Media Releases

U of T researchers create first Canadian guidelines for optimal internships

May 11, 2016

Toron­to, ON – In today’s ruth­less job mar­ket intern­ships often give stu­dents a com­pet­i­tive edge. But what makes for a valu­able expe­ri­ence? And how do you mea­sure suc­cess? Researchers from U of T’s Fac­ul­ty of Kine­si­ol­o­gy and Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion have addressed these long over­due ques­tions with Canada’s first post-sec­ondary intern­ship guide­lines.

It’s a devel­op­ment that could help thou­sands of stu­dents get the most out of their expe­ri­ence – an esti­mat­ed 300,000 interns hit Canada’s job mar­ket each year.

Under the Employ­ment Stan­dards Act, 2000, the Ontario Min­istry of Labour pro­vides legal guid­ance for place­ments, but the qual­i­ty can vary dra­mat­i­cal­ly. Stu­dents could learn valu­able lessons each day, or they could learn how every­one takes their cof­fee.

“In the past there has been a great deal of atten­tion focused on the length of intern­ships and the amount of pay, but the more crit­i­cal ques­tion that we should be ask­ing is whether stu­dents’ expe­ri­ences are edu­ca­tion­al,” says Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor Ash­ley Stir­ling, who is the Faculty’s direc­tor of expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion and the project lead. “Now we have clear, uni­ver­sal rec­om­men­da­tions to most effec­tive­ly enhance stu­dent learn­ing and devel­op­ment.”

To cre­ate these guide­lines the team con­sult­ed with the High­er Edu­ca­tion Qual­i­ty Coun­cil of Ontario and a 22-mem­ber advi­so­ry com­mit­tee with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties across Ontario. They also con­duct­ed focus groups at 11 post-sec­ondary insti­tu­tions with over 100 fac­ul­ty and staff.

Out of this com­pre­hen­sive process the team has devel­oped a guide, called A Prac­ti­cal Guide for Work-inte­grat­ed Learn­ing, and will also pro­vide train­ing ses­sions for those who run intern­ship pro­grams. Based on the most cur­rent research, the guide could be applied to any type of intern­ship around the world, includ­ing place­ments, co-op pro­grams, field expe­ri­ences and work study.

What makes for an opti­mal intern­ship? The guide out­lines a con­crete struc­ture fea­tur­ing explic­it learn­ing out­comes, hands-on prac­tice, analy­sis and the oppor­tu­ni­ty to test new skills and ideas.

“Ide­al­ly, an intern­ship should let stu­dents par­tic­i­pate in real-world work activ­i­ties and con­tribute to the orga­ni­za­tion in a mean­ing­ful way,” says Stir­ling. “They also need appro­pri­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties to prac­tice, be chal­lenged and receive con­struc­tive feed­back.”

In the future, Stir­ling and her team plan to con­duct fur­ther research on opti­miz­ing the qual­i­ty of stu­dent intern­ships and hope that oth­ers will fol­low.

“The say­ing ‘every expe­ri­ence is edu­ca­tion­al’ is inac­cu­rate. While there may be some­thing to be learned from every expe­ri­ence, it doesn’t mean that each expe­ri­ence pro­vides the opti­mal con­di­tions for learn­ing,” says Stir­ling. “We hope these guide­lines will pro­vide high­er edu­ca­tion lead­ers with the tools to enhance how they deliv­er intern­ship pro­grams – the end goal is to pro­vide stu­dents with the best edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence pos­si­ble.”

A Prac­ti­cal Guide for Work-inte­grat­ed Learn­ing is avail­able at:‑Practical-Guide-for-Work-integrated-Learning.aspx



Katie Bab­cock, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Spe­cial­ist
Fac­ul­ty of Kine­si­ol­o­gy and Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to