Work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences, whether positive or negative, play an important role in developing successful entrepreneurs, according to recent research.

“Work-integrated learning is tied to developing entrepreneurs because it provides experiences for students to think outside the box, build resilience and establish strong professional networks,” said Judene Pretti, director of the Work-Learn Institute at the University of Waterloo and lead author on the new study. “This enables students to be better critical thinkers and problem solvers, further supporting them in turning disruption into opportunity.”

Supportive mentorship and positive outlook were found to help WIL students build confidence and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

As part of the study, interviews were conducted with seven university alumni from Canada and the United Kingdom. Each of the alumni had at least one WIL component in their degree and went on to set up their own business.

During the interviews, participants reflected on how WIL impacted their career. The participants created pictorial representations to depict their perceptions of an entrepreneur, and what influenced them to become an entrepreneur

WIL experiences didn’t have to be positive to be impactful.

One student in the study noted that a tough WIL experience helped develop their resilience and their ability to respond when facing adversity. They deemed these traits as key ones for entrepreneurship.  

Despite the study being completed prior to COVID-19, the pandemic presents increased opportunities for the development and application of entrepreneurial activities. The world’s response to the virus has exemplified the importance of these skills students and graduates will need to navigate a rapidly changing world.

Entrepreneurial WIL programs may prove to be viable alternatives during an uncertain job market.

Other important themes expressed by alumni in terms of entrepreneurial skills were “thinking outside the box,” being resilient during difficult times and the importance of networks.

One study highlighted within the research indicated that 29 per cent of managers look for students with entrepreneurial experience when recruiting for their workplace.

The role of work-integrated and learning in the development of entrepreneurs can be read in the International Journal for Work-Integrated Learning.

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