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Work-ready graduates: The role of co-op programs in labour market success

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, this report assesses the role of co-op programs in labour market success, specifically its link between higher incomes and career success. 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. The effect of participating in a co-op program differs for certain groups, including women, visible minorities and immigrants. 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.