This study explores how students’ gender and work experience are associated with the amount of time they spend working together on tasks with supervisors during their co-operative education (co-op) experiences. We also examine how the time spent working together on tasks with supervisors affects students’ self-reported learning.

Key findings

  • In co-op programs, inexperienced women spend 50% less time working with their supervisors on tasks compared to inexperienced men. However, men and women who completed at least one co-op work term spent about the same amount of time on tasks with their supervisors.
  • Spending more time working together on tasks with supervisors is beneficial for women's self-reported learning, especially for those who are new to the workforce. However, this benefit was not reflected in men’s self-reported learning.

Does this matter to employers? YES!

These findings hold significant importance for employers who supervise co-op students as they highlight potential discrepancies in learning opportunities, especially among inexperienced women. By addressing these disparities and ensuring equal access to supervisors' time and support, employers can foster a fair and inclusive learning environment conducive to the growth and development of all students.

Inexperienced women noted in their self-reported learning that spending time with supervisors had a significant impact. By prioritizing meaningful interactions between supervisors and students, employers can maximize the learning potential of their co-op programs and ultimately contribute to a more skilled workforce in the long term.

Does this matter to WIL practitioners? YES!

These findings are crucial for work-integrated learning (WIL) practitioners who play a key role in optimizing the effectiveness of WIL programs. Practitioners can integrate these findings into their preparatory materials and individual meetings with students, empowering students to ask questions and strategize approaches for engaging with their supervisors during their WIL experience.

Additionally, practitioners can advocate to employers about the gender-based gap and the significance of supporting inexperienced women in co-op programs. By addressing these issues proactively, WIL practitioners can foster more inclusive and equitable learning environments, thereby enhancing the success of their students.

What can employers and WIL practitioners do with this information?

  • WIL practitioners can ensure that there are adequate preparatory materials for students and supervisors to facilitate effective engagements during the WIL experience.
  • Supervisors can create structures that allow for more contact points with all groups of learners, especially inexperienced women. This could be done through more regular check-ins and or the development of formal mentorship programs for women.
  • Students to be prepared to ask for the support and time required of their supervisors. Pre-WIL training materials to include techniques for approaching a WIL supervisor and asking for assistance or additional support.


Spending time with supervisors on tasks is important for students’ learning during their co-operative education experiences. However, a gender-based gap exists in time spent on tasks with supervisors, especially for inexperienced women. Students, especially women, and supervisors should be encouraged to have more effective engagements during the work terms to address the gender gap.

How we came to these conclusions

  • 1,170 co-op students who were on a work term in Winter 2020 completed an online survey.
  • They answered questions about their demographic characteristics, their previous co-op work experiences, their major work tasks, the amount of work time spent working independently and with others at work, and self-reported learning.