TORONTO -- Co-op placements, internships, practicums and residencies are valuable forms of work experience for post-secondary students in Canada. But for this year’s students, COVID-19 has put a halt to many of these opportunities.

A crowdsourcing questionnaire was distributed to more than 100,000 post-secondary students between April 19 and May 1 for a report subsequently released by Statistics Canada. The data reveals how students are feeling about the sudden change to their curriculum, and how delays and cancellations of work placements could affect their job search post-graduation.

These are the three biggest takeaways from the report:

Students are worried about the quality of their education

Among the students who responded to the survey, about 35 per cent have had a work placement postponed or cancelled because of the novel coronavirus.

Of those who are set to graduate this year, 52 per cent of those who had a work placement affected by the virus reported feeling “extremely concerned” about how much the lack of a work placement could devalue their credentials.

Statistics Canada notes that a 2015 report found that students who participated in a work placement were more likely to find a job in their area of study, with 88 per cent of participants in that study reporting employment in their desired field.

According to the first study, cancellation or postponement of work placements can also negatively affect post-secondary students financially. The placements can be paid positions, leaving a prospective student employee without income that they were relying on.

Eighty-six per cent of respondents who had a work placement cancelled or delayed said that they felt extremely concerned that the pandemic would pose a negative effect on their personal finances. They also reported concern about paying bills, and dipping into savings to cover expenses.

Health-care and service students have been disproportionately affected

Some post-secondary students in Canada have experienced greater educational setbacks than others due to COVID-19. Areas of study such as health care often require a placement in a practical work setting, many of which have been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.

In response to the crowdsourcing study, about two-thirds of participants who were enrolled in a health-care program at the master’s or professional degree level have had their placements impacted since the pandemic began.

For many students in health-care programs, graduation is conditional upon the completion of a work-integrated learning experience.

Other students affected by work placement cancellations or delays include those in service programs such as cooking and hairdressing.  These areas of study often integrate on-the-job training in to the curriculum.

Work experience during school can lead to steady work after graduation

In the paper published on 2015 graduates, there was a clear correlation between work placements and higher employment earnings for graduated students. Those who completed a bachelor’s degree reported earnings that were seven per cent higher than those who didn’t complete a similar placement.

Another StatCan study revealed a positive correlation between participating in work placements during post-secondary education, and finding steady work upon graduation.

The study, which used data from one post-secondary school between 2012 and 2016, showed that work -integrated learning was beneficial for students seeking employment at the end of their program. Seventy-five per cent of those who had a work placement in school were hired for a full-time position in their field within three months of graduating. Only 48 per cent of their counterparts with no work experience landed a job in the same time frame.