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: http://www.heqco.ca/en-ca/Research/ResPub/Pages/A-Practical-Guide-for-Work-integrated-Learning.aspx