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The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made things difficult for many of Canada’s small and medium sized enterprises, while also creating significant headwinds for students and other young job seekers looking to enter the workforce.
Despite the challenging situation, SMEs and student job seekers each have something of mutual benefit to offer the other. By embracing work-integrated learning opportunities, SMEs can grow and build their businesses while also developing important relationships both with young talent, and the post-secondary institutions they attend. As for job-seeking students, they can use work-integrated learning to gain invaluable real-world experience, to refine and adapt their skills, and to access important mentorship opportunities.
Work-integrated learning, or WIL, gives students the opportunity to spend part of their studies in a workplace setting, sometimes earning a salary for a part-time or short-term placement. WIL gives students from all fields a chance to see how their skills can be utilized and applied in a professional environment.
For employers, the case for work-integrated learning is further enhanced by a wage subsidy program funded by the federal government: the Student Work Placement Program reimburses 75 percent of an eligible student-employee’s wages, up to a maximum of $7,500 per placement.
Here are five reasons why utilizing WIL can benefit your small or medium-sized business:
Research from the University of Waterloo, a leader in work-integrated learning, indicates that outcomes of student work experiences are strong: every dollar invested in WIL leads to $2 worth of productivity for a business or organization.
There can be an infectious nature to the energy and enthusiasm many student employees bring to their WIL experiences. Adding a student to your team for any length of time creates an opportunity for exposure to fresh ideas and perspectives.
“It motivates collaboration,” says Dr. Athena D’Amato, Director of Angle Media Group and a longtime proponent of hiring students. “A lot of employees, when they see a student is involved in a project, they go that extra mile. We all want to see students succeed. It motivates everybody to work towards elevating what we’re already doing.”
“A lot of employees, when they see a student is involved in a project, they go that extra mile. We all want to see students succeed. It motivates everybody to work towards elevating what we’re already doing.”
Dr. Athena D’Amato, Director, Angle Media Group
In addition, students and young job seekers are digital natives, meaning they’ve grown up using technology and tend to have a deep understanding of it. In an environment where the pandemic has forced organizations and businesses to embrace the virtual world to connect with customers, tech-savvy student employees have the in-demand skills necessary to help businesses reach new audiences and achieve success.
“If you don’t have it and you’re not familiar with it, hire a student who’s going to run that for you,” says Tenzin Zongdho, Senior Manager of Early Talent Acquisition at RBC. “Let them show you how you can leverage that.”
WIL placements are often integrated into post-secondary programs, meaning student employees are typically highly motivated to succeed. Educational institutions stand behind their students, offering guidance and guard rails intended to ensure the experience is beneficial to all parties, both student and employer.
‘The support from the institution means you’re not in this by yourself,” says Cara Krezek, President of CEWIL Canada and Director of Co-op, Career and Experiential Education at Brock University. “It’s a partner in education as much as it is a partner in employment. We coach the student along, work with you if there’s any challenges, help you figure out what your needs are. A lot of times we act as HR support for small businesses that don’t have that particular function.”
Work-integrated learning might sound like something that has to happen in a physical workplace, but the pandemic has proven that student employees can gain valuable skills and experience by working remotely, without sacrificing productivity. For SMEs, this means access to a national pool of talent that they might not have considered before. With work-from-home now an accepted reality and necessity for so many, there’s no reason not to recruit the best talent, no matter the location.
Zongdho calls the switch to virtual recruitment forums a “silver lining” of the pandemic.
“We were able to reach coast to coast and outside of Canada as well,” Zongdho says. “You’re running everything out of your desk, but you’re reaching all students right across Canada.”
Check out the questions and answers from this webinar here.
There’s value in ensuring that the students who come to work for your organization receive a meaningful, engaging WIL experience. Eventually, those student employees will return to school, or to their peer group, where they’re certain to swap details of how things went in their temporary workplace. When students enjoy positive work experiences, they’ll often become on-campus brand ambassadors for your business or organization, telling others about how well they were treated. This advocacy on your behalf will help your business attract a deeper pool of talented candidates in the future.
“Word of mouth spreads,” Zongdho says. “You’re going to have more people knocking on your door.”
If you’re interested in hiring a student for a WIL experience, you can create a free account on the RBC Youth Employer Portal. In partnership with Magnet, the portal provides access to a nationwide network of campus job boards to help you discover new talent. Through the portal, employers can post jobs and apply for wage subsidy support via the same platform.
If you have any questions or want to learn more about work-integrated learning or the Student Work Placement Program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.