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We've been meeting with students, employers and educators across the country to talk about work integrated learning (WIL) and preparing youth for the workforce of tomorrow.

Last week, I spoke with a panel of co-op students and business owners at Lakehead University. Here’s some of what they said they want:

1. Longer Work Placements: Students and employers agreed that skills can be tested and strengthened when placements are longer. A 12-month assignment was seen as mutually beneficial, as it gives the employer better insight on a student’s capabilities and more incentive to offer a job after graduation. One student remarked that a longer program allows time to absorb and apply their experiences, and to build trust and credibility.

2. Get Outside the Office: A holistic experience — beyond delivering on daily tasks — can form lasting experiences for students, gaining more than just on-the-job skills. One student stressed the importance of understanding the human side of business. She felt that getting to know clients and community stakeholders was key to her ability to solve problems and think critically.

3. Tone from the Top: Work-integrated learning programs — coops, internships, apprenticeships — work best when they’re genuinely valued by an organization’s leadership. The more active management is in work placements, the more successful they can become. Senior leaders can elevate the learning experience by sharing feedback, creating new opportunities and building a sense of value for students.

4. Company Culture is Key: The table’s been turned on employers, who find youth are now taking charge in interviews, wanting to know “what can you offer me?” Culture is key. Students are asking about work-life balance, pathways for growth, and an organization’s values. Smart organizations ensure those values are central to their student programs.

5. Share, Share, Share: Employers without work-integrated learning programs often don’t know where to start. And yet too many established WIL employers don’t share their experiences. Both sides can benefit from more sharing, including from students. The result: a stronger ecosystem for employers, students and educators. Smart organizations know their student programs won’t thrive in isolation. They need a community of educators and employers .