Good afternoon and thank you very much, Mr. Chair and distinguished committee members, for the invitation to appear to talk to you today about the University of Waterloo and its co-operative education program. WATCACE is the short form for the Waterloo Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education.
You've heard from my CEWIL colleagues about the model of co-op, and about its role in supporting students and employers in meaningful education that equips students with the skills and experiences that they need to be successful in their desired pathways following graduation.
In my comments today, I would like to highlight a few unique characteristics of Waterloo's co-op program, as well as the ways that Canada could work toward global leadership in the broader area of work-integrated learning.
One of the most notable aspects of Waterloo's co-op program is its scale, and I will share a few numbers with you.
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of paid, four-month work terms that Waterloo supported grew from 12,900 per year to 21,600 per year. This currently represents about 68% of the undergraduate students across all six faculties at the university. We have 6,900 active employers from more than 60 countries that hire our co-op students. Last year we processed over one million job applications in our system and supported 67,000 in-person, web, and phone interviews. This led to a 97.7% employment rate. The numbers are staggering, but for us at Waterloo, it's not just about quantity. It's also about quality.
The post-graduation employment rate of co-op students at 89% is similar to the provincial average of 88%. However, where co-op students stand out is that 96% of them report that they are employed in positions related to skills they developed during their degree, compared to a provincial average of 74%. Additionally, two years after graduation, 79% of the co-op students report earning more than $50,000 annually, compared to 39% across the province.
That leads me to talk about another notable area of our co-op practice at Waterloo. In 2006, we established WatPD, a mandatory professional development program for our co-op students. WatPD delivers online courses to enhance key or transferable skills, including topics such as communication, teamwork, and intercultural skills. Last year we used the WatPD program and many of the best practices learned in delivering co-op for the past 60 years to build a new, flexible, work-integrated learning certificate known as EDGE. For non-co-op students, EDGE guides them through the process of learning how to identify and articulate the skills that they're developing throughout their undergraduate career.
Also unique to Waterloo is the existence of a research unit focused on co-op. In 2002, the Waterloo Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education was established. This is the department that I now lead. Our mandate is to conduct, facilitate, and mobilize research on co-op and other forms of work-integrated learning.
Through our research, we have identified the factors that affect the quality of the work-term experience for students. These factors include whether students felt that the work was relevant to their academic or career interests, whether students had the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the workplace they were in, and whether they had the opportunity to develop and learn new skills.
We have also investigated supervisors' perspectives on co-op, and we found that most view co-op from both an employment and an education perspective; i.e., they view co-op students in the workplace both as learners and as workers. Most recently, we've explored employers' views on talent, their needs for talent, and how many view co-op as a talent pipeline for their organizations.
We have undertaken a number of mobilization activities in WATCACE, including publications in international, peer-reviewed journals. We have a monthly newsletter where practitioners provide their perspectives on work-integrated learning research, and we've recently launched a research portal, a website that links to research related to co-op and other forms of work-integrated learning. We have plans for providing additional resources through the portal and support for a community of practice.
A very interesting aspect of research in co-op and work-integrated learning is the fact that it offers the opportunity for studies in a wide variety of disciplines.
Through my experience in WATCACE, I have had the opportunity to work with researchers studying co-op from fields such as mental health, social psychology, and education. I have also worked with industrial organizational psychologists—indeed, a scientist—in examining the many workplace-related research questions that the co-op work term presents.
With respect to Canada's potential global leadership in work-integrated learning, I see research as a key element. As has been mentioned by my colleagues, there's a great deal that can be learned from Australia, which has mobilized a national strategy around WIL, and has a steady stream of research activity taking place. Globally, there is a strong and growing group of researchers in this field. With support, Canada would be well-situated to lead this community.
We need to encourage more research to be conducted on the various models of work-integrated learning, to better understand and document the impact on students, community and industry partners, as well as the academic institutions. For instance, there is increasing interest in models of WIL that support students exploring their interests as entrepreneurs. Research is needed to better understand this link between WIL and the development of entrepreneurs.
From the employer perspective, research is needed to examine the impact of WIL on organizational effectiveness, particularly as it relates to productivity, innovation, and the global reach of Canadian industry. From the academic institution perspective, we need to better understand the balance between the outcomes of various models of WIL and the associated institutional costs to support those programs.
Building a national strategy to increase awareness, interest, and commitment to research in this area is critical to ensuring that the federal investment in creating and expanding WIL programs achieves its desired results. As well, I strongly believe that a national strategy would represent an opportunity for Canada to be a world leader in the research and practice of work-integrated learning.
Thank you once again, Mr. Chair and distinguished committee members, for the opportunity to speak with you today.