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Work integrated learning resources for students with disabilities: are post-secondary institutions in Canada supporting this demographic to be career ready?

Laura E. Gatto (School of Computer Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)
Heather Pearce (Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)
Luiza Antonie (School of Computer Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)
Miana Plesca (Department of Economics and Finance, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 27 April 2020

Issue publication date: 2 February 2021

318

Abstract

Purpose

The Government of Canada is adopting the pedagogical practice of Work Integrated Learning (WIL) to help youth develop the career ready skills needed to transition from school to work. As a result, colleges and universities are receiving funding to grow academic programs that link theoretical learning with practical work experience. However, there is limited research about the resources available to students with disabilities who engage in WIL. From an environmental scan of disability supports for WIL on 55 Canadian post-secondary institutions’ websites and survey results from WIL professionals we ask: Do post-secondary institutions in Canada help students with disabilities become career ready? The data reveals that 40% of schools have no reference to disability services for any career related activities and only 18% refer to disability supports for WIL. Survey respondents report they are not being trained nor have access to resources to support students with disabilities in WIL. The authors therefore recommend changes to public policy and resource allocation to ensure colleges and universities provide disability services for all WIL programs, train practitioners about career related disability management, and hire professionals who specialize in supporting students with disabilities in WIL.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors conducted an environmental scan of 55 Canadian post-secondary schools with a student population of 10,000 or more and identified services and resources publicly advertised online for students with disabilities in relation to employment and/or WIL activities. From this broad search, codes were developed based on general themes found in the recorded information, such as the location of information and the type of resources and services advertised for students with disabilities. During the environmental scan, the authors also collected names and emails of people listed as working in career and/or WIL departments who received an anonymous survey about their experiences working with students with disabilities.

Findings

As the Government of Canada expands WIL to improve labour market outcomes for youth, the research findings of the authors provide valuable evidence that post-secondary institutions are not supporting youth with disabilities to become career ready. Surprisingly, 40% of post-secondary institutions have no reference to disability supports for career related activities and only 18% reference supports available for engaging in WIL on their websites. In addition, WIL practitioners are not receiving the resources nor training to support this demographic to transition from school to work. This research can provide direction on resource allocation; specifically, the need for disability related supports and dedicated professionals for students who engage in WIL programs in higher education.

Research limitations/implications

A limitation of the methodology in scanning public sites is that universities and colleges could have services or supports advertised on sites that can only be viewed by the faculty, staff and students from that school. Thus, it is possible that employment information for students with disabilities is available for those with login privileges. The authors attempted to mitigate this limitation by collecting survey responses about programs and services from WIL practitioners who work at the schools. The authors also did not measure marketing of services on social media platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram). Another limitation is that the WIL practitioner survey results are based on their perceptions. The sample size was not randomized, nor can the authors confirm it is a representative sample of all WIL practitioners in Canada.

Practical implications

As countries continue to grapple with how to deal with the intersectionality of disability on an already disadvantaged demographic in the labour market, they must ensure that students with disabilities have access to career ready activities while in school. The authors therefore recommend public policy and resource allocation, not only in Canada but at a global level, that ensures post-secondary institutions: (1) create disability management programs and resources for all WIL and career activities; (2) hire dedicated professionals who specialize in working with students with disabilities in WIL; and (3) provide mandatory training for WIL practitioners on how to support students with disabilities in programs that develop their career ready skills.

Social implications

Preparing students with disabilities to be career ready when they graduate will benefit the Canadian economy. This wasted human capital not only negatively impacts a labour market with an aging demographic, it affects social service programs as Canadians with disabilities are one-third times more likely to live in poverty compared to Canadians without disabilities (Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017). The G20 report also stated that if employment rates for people with disabilities who are able to work were the same as for people without disabilities, economies around the world could increase their GDP by 3–7% (ILO and OECD, 2018).

Originality/value

There is no research in Canada to date that provides a national overview of the services in higher education advertised to support students with disabilities in WIL.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada for awarding our project the 2018 CEWIL Canada Research Grant of $5000.00 that was used to partially fund an undergraduate Co-op student for a four month full-time research based Co-op Work Term from September 2019 to December 2019.

We would like to send our gratitude to Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada for awarding our project the 2018 CEWIL Canada Research Grant of $5000.00. As recipients of the grant, we received $2500 from the Waterloo Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education (WatCACE) and an additional $2500 from CEWIL Canada. The entire amount was used towards hiring an undergraduate research student in a Fall 2019 Co-op role from September 2019 to December 2019 who was an invaluable support to our research team.

Citation

Gatto, L.E., Pearce, H., Antonie, L. and Plesca, M. (2021), "Work integrated learning resources for students with disabilities: are post-secondary institutions in Canada supporting this demographic to be career ready?", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 125-143. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-08-2019-0106

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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