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January 14, 2020 – Participating in school/work co-op programs is linked to higher incomes and a higher likelihood of success in the labour market after graduation, but some get more benefits than others, says a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Work-Ready Graduates: The Role of Co-op Programs in Labour Market Success,” author Rosalie Wyonch shows how the effect of participating in a co-op program differs for certain groups, including women, visible minorities and immigrants.

A type of work-integrated learning, co-op combines academic studies with field-related work experience and has seen an increase in popularity, thanks in part to financial boosts from federal and provincial governments and its ability to ease students’ transition to the labour market.

Using data from Statistics Canada’s National Graduate Survey, Wyonch assesses the role of co-op programs in labour market success, specifically its link between higher incomes and career success. “The data shows participation in co-op programs is associated with a higher likelihood that a graduate’s first job will be permanent and highly related to the graduate’s field of study,” says Wyonch. “Three years after graduation, co-op participants have incomes about $2,000 to $4,000 higher than non-participants.”

The results aren’t clear-cut, however, with differing outcomes for women, visible minorities and immigrants relative to Canadian men participating in co-op programs. “Although immigrants, women and visible minorities were more likely to be employed full time than non-participants with similar characteristics, women tend to receive lower benefits than men in terms of income, getting a first job related to their field of study, or securing a permanent position,” says Wyonch.

Co-op outcomes further differ between fields of study and university-based and college-based programs. At the college level, co-op participation does not necessarily lead to higher incomes after graduation across all fields of study, with significant benefits only seen in science and engineering programs.  

The report recommends government policymakers and educational institutions continue to support and expand co-op programs, making them accessible to more students while being aware programs in arts, education and social science do not appear to be as beneficial as co-ops in STEM fields. The report concludes by highlighting the need to carefully monitor results, improve and adapt programs to maximize benefits for particular fields of study, and assess how they can better play a role in overcoming gender and racial wage gaps.

Read the Full Report

For more information contact: Rosalie Wyonch, Policy Analyst; or Nancy Schlömer, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, phone 416-865-1904 ext. 0247, email: nschlomer@cdhowe.org.

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.