As the global pandemic forces students, businesses and entire industries to adapt to rapid change, the University of Waterloo is deepening its commitment to developing resilient talent for the future with the launch of the Work-Learn Institute (WxL).

norah mcrae“We have the greatest young talent database in the world to fuel our research into work-integrated learning,” says Norah McRae, associate provost, co-operative and experiential education. “The Work-Learn Institute will be instrumental in helping our employers, our students and our institution understand and respond to the complexity of today’s workplace.”

Waterloo’s globally renowned co-operative education program is the heart of the Work-Learn Institute’s vast young-talent database, but McRae points out that the institute is expanding its research focus beyond co-operative education to include all forms of work-integrated learning.

More than 70 per cent of Waterloo undergraduate students are in the co-op program, a form of work-integrated learning where students alternate between four-month terms of academic study and four-months of paid, full-time work. The University also has a program called EDGE which enables students to integrate learning with other types of experiences, such as community work.

McRae says evidence-based, high-quality programs are critical at a time when business leaders are looking for ways to to develop resilient, adaptable talent during this time of rapid change. The Government of Canada has invested more than $1 billion in the last five years in real-world learning opportunities to prepare the next generation of talent.

An incubator for new models of work-integrated learning

Judene Pretti

The Work-Learn Institute will serve as a living research lab and incubator, testing new models of work-integrated learning, to evolve programs that will meet the changing demands of the labour force. “With its vast employer network of more than 7,000 organizations in 65 countries around the world, Waterloo has an unprecedented opportunity to better understand and meet the talent needs of industry,” says Judene Pretti, director of the Work-Learn Institute.

Waterloo has demonstrated since 1957 that work-integrated learning can be a “win-win” for students and employers with every $1 a business invests in a Waterloo co-op student, there is a $2 economic gain.

Some of the Work-Learn Institute research projects and findings include:

Working together with the University’s Centre for Career Action and co-operative education and work-integrated learning units, McRae says the University wants the Work-Learn Institute to be the world’s leading research and development institute for co-operative education and work-integrated learning.

Contact Judene Pretti at about talent management research or general information about the Work-Learn Institute.