On Feb. 15, Wilfrid Laurier University’s department of political science hosted a policy dialogue, “Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce: Experiential Learning at Wilfrid Laurier University.”
The event, which saw a turnout of approximately 40 individuals, featured a diverse panel of stu-dents, employers and faculty to speak about both the importance of experiential learning as well as how students are already exposed to important skill development in and out of the classroom.
John Milloy, Laurier’s practitioner-in-residence for the department of political science, worked with Debora VanNijnatten, associate professor and chair of department of political science, to organize the dialogue. The opportunity to discuss integrated learning occurred ensuing a report released by Sean Conway, chair: premier’s highly skilled workforce expert panel and the office of the premier. Conway, as a result of the report, also spoke at the panel.
Other speakers at the panel were David McMurrary, vice-president of student affairs, Jan Basso, director of co-operative education and career development, Andre Gonthier, director of campus recruiting North America at Sunlife Financial and Louise Merlin, training program manager at Communitech, among others.
To close off the dialogue and provide the student perspective were Colin Aitchison, vice-president of university affairs and Kanwar Brar, incoming Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union president.
“We all come to university, regardless of what we want to do to, [to] make ourselves competitive in the job market,” Aitchison said.
“And just sitting in the classroom and getting a degree doesn’t teach you the transferable skills that you need to be successful in employment.”
Aitchison also explained that often students don’t recognize the large scope of options which ex-tend from the idea of experiential learning.
“A lot of people automatically think co-op, but by running panels like this we’re bringing together parties from all areas to explain what experiential learning, overall, is,” Aitchison said.
Experiential learning can be volunteer opportunities, summer internships, in-class experiences, in addition to co-operative education placements.
“There’s got to be some way to provide students with that hands-on experience to learn those transferable skills so they’re more competitive and employers don’t need to teach them every single thing as they’re coming in with a set of skills already,” Aitchison said.
To provide a unique perspective, Brar touched on his vast experience at Laurier and how they furthered his skill set and, ultimately, paving the path to being elected as Students’ Union president-elect.
“When we have that conversation cohesively, it gives us an opportunity to reflect upon how we can work together to move forward as a whole and help students best prepare all together,” Brar said.
VanNijnatten explained that another critical part about the dialogue was to articulate to students what extensive work Laurier has done surrounding experiential learning.
“We need to do a better job of ensuring students know what they’re getting already at Laurier in terms of experiential learning and being able to articulate that and really capitalizing on that when they head out for applying for jobs and networking,” VanNijnatten said.
Aitchison explained that the diverse panel also contributed to helping students understand what opportunities might be available to them and how they are significant.
“There’s a lot happening at Laurier that students don’t recognize and I think that’s just because we’re all in the system that there’s not a thorough understanding. Students can partake in different experiences and take those skills and lessons that they learn and apply those to the work-force once they’re done school [sic],” Aitchison said.
Brar also believes that experiental learning is a valuable opportunity for students, that will continue to assist them beyond Laurier.
“Experiential Learning is all encompassing, and co-op is an integral part of it,” Brar said.
“But it also goes beyond that and includes part-time work, volunteer and recreational activities. It’s about developing transferable skills to be applied in real life situations upon graduation.”