Sustainability of the Community Social Services Sector Through Institutional Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) Partnerships

ABLE Research Consultants

ABLE Research Consultants is a BC-based firm with 40 years of collective experience and knowledge in the field of work-integrated learning (WIL).

Work-integrated learning (WIL) creates a powerful opportunity for post-secondary students to apply their education to the labour market and create a pathway for them to enter the workforce after graduation. Through their research report, Able Research Consultants explored the connection between post-secondary institutions and the community social services sector. Their research focused on four main areas:

  1. Linkages: Understanding the links between WIL programs and community social service organizations.
  2. Inclusive Practices: Gaining knowledge about the inclusive practices used for recruiting, hiring, onboarding, educating, and retaining diverse workers.
  3. Sustainability & Capacity Building: Identifying ways to build capacity and promote sustainability within the community social services sector workforce.
  4. Skills & Competencies: Determining the skills & competencies needed for workers to thrive in the sector.

To explore these topics, they employed the following methods:

  • A literature review about the links and quality of relationships between partners in WIL
  • Key informant interviews with leaders in the community social services sector
  • An online survey about WIL opportunities for staff at post-secondary institutions and community social services and WIL students
  • Consultations with an advisory committee of key informants


Through the literature review, the research team identified seven factors which formed the basis for good practices and quality WIL across social service organizations. These factors include:

  1. Organization set up: Successful WIL placements occur when organizations are structured to support the placement. This includes ensuring that there is a good fit between the student and their field educator at the host organization, suitable field education opportunities to match student abilities and needs, and a plan of assessment of student abilities. From an equity perspective, the literature highlights the need for organizations to provide experiences that are accessible and inclusive to students from diverse backgrounds—with policies and commitments in place to support these movements.
  2. Student preparation: WIL students must be equipped for their placements not only with theoretical knowledge, but also knowledge of ethics, conflict, time & stress management, other skills that would be needed in a work environment, and clarity about their expectations and requirements of the placement.
  3. Supervision: Quality supervision includes having clear administrative documents regarding placements that put teaching, learning and assessment at the forefront. Supervisors should be aware of power dynamics which could hinder student learning and should provide feedback in a constructive and consistent manner which encourages a culture of growth and learning.
  4. Competencies: Quality WIL placements foster the competency development of students. This includes the development of self-confidence, enhancing intercultural communication & people skills, diverse teamwork skills, and professional standards.
  5. Pedagogies: Post-secondary institutions have a responsibility to ensure that the concepts and skills needed in the workplace are reflected in the coursework that students complete.
  6. Assessment: WIL placement assessments should be diverse and provide opportunities for students to critically reflect on their learning, development, and progress. It is the shared responsibility of post-secondary institutions and host organizations to ensure that student assessment is fair and informs student development.
  7. Placement debriefing: It is important for students to have the opportunity to share observations followed by feedback and reflective dialogue with their host organization to support student growth and development.

The researchers added four additional factors which contribute to good practice and quality relationships of organizations that provide WIL opportunities. These include:

  1. Commitment to decolonization and equity
  2. Collaboration & shared vision with the larger community
  3. WIL quality framework
  4. Valuing student contributions


Competency Framework for the BC Community Social Services Sector

Based on the findings are recommendations from the study, the research team created a competency framework which highlights the skills and competencies needed to work in the community social services sector. The framework identifies a variety of skills, knowledge, and attributes across four major competencies:

  • Effective communication
  • Equity, diversity, inclusion & social sensitivity
  • Interprofessional skills
  • Interpersonal skills


Sustainability Toolkit for the Community Social Sector

The Community Social Services Sustainability Toolkit synthesizes the wealth of information gathered in the project through guidance from an advisory committee of dedicated post-secondary and community social services key informants. The goal of the toolkit is to enhance sustainability within the community social services sector by providing resources to organizations and post-secondary institutions for inclusive recruitment, hiring, and onboarding of work-integrated learning students, as well as offer strategies for retention. The toolkit includes specific guidelines and strategies focused on four major areas:

  1. Inclusive recruitment of WIL students
  2. Inclusive hiring of WIL students
  3. Inclusive onboarding
  4. Retention

The full document with detailed frameworks can be found here.

To read any of the full documents by Able Research Consultants, check out their partner page here.

To learn more about this research project and its findings, view the entire body of work here:

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