Where There’s WIL, There’s a Way

By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board Member

The Canadian tourism industry has always relied on the higher education system for talent. Our industry employs students enrolled in a variety of programs as seasonal or part-time staff, and we hire students who have intentionally chosen tourism-related programs trying to build their careers in our sectors. The Canadian higher education system is truly world-class and can be an ally in the ever-present struggle for talent.

As a hospitality industry practitioner and a higher education leader, I can attest to the tension that exists between “industry” and “academia”. And as an alum of Ryerson University’s hospitality and tourism management program, I have seen this tension harnessed to create a dynamic that benefited my career immensely as it helped me develop both a depth of knowledge and a depth of skills.

The truth of the matter is, as it tends to play out in other areas of our lives, success does not grow from a binary mindset. Success grows from blending both forces together—industry and academia working collaboratively and intentionally choosing student learning and career development as our highest collective priority. All you’d have to do is follow the headlines in three of my previous posts to see the opportunity in front of us: The Future of Work in the Tourism Sector Starts at School (Oct 2019), Industry x Education Must Address Labour Shortages (Feb 2020), and Tapping the Tourism Pipeline (Nov 2020).

So how do we blend both worlds without redundancy and complexity? How do we leverage the best aspects of our industry and the best aspects of our higher education system so those who choose to study tourism-related programs can develop knowledge and skills? Let’s start with blurring the lines between the workplace and the classroom and explore the realm of WIL—work-integrated learning.

What Is Work-Integrated Learning?

Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL) is the lead organization for work-integrated learning in Canada. They define work-integrated learning as a form of curricular experiential education that formally integrates a student’s academic studies with quality experiences within a workplace or practice setting. WIL experiences include an engaged partnership of at least: an academic institution, a host organization, and a student. WIL can occur at the course or program level and includes the development of student learning objectives and outcomes related to: employability, personal agency, knowledge and skill mobility, and life-long learning.

Types of Work-Integrated Learning

There are actually a wide variety of WIL types and activities students, academic institutions, and employers can engage in. According to CEWIL there are nine different types, four of which have particular relevance for hospitality and tourism students and employers as we fight to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:

  1. Co-operative Education: Work terms provide experience in a workplace setting related to the student’s field of study. The number of required work terms varies by program; however, the time spent in work terms must be at least 30% of the time spent in academic study for programs over two years in length and 25% of time for programs two years and shorter in length.
  1. Field Placement: Provides students with an intensive part-time/short-term intensive hands-on practical experience in a setting relevant to their subject of study. Field placements may not require supervision of a registered or licensed professional and the completed work experience hours are not required for professional certification.
  1. Internships: Usually offer one discipline-specific, supervised, structured, paid or unpaid, and for academic credit work experience or practice placement. Internships may occur in the middle of an academic program or after all academic coursework has been completed and prior to graduation. Internships can be of any length but are typically 12 to 16 months long.
  1. Work Experience: Intersperses one or two work terms (typically full-time) into an academic program, where work terms provide experience in a workplace setting related to the student’s field of study and/or career goals.

Available Funding Through Propel

In August 2021, Tourism HR Canada launched Propel, a program funded by Employment and Social Development Canada through the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP). Propel offers employers a wage subsidy of up to 75% of a qualifying student’s wages, to a maximum of $7,500. Students enrolled at a recognized post-secondary institution can apply for a paid position to fulfil the work-integrated learning component of their program.

Our Canadian tourism industry has been given a truly unique opportunity thanks to Tourism HR Canada. Some version of the federally funded SWPP has been around for as long as a decade, although it has taken on different names over the years. This is the first year the program was approved for the tourism industry at-large. We need employers, academic institutions, and students to come together to take advantage of this incredible and important opportunity.

While it is quite a simple formula, the implications are profound. An embodiment of the aforementioned collaboration. Students gain paid hands-on learning and mentoring in their field of study. Employers acquire much-needed early talent to help with the recovery of the industry, as well as assistance with wages after an 18-month stretch of little or no income. Higher education institutions complement their programming by connecting students and the workplace.

So, if not now, when? And if you are still left asking “why?”, let me wrap up this piece where we started. The Canadian tourism industry has always relied on the higher education system for talent. Our industry employs students enrolled in a variety of programs as seasonal or part-time staff, and we hire students who have intentionally chosen tourism-related programs trying to build their careers in our sector. The Canadian higher education system is truly world-class and can be an ally in the ever-present struggle for talent.

Make no mistake, we are in the throes of a fully fledged talent war. Let’s help the next generation of tourism industry leaders launch their careers by joining forces. We can bring industry and education together through Propel, determination, and sheer WIL.


Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality and education sectors and a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people. Baker was dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts where he led the most significant transformation in the school’s over 50-year history. He serves on the board of directors at Tourism HR Canada, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and is on the editorial advisory board for SUSTAIN Magazine.

Joe can be found everywhere @thejoebaker.