Experiential learning at work

High school co-op programs give employers opportunity to engage future workers
By Jon Hamovitch and Tom Flanagan
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/19/2009

Before the global recession hit, major labour force developments were threatening Canadian employers’ abilities to recruit and retain the workers needed for organizations to grow and thrive.

In the new economic reality, these looming challenges may have been temporarily overshadowed, but it would be a mistake to think they have disappeared altogether. Canada’s workforce continues to age towards retirement at an alarming rate, with workers aged 55 to 64 expected to constitute nearly one-half of the country’s labour force by as early as 2015. And the nature of work itself continues to become more complex — by 2016, 70 per cent of all jobs are expected to require post-secondary education, according to a 2007 report by the Canadian Council on Learning.

There are steps organizations of every size can and should take to develop the next generation of workers. Experiential learning programs, such as co-operative education, job shadowing, mentoring and youth apprenticeship programs, are not new but offer new value during a market downturn. As cost-effective alternatives for recruiting, retaining and training young workers, these programs provide employers with an early opportunity to engage future workers, expose them to unfamiliar career options and help them acquire essential workplace skills and experience.