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By connecting students with employers, work-integrated learning programs offered at the College of the North Atlantic can help retaining graduates in Newfoundland and Labrador when they might otherwise have to leave the province to pursue job opportunities.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Ashley Nguyen used to be a co-op student in the office of applied research and innovation at College of the North Atlantic (CNA), where she was completing her studies in industrial engineering. Now she works with students like her former self.

Ms. Nguyen, a 29-year-old industrial engineering technologist, has one of many success stories from CNA’s work-integrated learning program. She graduated three years ago, after having had two co-op work placements at the college itself and a third working with a family-owned farm that was looking to implement some processes.

“Working in the office of applied research for my first two work terms was really interesting because I got multiple problems to work on,” she says. “For my third placement, I was able to show them why industrial engineering could be useful.”

After graduating, Ms. Nguyen started working on the farm full-time. However, when she was offered the opportunity to return to the college, she took it.

The [expression] work-integrated learning has been trending over the last couple of years, just due to its many benefits.

Jeff Martin
Director of student affairs, College of the North Atlantic

“I always try to bring the student perspective,” she says. “I can honestly tell them ‘I’ve been in your shoes; I’ve worked on these projects. I know what it’s like.’ My favourite part of the job is that I not only get to learn what these students are capable of, but I also get a bird’s eye view from talking with industry partners about what they need.”

Ms. Nguyen is just one of the fortunate CNA students to emerge with a job thanks to the school’s focus on work-integrated learning (WIL), which is available in the School of Engineering Technology, as well as in the college’s schools of industrial trades, health sciences, business and information technology (IT), and academics, applied arts and tourism.

“The [expression] work-integrated learning has been trending over the last couple of years, just due to its many benefits,” says Jeff Martin, director of student affairs at the college. “WIL is not just about co-op programs‚ it also includes service learning. Some programs would have a component where students would have to volunteer with a not-for-profit organization. It allows students to get some meaningful hands-on skills with not-for-profits.”

Mentoring is a key component of WIL, adds Mr. Martin, and students also benefit from such organizations offering them a real-world evaluation of their skills, as well as providing some on-the-job training in professional ethics. Networking, which also allows students to develop peer networks, is another key benefit, he says. Finally, the hope is that students will develop such professional skills as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and leadership.

Ultimately, WIL offers students a chance to get their foot in the door of a potential employer and learn whether that company does something they’d be interested in pursuing full-time. Each student job placement includes a discussion of employer expectations, roles and duties, and those are reviewed by co-op officers, students and employers.

My favourite part of the job is that I not only get to learn what these students are capable of, but I also get a bird’s eye view from talking with industry partners about what they need.

Ashley Nguyen
Industrial engineering technologist, College of the North Atlantic

Mr. Martin thinks the programs do a good job of retaining students in Newfoundland and Labrador when they might otherwise have to leave the province to pursue job opportunities.

“Many of our [WIL] students tend to stick around,” he says, adding that some international students are also staying in the province.

The communities where they live and work also benefit in the long run. This year, there were 40 new WIL spaces in urban and rural towns that are reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the federal government supported WIL by adding 90 new spaces – at a value of $675,000 – for the work placement program, helping companies struggling with COVID-19 restrictions access student workers.

“If you look at our rural and urban towns, [many] are seeing a decrease in out-migration, so this is critical in supporting our communities,” Mr. Martin says. “The added benefit is our students get to experience opportunities they might not have known existed.”


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.