Students can earn a salary while they learn

Canada’s first fully work-integrated degree program helps tackle the national IT talent shortage by offering alternative access to university

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Whether you’re trying to complete a university degree or earn a living, either can be challenging. Trying to do both simultaneously can feel downright impossible.

That’s where work-integrated degree programs can offer promising solutions—providing more affordable, inclusive education pathways to careers. This is particularly crucial in the digital technologies arena where Canada is coming up short in terms of recruiting talent.

First in Canada

York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is the first in Canada to help bridge this gap by offering an innovative and flexible alternative to traditional university study. Lassonde’s new Digital Technologies work-integrated degree program—just announced in September—enables students to have full-time salaried employment with the same employer for four years, while studying towards a Bachelor of Applied Science degree. Approximately 20 per cent of their work time is dedicated to theoretical, in-class learning delivered during five-day block periods every six-to-seven weeks. The rest of their work hours are spent in the workplace where academic learning will be continually applied and integrated as they gain experience and contribute to their employer’s goals. The program will be offered exclusively through York University’s Markham campus.

Through this program, organizations can both upskill their existing workforce and access a new talent pipeline, while increasing equity, diversity and inclusion. The program also acts as a vehicle for upward mobility as it offers access to higher education for non-traditional learners as well as those who often face systemic barriers to tech careers such as Black, Indigenous and people of colour, newcomers, individuals with disabilities, first-generation students and older people.

Built on a successful model

While the work-integrated degree concept is new to Canada, it’s based on a tried-and-true model from the UK, which launched in 2015 to great success. Now, the majority of higher education providers in England offer these types of programs.

Jane Goodyer, dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering, has already piloted the model in New Zealand, and she’s now helping to debut the concept in Canada in tandem with organizations like IBM. “It’s all about opening doors to those who simply wouldn’t have the time or money to pursue a degree. Our new work-integrated program will transform the future of learning and employment in Canada—supercharging skills development while advancing society toward a more just future for generations to come.”

Lassonde worked on its program with one of the UK’s leading providers of this model, Manchester Metropolitan University, which is forecast to have more than 2,300 students enrolled in work-integrated programs with 544 employers this year.

To design and develop the program, Lassonde also collaborated with a visionary group of ‘Trailblazer’ businesses, public sector organizations and industry associations to ensure the program delivers the required knowledge, skills and professionalism companies need in their IT specialists. These included senior technology experts from Ceridian, CGI, Cinchy Inc., Cisco Canada, Connected (Connected.io, Now part of Thoughtworks), EY Canada, General Motors of Canada Company, IBM Canada, mimik Technology Inc., RBC, Saa Dene Group, Shopify, TELUS Health, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and TribalScale Inc. Together, they created curriculum and learning outcomes designed to anticipate industry needs and shape their evolution.

Win-win for students and businesses

Work-integrated learning models benefit both students and employers by driving positive change. Students who couldn’t attend university because of financial barriers can gain hands-on work experience and new skills while earning a salary. Employers can upskill existing employees and access a rich pipeline of untapped talent, giving them a competitive edge. Through their employees, they can also gain access to the latest expertise and resources that York University can provide.

With a 90 per cent employer satisfaction rate, York is building on its promise of high-quality education that prepares students for long-term success. In its first year, the program will be delivered through York University’s state-of-the-art Learning Space at IBM Canada’s headquarters in Markham. “Participating in Lassonde’s new work-integrated program reinforces IBM’s continued commitment to create a more diverse workforce and cultivate a flexible, inclusive, and equitable work environment,” says Lila Adamec, leader of IBM Canada’s Academic Integration and Strategy division. “Doing so helps us continue to create a culture of transparency and trust among IBMers to drive employee engagement and retention as well as to be globally competitive.”

To learn more about Lassonde’s Digital Technologies work-integrated degree program, starting Fall 2023, visit lassonde.yorku.ca/digitaltech.

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