Riipen’s work-integrated, project-based learning programs are successfully helping to connect Canadian employers to diverse talent.
Dana Stephenson was attending the University of Victoria when he had a light bulb moment. During one class, instead of giving the class a generic case study, a professor brought in a company CEO, who presented his company and problems to the class. All the students then got to work on practical, real-life solutions to help the business reach its goals. The class went from theoretical and conceptual to hands-on, experiential, and collaborative.
“Immediately, I noticed that the engagement and learning in the classroom skyrocketed,” recalls Stephenson. “No matter what your background was, what your resume said, or what connections your parents had, everyone in that classroom got the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and to put it on their resume. It was also an amazing way for the employer to boost its talent pipeline diversity, productivity, and innovation. The CEO ended up hiring someone right out of that class. And that was the inspiration for Riipen.”
Integrating work and education
In 2014, Stephenson co-founded Riipen, an experiential learning platform that helps schools connect their students to industry and enables companies to discover top emerging talent. It facilitates transformative opportunities for companies to collaborate with post-secondary students on real-world challenges that are embedded directly into coursework. At its core, it solves the “experience paradox” post-secondary students often face — you can’t get a job without work experience, but you can’t get experience without a job.
Riipen is now the world’s largest online work-integrated learning marketplace, closing the skills gap for learners with real-world experience. To date, Riipen has enabled over 145,000 learner experiences and over nine million hours of applied learning at more than 420 post-secondary institutions with 24,000 employers. Riipen aims to help students of all backgrounds and geographies to boost their soft skills, gain career clarity, network with potential employers, and prepare for jobs they’ll love. Employer partners, meanwhile, get access to a fresh pool of diverse talent, unlock more potential for growth, boost innovation, and find talent who are a good fit and who will be able to hit the ground running on day one of their potential new employment.
The future of learning
Riipen’s leading-edge approach uses flexible project-based experiential learning to train and prepare students for the future of work. Immersing students in employer-led projects equips them with work-ready skills, and research shows that experiential learning helps students to improve teamwork and communication skills, gain a better understanding of key skills and course materials, boost self-confidence and leadership capabilities, and acquire a broader view of the world and an appreciation of community.
Level UP is Riipen’s national remote internship program for students and employers in Canada that connects them through 80-hour fully-subsidized internships that can take place completely online. Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning (I-WIL) initiative, the program has had great success during the pandemic leading to a tripling of funding and scope, and is currently seeking new partner associations and employers who wish to revitalize their workforce.
Over 70 per cent of [Level UP] learners so far have come from equity-seeking groups. These include women in STEM, Indigenous peoples, and racial minorities.
Importantly, Riipen makes work-integrated learning more accessible for both employers and students. Level UP enables remote partnerships across geographical barriers beyond local connections, and allows for flexible 2-8 week work opportunities for students facing barriers committing to in-person 3-month internships.
“While small- and medium-sized businesses are struggling to find talent, many companies are also realizing that talent is everywhere,” says Stephenson. “Being open to working on projects in a remote capacity has really broken down geographical barriers and helped companies to find talent when and where they need it.”
Level UP also succeeds in making learning more available to everyone, including equity-seeking groups. “Over 70 per cent of learners so far have come from equity-seeking groups,” says Stephenson. These include women in STEM, Indigenous peoples, and racial minorities. Employers benefit from Riipen’s impressive innovation, too. Traditional wage subsidy programs require lengthy registration processes and adding interns to payroll. With Level UP, Riipen recruits students, verifies eligibility, and administers payment once an internship is completed. It’s a game changer for small businesses tight on time.
Riipen also provides short-term program-friendly projects for adult learners through partnerships like the EDGE UP program, originally created by Calgary Economic Development to help former oil and gas workers in Alberta reskill for the more in-demand tech sector. The most recent phase of the program has seen more than 100 graduates, while 70 per cent of previous graduates are employed in tech jobs or furthering their education.