The Key to Building a Future-Ready Workforce? Work-Integrated Learning

July 15, 2021

Given the rate at which our world is changing, we are now in a constant state of transformation. New technologies are accelerating innovation and creating changes that have ripple effects across all aspects of our lives. This is especially true within the workplace, where industries are rapidly evolving and creating new jobs primarily driven by emerging technologies. It can now seem nearly impossible for many young people to keep up with the latest workplace trends and prepare for the future. And, it isn’t just about technology – there is also a pressing need for human skills that allow us to remain innovative and in control of new technology.

Others are worried about this too! Employers are afraid youth will lack the practical, real-world skills required to drive this innovation. Educators are worried they can’t adapt their curriculum fast enough. And, students are worried the particular skills, abilities and knowledge needed to succeed in a career and meet future challenges may not be the ones they learned in the classroom. 

So then, how do youth become future-ready? We think there is a lot to be said for meaningful work experiences while studying (often called work-integrated learning).

What is work-integrated learning?

Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) is an experiential learning opportunity for students within a real-world setting, ideally a workplace. These experiences allow students to put their formal academic learning to practical use. These can take many forms including internships, hackathons, career days and skill-building boot camps, etc.

Why is it important?

WIL gives students a competitive edge when entering the workforce. It can help students develop their professional identities and critical networks while obtaining the practical skills and knowledge relevant to the current job market.

And, there’s much evidence to support these practical experiences.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, the majority (almost two‑thirds) of postsecondary graduates who participated in WIL indicated that their placement helped them find a job after graduation. What’s even more impressive is that postsecondary graduates who participated in WIL were less likely to be overqualified for the job they held three years after graduation, and Bachelor’s graduates who participated in WIL had higher employment earnings than those who did not participate in WIL.

Future Skills

Every year, Actua and its network hire over 1,000 postsecondary students as instructors for its STEM outreach programs. Knowing that students gain essential employability skills through on-the-job learning, we started offering instructors opportunities, such as online training programs and work-integrated learning experiences, to develop future skills. 

As you’d expect, COVID-19 has forced us to rethink and redesign WIL experiences for virtual and remote participation. Some of our recent WIL experiences were hosted virtually by RBC – a company leading the charge on preparing youth for the jobs of tomorrow with its Future Launch program. Throughout May and June, RBC and Actua partnered to host the following four workshops:

  • It All Adds Up to Making Cents of Savings
  • Job Search 101
  • Launching Your Career
  • Being Future Ready

The workshops offered students real-world and essential career advice on how to successfully navigate the changing job market, identify their skills, expand their networks, build and enhance their digital identity, prepare for job interviews, write a resume and gain the financial skills to plan for a prosperous future.

“Empowering young people to stay future-ready starts with coming together — to share stories, advice, ideas, and to learn from each other,” says Mark Beckles, Vice President, Social Impact & Innovation, RBC. “In our current reality, doing this in a physical setting has become impossible, while the need to connect has become even greater. Together with Actua, we have continued to pivot and adapt our programming and resources to this new normal. Actua’s work-integrated learning series is just one of the ways RBC and Actua are helping young people stay future-focused.”

There’s no doubt work-integrated learning experiences will be the key to building a future-ready workplace. Are you ready?


If you’re a postsecondary student looking to get involved in delivering a local STEM program and accessing Actua’s Future Skills training, visit our network members page to find the STEM program in our area.