youth Internship, and the Student Work Placement Program provide employers with significant funding toward student salaries and training, which makes it more feasible for employers to develop their future workforce.

In addition to the funding which is highlighted on EMILI’s WIL website, BioTalent’s funding recipients have access to a suite of courses designed to bridge essential and technical skills gaps. This includes communication, numeracy, and problem solving as well as scientific report writing, good lab practices, and more. When organizations incorporate these resources into their onboarding process, they set themselves up for success.

WIL sets students up for success

A good onboarding process can make all the difference for students, says Holly Klann, Experiential Learning & Co-op Education Coordinator at the University of Manitoba. 

She points to a recent student co-op term where the employer did this really well. Providing training opportunities, ensuring the student had access to tools and resources, and taking time to sit down with her at the start of the term to discuss goals made this student feel immediately welcome and set her up for success. It worked. After graduating, she was offered a full time role.

“Now the organization is looking to hire more co-op students and she will be helping to train them,” said Klann. 

In addition to hiring work placement students and posting on the UM Connect Job Board, Klann encourages employers to get involved as guest speakers, set up a booth in the agriculture atrium, participate in career fairs, and partner on applied research projects.

Since launching in 2020, The Manitoba Digital Agriculture Table has fostered a diverse network across the industry, government, and post-secondary. The Table meets throughout the year to share expertise and discuss issues and opportunities to advance digital agriculture. EMILI will be hosting the next meeting on June 12, 2024. For more information, email Rachel LeClair at info@EMILICanada.com.