Work-Integrated Learning in Quebec: What You Need to Know

With 18,000 to 20,000 post-secondary students in Quebec participating in work placements every year, co-op programs play a significant role in education and employment. Despite the number of students in programs that require work-integrated learning (WIL), only 30 per cent of qualifying Quebec employers offer student work placements.

To better understand the WIL landscape in Quebec, we’ve been working closely with Alain Tremblay, the executive director of the co-op program at Université de Sherbrooke. Sherbrooke’s student placement program works with 2,000 to 3,000 employers every year, so Tremblay knows the benefits and challenges for employers and students—and what’s at stake for Quebec’s labour market. Here’s what we’ve learned from him.

The Challenge of multiple delivery partners

As an incentive to encourage employers to offer students on-the-job experience, the federal government offers a 70 per cent wage subsidy (up to $7,000) through its Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP). But over and above the SWPP subsidy, the province also offers tax credits for certain student-training programs, so some employers may be able to employ students at almost no cost.

While it seems like a no-brainer, the challenge is SWPP is administered by industry delivery partners (like TECHNATION’s Career Ready Program), each with their own application process and requirements. Quebecers, however, are used to centralized provincial delivery of programs and services, so working with multiple SWPP delivery partners seems unnecessarily complicated for employers, even though the process is fairly simple, notes Tremblay.

Communication can also be a barrier. None of the SWPP delivery partners are based in Quebec, and French-language support is not comprehensive—an understandable point of frustration for Francophone employers.

Working relationships matter in Quebec

While SWPP is a federal program, the fact that none of the delivery partners are based in Quebec makes things difficult because Quebec labour culture is very focused on building relationships. “The relationship is important—speaking with people who understand you is important for Quebecers,” Tremblay says.

In the absence of strong working relationships, there’s been a general lack of understanding about SWPP, and efforts to increase awareness haven’t had a significant impact.

Employers know the process is easy if they work with students from Université de Sherbrooke or École de technologie supérieure, an engineering school in Montreal, Tremblay says. This is because both schools have worked hard to foster direct relationships with employers, and they have staff in place to offer support.

Recognizing that this has been a roadblock for both employers and students, TECHNATION has hired a senior program coordinator in Quebec, Talusier, to offer program support and build those crucial relationships.

WIL is future-proofing for employers

Quebec employers are largely looking for bilingual students who speak French as a first language, so they’re primarily bringing in co-op students from Quebec schools. The co-op model allows employers to test out employees in a low-cost, low-risk way, all while building strong relationships with future workers to help protect their business against future labour shortages.

Labour shortages are a problem in Quebec, where an aging population is leaving the workforce and the number of younger people is forecast to trend downward. But co-op programs in tech help employers and future employees build those crucial relationships before students even graduate. In fact, more than 60 per cent of Quebec SWPP students end up employed by the company they did their work term with when their schooling is complete.

Quebec employers rightfully treat co-op students like a precious resource, because they know it will benefit the company in a year or two, when students graduate and enter the workforce. One major employer in Rivière-du-Loup even provides access to a vehicle and rent support for the duration of the placement so students can make the most of the small-community lifestyle that attracts specific students, Tremblay mentions. The company also develops a career plan for each student, providing a clear view of the future possibilities.

This strategy pays off, not only in attracting former co-op students, but also in word-of-mouth recommendations between students, which attracts even more applicants.

Young Quebecers value quality of life

While students in many parts of Canada are driven by hustle and the lure of urban living, a large portion of Quebec students—especially those at Université de Sherbrooke—prefer smaller locales over big cities.

For Quebecers, quality of life is a big factor in all decisions. Students are looking for a great career, but they don’t want to work 50, 60 or 70 hours per week to get it, Tremblay explains. Balance is especially important in Quebec’s workplace culture and finding an employer that suits both career goals and desired lifestyle is a priority for young people.

Many Quebec companies have built hubs and satellite offices in smaller areas in part to attract students looking for a simple lifestyle. Co-op placements give students an opportunity to test the waters with these companies and communities, without the commitment of relocating for the long-term. “A good work experience will change their life forever,” Tremblay says.

If you’re a Quebec employer interested in hiring a student, or a Quebec student looking for a co-op placement, we want to connect with you. Please email or call Talusier in our Montreal office at tlasalle@technationcanada.ca or 581-993-8151.

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