Riipen Level UP lands 71% of participants employment while building skills and professional networks
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it turned our world upside down. Higher education moved online and the placements students were expecting disappeared in the blink of an eye. Internships are supposed to be a key tool in fighting the experience gap, but when the opportunity to get an opportunity is gone, how do students make do?
Online, flexible, work-based learning prepares students–at scale–for the future of work, but hasn’t been supported by governments to the same extent as traditional forms of experiential learning. In 2019, the Government of Canada saw this gap and launched the Innovative Work-Integrated Learning (I-WIL) Fund to prepare Canadian students for an uncertain future.
The COVID-19 pandemic eliminated work opportunities for the Canadian students who needed them most.
In the years leading up to 2019, Canada had been grappling with an increasingly competitive job market. The rise of automation and digital technologies was rapidly transforming the nature of work, requiring workers to possess not only technical skills but also the ability to adapt, innovate, and collaborate. However, many students and new graduates were finding it difficult to secure employment that matched their qualifications, signaling a gap between the skills they acquired through formal education and the skills demanded by employers.
This situation was further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit in early 2020. The economic fallout from the pandemic led to widespread job losses and business closures, with students being particularly affected. Many companies, facing uncertain economic prospects, were forced to cut costs, leading to a significant reduction in internships and co-op programs-traditional pathways for students to gain practical work experience.
Recognizing these challenges, the Government of Canada announced the I-WIL Initiative, aiming to bridge the gap between education and employment for post-secondary students. The initiative included the creation of the I-WIL Fund, which was designed to support innovative work-integrated learning projects that provided valuable and relevant work experience to students.
One of the key initiatives supported by the I-WIL Fund was the Level UP program. Launched in partnership with Riipen, Level UP adopted a fully online co-curricular programming model, allowing students to participate in remote projects and gain hands-on experience in their respective fields. This not only helped students build their professional networks and skills but also offered a resilient solution in the face of disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Fully online co-curricular programming that builds skills, professional networks, and employment pathways for Canadian students.
Launched by a C$12.25 million investment from the Government of Canada, with in-kind contributions from Riipen, Level UP began admitting participants in February 2021. A fully white-labeled portal allowed Level UP to establish its brand, while still taking advantage of streamlined onboarding, project creation wizard, marketplace, and project management tools in the Riipen work-based learning platform.
To participate in the Level UP program, employers and students complete a brief eligibility questionnaire before joining the portal marketplace where learners can browse and apply to pre-approved ‘projects’. A Level UP project is a narrowly scoped work plan designed to be completed remotely, in about 80 hours, and distributed over a 2-8 period. Similar to a traditional hiring process, employers browse submitted resumes, but when ready, can direct message a candidate, arrange a Zoom/Google Meets call, and approve or reject candidates from a single dashboard. From there, approved students and their employers decide on a working schedule and begin the project. Once the project is complete and a program exit survey is submitted, students are issued a C$1,400 stipend per experience as compensation for the work they performed.
Level UP’s success is in large part due to the vertical integration of services and products only possible with Riipen. Riipen designed, built, and executed all aspects of strategy, recruitment, product development, customer service, outcomes assessment, and reporting, a first for a program of this kind. The tight collaboration of Riipen’s managed services team across the organization enabled Level UP to go from idea to live platform in less than two months.
“The transition from school to work can be a challenge, especially for young Canadians from marginalized communities. The youth in Riipen’s Level UP Remote Internship program gain the skills and experience to find rewarding careers in fields that they are passionate about. Programs like Level UP are able to leverage technology to make sure that everyone, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at success in the job market and beyond.”
- Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth.
“Level UP program from Riipen is actually a lifesaver for many students who are struggling to get co-op opportunities from companies directly.”
- Zinia Mustafa, Student, George Brown College
“Level UP is a fantastic way for small businesses like mine to be able to provide valuable work experience to students across Canada. It opens up a world of collaborative opportunities and truly is a win-win for our universities, students, and businesses.”
- Lisa Roughley, Principal & Owner, Roughley Speaking
Since launching in early 2021, Level UP has garnered C$48.25 million in funding to support 24,443 placements for Canadian college and university students. With nearly 20,000 experiences completed to date (as of October 2023), Level UP Alumni represent more than 165 schools from coast to coast to coast. Even while scaling to a waitlist of 50,000 students, Level UP’s unique acquisition strategy has maintained 74% of all learning experiences completed by students from underserved communities.
Ensuring participating students didn’t just meet potential employers, but were able to convert their work experience into employment was crucial. In the latest round of surveying, 71% of participating students reported leveraging their experience to receive one or more job offers, with 46% directly from the Level UP employer they worked with. 60% of students report Level UP as the only or equal/better career-advancing program they have participated in. Students’ motivation and confidence to find a job also increase, with 64% of students feeling prepared to find a career they’ll love after graduating before Level UP but 85% afterward.
“Our small culinary medicine company took advantage of the program and brought on two students to take part in an 8-week remote student internship. We were so impressed by the quality of the work that we hired both students once their internships were completed—despite neither of them being located anywhere near Vancouver.”
- Dr. Anthony Marotta, CEO, Peqish Food Company
“This has provided me with job experience I need to help me find a career when I am done my schooling. I don't know how else I would have gained this experience otherwise.”
- Elizabeth Richards, Student, Fleming College
“Level UP is an amazing way for students to get real life, applicable work experience while still managing their education. Many jobs and industries are shifting further toward a focus on experience rather than education for hiring decisions, so this program ensures students have the best of both worlds when they head out into the job market”
- Reese Naumann, Student, University of Alberta