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Rosalie Wyonch - Let’s Untangle Work Integrated Learning


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To: The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

From: Rosalie Wyonch

Date: September 12, 2017

Re: Let’s Untangle Work Integrated Learning

The Government of Canada is rolling out a $73-million investment in the Student Work-Integrated Learning Program to create 10,000 paid student work placements over the next four years and “help bridge the gap” between graduation and getting that first job. According to the minister, Canada faces labour shortages in all STEM fields and skilled trades and this program will induce students to enter these fields.

The Student Work-Integrated Learning Program (SWIL) delivers a wage subsidy of up to $7,000 to employers that hire students in STEM and business fields. Unfortunately, a program targeted at the transition to work post-graduation is unlikely to have a major effect on which field of study students choose to enroll. Further, skilled trades do not fall into either business or STEM, so it is unclear why this program should have any effect on that enrollment.

There are many government programs that subsidize student wages or encourage work-integrated learning: the Canada Summer Jobs program, the Apprenticeship Job Creation tax credit, the co-operative education tax credits, and the Young Canada Works program, to name a few. In 2016, the Canada Summer Jobs program paid out $194 million and created more than 65,800 jobs for an average of $2,950 in government funding per job created. In comparison, SWIL will cost $7,300 per job created. With so many subsidies already in place, one wonders what problems this new program is supposed to solve and why the existing programs have not yet solved it.

SWIL is delivered through “employer delivery partners” who will provide subsidies to employers and establish partnerships with postsecondary institutions to recruit students. It will likely be ineffective at encouraging students to choose specific fields of study. Given the structure of the program, prospective students won’t know which schools offer these internships and, on an individual level, are not necessarily guaranteed a placement. Further, it will not effectively target labour shortages since it gives programs like biology and chemistry, which employ relatively few people and have few vacancies, the same incentive as it does computer science or engineering.

Although there are many benefits to work-integrated learning programs, there is already a bewildering array of federal programs that support them. It is unclear what gap this new program would fill or whether it overlaps with existing programs.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the subsidizing work-integrated learning, but this new spending is roundabout and poorly targeted if the goal is to fill skills shortages and encourage young Canadians to enroll in STEM programs.

Rosalie Wyonch is a Policy Analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute.

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