A1. Components of an SHSM

A1.1 Overview: Components of an SHSM

Each SHSM consists of five required components:

  1. Bundle of credits
    A defined bundle of credits consisting of eight to ten Grade 11 and Grade 12 credits, including cooperative education credits
  2. Certification and training experiences
    Sector-recognized certifications and/or training courses
  3. Experiential learning and career exploration activities
    Experiential learning and career exploration activities within the sector
  4. Reach ahead experiences
    Learning experiences connected with the student's postsecondary plans
  5. Sector-partnered experiences
    Experiences in which students engage with a sector partner to explore sector-related content, skills, and knowledge involving either ICE (innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship), coding, or mathematical literacy.

In this section you will find a comprehensive description of the five required components for all SHSMs.

Why five components?
The five required components are designed to give students a rich and varied range of curriculum-based and experiential learning experiences, as a foundation for making a successful transition to their chosen postsecondary education or training program or occupation in the workplace.

How were the components designed?
These components were designed to ensure that each SHSM provides a quality program that postsecondary educational and employer partners value and that opens doors for graduates. The components were developed in consultation with representatives of business and industry sectors, unions, sector councils and associations, postsecondary and other educational institutions, training organizations, school boards, and other ministries.

What do graduates receive?
Students who complete the requirements for the OSSD and for the SHSM will receive an OSSD with an embossed SHSM seal on it. Credits earned towards the SHSM are indicated on the Provincial Report Card, and completion of the SHSM is recorded on the Ontario Student Transcript (OST). In addition, students receive an SHSM Record outlining their achievement in the five required components.

A1.2 Bundle of Credits

Each SHSM requires completion of a bundle of eight to ten Grade 11 and Grade 12 credits. The bundle consists of:

  • four major credits;
  • two to four other required credits; and
  • two required cooperative education credits.

The credits in the bundle provide students with knowledge and skills particular to, and valued by, the SHSM sector. Therefore, the required credits for each SHSM will vary, depending on:

  • the specific sector of each SHSM program;
  • the student's chosen pathway to one of four postsecondary options – apprenticeship training, college, university, or the workplace – within each SHSM.

Major Credits

Each SHSM includes four major credits, with at least one Grade 11 and one Grade 12 course in the total of four. The major credits enable students to build a foundation of sector-focused knowledge and skills before they enter a postsecondary destination.footnote 1

Major credits are specific to the destination and may be:

  • Ontario curriculum credits;
  • ministry-approved locally developed credits (LDCs);
  • ministry-approved credits for learning acquired outside the Ontario curriculum, such as dual credits.

One of the four major credits may be a cooperative education credit related to the sector. (This credit would be additional to the two required cooperative education credits in the bundle.)

Are there opportunities for further specialization?
An SHSM can be designed to focus on a specific area within the given sector – for example, the SHSM–Business can focus on entrepreneurship, marketing, accounting, or some other area of business. This focus is achieved through the selection of the four major credits in the bundle. Depending on local circumstances, boards may elect to offer one or more variants of the SHSM in a given sector, each with a particular area of focus. Where a choice of focus areas is offered, students must select one.

Other Required Credits

In addition to the four major credits, an SHSM student must complete two to four other credits from the Ontario curriculum, as stated in the requirements for the SHSM in the particular sector.

One of these credits, as specified in the requirements, may be substituted by a cooperative education credit in the sector. (This credit would be in addition to the two required cooperative education credits in the bundle of credits.)

Delivery of the other required credit courses may incorporate contextualized learning activities (CLA). A CLA is a teacher-led, in-class activity contextualized to the particular SHSM sector. It involves a minimum of six hours and a maximum of ten hours of learning, based on the knowledge and skills outlined in some of the curriculum expectations of the course. Note: Schools now have the option to decide if they will offer CLAs. The school team, together with the school board lead, decides whether CLAs are to be formally included in the SHSM program. If so, the school must commit to incorporating a SHSM in each of the other required credit courses for every SHSM sector offered at the school. (Schools that do not formally commit to including CLAs are still free to offer them in one or more of the credits.)

How do CLAs benefit students?
CLAs enable teachers to use content specific to a particular SHSM sector to meet one or more curriculum expectations in a course. Offering CLAs in the other required credits makes the course content authentic and relevant to students, and enables them to connect their learning in these courses to their SHSM sector.

Do CLAs require approval?
No. Teachers at schools choosing to offer CLAs may use those posted to the Ontario Educational Resource Bank (OERB) and the SHSM e-Community websites. The posted CLAs were developed and submitted by teachers across the province and reviewed and approved by the ministry prior to posting. Teachers may also use CLAs that they have developed on their own, using the template provided in Section C: Resources.

Cooperative Education Credits

Cooperative education provides opportunities for students participating in the Specialist High Skills Major program to apply, refine, and extend, in the context of a community outside of school (a placement), the skills and knowledge outlined in the cooperative education curriculum. The curriculum focuses on skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that will support students in their education and career/life planning, and protect and promote their health, safety, and well-being. In addition, cooperative education provides authentic learning experiences in the student's SHSM sector that enable the student to observe in a real-life context, and often apply and practise, some of the sector-specific knowledge and skills acquired in their SHSM bundle of credits.

To meet the requirements of the SHSM program, the cooperative education placement must be within the industry sector related to the student's SHSM program.

How many cooperative education credits are required?
Cooperative education is a required component of a Specialist High Skills Major. Students must successfully complete a minimum of two cooperative education credits in the sector.

What are the choices among cooperative education courses in an SHSM program?
The order of preference for the selection of cooperative education courses for a student enrolled in an SHSM program is as follows:

  1. Cooperative Education Linked to a Related Course (or Courses), where the related course (or courses) is one of the major credits specific to the student's SHSM program
  2. Cooperative Education Linked to a Related Course (or Courses), where the related course (or courses) is one of the Other Required Credits specific to the student's SHSM program
  3. Creating Opportunities through Co-op (DCO3O)
  4. Cooperative Education Linked to a Related Course (or Courses), where the related course is Career Studies (GLC2O) or Civics and Citizenship (CHV2O), provided that this course has been approved as a related course to meet the cooperative education requirement for the SHSM program.

Students who are enrolled in an SHSM program with a university destination should be encouraged to complete their cooperative education credits before Grade 12, so that in Grade 12 they can focus on completing the credits they need for admission to the postsecondary program of their choice.

Students who have enrolled in or have completed the Grade 12 French Immersion course (FIF4O or FIF4U) may use this course as the related course for the cooperative education credits for an SHSM in any sector, as long as their placement has a French-language component and is relevant to the sector.

Can additional cooperative education credits be included in the bundle?
Although students are required to successfully complete two cooperative education credits, it is recommended that they take more than the required two credits.

Students may take up to two additional cooperative education credits in the SHSM program. Of these:

  • one may be used as one of the four major credits; and
  • one may be substituted for a credit in the Other Required Credits component, as specified in the requirements for the particular sector.

As with the required cooperative education credits in the bundle, the placement for any additional cooperative education credits must be in the industry sector related to the student's SHSM program.

See The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12: Cooperative Education, 2018, available on the ministry website at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/cooperative-education-2018.pdf.

A1.3 Certification and Training Experiences

All SHSMs require sector-recognized certifications and/or training courses that have been identified through extensive sector consultations. They include specified numbers of:

  • compulsory certifications and/or training courses (e.g., first aid, CPR);
  • elective certifications and/or training courses, which are selected from a list provided in this guide for each SHSM.

This guide provides a current listing of compulsory and elective certifications and training courses for each SHSM sector.

How do students benefit?
This component of the SHSM enables students to acquire knowledge and skills related to health and safety, along with sector-specific certifications and/or training. Students with sector-recognized certifications and/or training have an advantage when entering the workforce.

What delivery criteria should be followed?
Certification and training courses must:

  • be delivered by a certified trainer – a person recognized by the certification provider or by the sector as an authority (this requirement does not apply to the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System [WHMIS]);
  • include an assessment and evaluation component;
  • include, wherever possible, documentation such as a certificate or other proof of completion for the student's portfolio and the student's SHSM Record, which will indicate the title of each certification earned or training course/program completed;
  • be recorded and include documentation of the number of hours involved, and the date the certification/training was completed.

What forms of delivery might be considered?
The following table illustrates the factors schools and boards may want to consider in selecting a delivery model for certification and training experiences.

Certification and Training Experiences: Delivery Models
Delivery ModelAdvantagesDisadvantages
  • is current
  • is sector-recognized
  • includes a hands-on component
  • provides exposure to the sector
  • provides authentic learning
  • may be expensive
  • may present a scheduling challenge
Online training
  • is accessible
  • can be completed any time, during the day, evening, or weekends
  • requires little supervision
  • can be cost-effective
  • lacks a hands-on component
  • may not accommodate learners with special needs
  • may be expensive
Co-delivered by industry/education partner and secondary school
  • can be differentiated according to learner needs
  • fosters partnerships
  • requires coordination and scheduling
Teacher-delivered ("train the trainer" model) (teacher is certified to deliver the certification or training program)
  • is cost-effective
  • is sustainable and builds capacity
  • is more easily embedded in curriculum delivery
  • allows for a hands-on component
  • reduces scheduling challenges
  • can be differentiated according to learner needs
  • lacks sector exposure when no sector representative participates in the certification
  • may not be perceived as genuine or current by students

A1.4 Experiential Learning and Career Exploration

The SHSM experiential learning and career exploration requirement consists of planned learning activities that take place outside the traditional classroom setting. Experiential learning may take a variety of forms, including:

  • career exploration activities
  • job shadowing
  • job twinning
  • work experience
  • virtual work experience

How do students benefit?
Experiential learning and career exploration activities give students opportunities to explore, observe, participate in, and reflect on a variety of sector-specific experiences and careers. These activities also enable students enrolled in the SHSM to find out about the opportunities available in careers that interest them.

What placement criteria should be followed?
Experiential learning placements for students must be arranged by the school and must meet the following requirements if the experience exceeds one day:

  • A teacher must assess a placement before the student is assigned to it to ensure that the placement offers a positive learning environment and a safe workplace.
  • The student must have Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage through the ministry or the workplace.

What forms of experiential learning might be considered?
The following table summarizes the forms of experiential learning and related programs you may want to consider:

Forms of Experiential Learning and Career Exploration
ExperienceDescriptionKey Requirements
Career exploration activities
  • activities that allow students to explore career opportunities through work-site tours, career conferences or competitions (e.g., Skills Canada), simulation activities (e.g., Junior Achievement), and contact with a career mentor
  • may be incorporated into any credit course
  • count towards the experiential learning component required for an SHSM
  • preparation for every activity, including learning expectations, activity protocols, and health and safety
  • opportunity for students to reflect on the activity
  • completed field-trip form and transportation agreement
Job shadowing
One-half to one day (in some cases up to three days)
  • one-on-one observation of a worker at a place of employment
  • may be incorporated into any credit course
  • counts towards the experiential learning component required for an SHSM
  • teacher selection of an appropriate placement in a safe work environment
  • preparation for the placement, including review of learning expectations, activity protocols, and health and safety
  • opportunity for students to reflect on the experience
  • completed field-trip form and transportation agreement
  • WSIB coverage if placement is more than one day
Job twinning
One-half to one day
  • one-on-one observation of a cooperative education student at their placement
  • may be incorporated into any credit course
  • counts towards the experiential learning component required for an SHSM
  • pairing of a student with a cooperative education student
  • preparation for the placement, including review of learning expectations, activity protocols, and health and safety
  • opportunity for students to reflect on the experience
  • completed field-trip form and transportation agreement
Work experience/virtual work experience
One to four weeks
  • a planned learning opportunity that provides students with relatively short-term work experience. Virtual work experience is facilitated through the use of communications technology from the school.
  • may be incorporated into any credit course
  • counts towards the experiential learning component required for an SHSM
  • placement assessment
  • pre-placement instruction addressing job-readiness skills, placement expectations, and health and safety
  • opportunity for students to reflect on the experience
  • development of a learning plan
  • WSIB coverage


A1.5 Reach Ahead Experiences

Students pursuing an SHSM must have opportunities for reach ahead experiences connected with their postsecondary plans.

What are reach ahead experiences?
These experiences enable Grade 11 and 12 students to gain confidence in their ability to be successful, refine skills and work habits, and make informed choices about future careers and next steps. Reach ahead opportunities could include:

  • interviewing an employee in the field of work the SHSM student is considering;
  • visiting an approved apprenticeship delivery agent to investigate a program of interest to the SHSM student;
  • interviewing a college or university student enrolled in a program of interest to the SHSM student;
  • attending a number of college or university classes in the student's area of interest;
  • attending a conference or workshop held by the sector;
  • completing a dual credit course, which counts for credit towards both the OSSD and a postsecondary certificate, diploma, or degree, or Level 1 apprenticeship. Dual credit courses are ministry funded and subject to separate approval policies and procedures. For more information about dual credit courses, please refer to Dual Credit Programs – Policy and Program Requirements, 2020.

A1.6 Sector-Partnered Experiences (SPEs)

All students pursuing an SHSM must complete at least one sector-partnered experience (SPE). SPEs are learning experiences tied to a student's chosen SHSM sector, developed and delivered by sector partners in tandem with teachers. All SPEs focus on one of the following:

  • innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship (ICE)
  • coding
  • mathematical literacy

The concepts of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship (ICE) are inextricably linked. Innovation is the generation and realization of a new idea in the world; this means that innovation contains within it elements of both creativity and entrepreneurship. Creativity comes into play in the generation of ideas to meet a need in the world, based on a fundamental belief that there is more than one right answer to a given problem. Entrepreneurship is the set of activities aimed at building, scaling and sustaining the new ideas into an organization, whether extending an existing organization or creating a new one.

ICE, coding (computer programming), and mathematical literacy are all areas of knowledge that are key to a wide variety of 21st century careers. An SPE is designed to support students in cultivating the mindset that is needed for success in any of these areas of focus – a mindset that includes proposing ideas and solutions, taking smart risks in a safe environment, studying the results, and applying critical thinking.

How do students benefit?
An SPE gives students the opportunity to engage with a sector partner and gain insight into the relationship between their SHSM sector and ICE, coding, and/or mathematical literacy. Students who complete an SPE will be more aware of current industry practices and better equipped to understand the importance of developing their skills and knowledge in these areas to reach their future learning and career goals.

What delivery criteria should be followed?
All sector-partnered experiences:

  • are co-designed and co-delivered by sector partners and teachers
  • are designed for a particular SHSM sector
  • should be approximately 6 hours in duration (may be delivered over multiple days)
  • conclude with a self-assessment that supports students in reflecting on their learning
  • must follow all school and board protocols for field trips, where applicable (e.g., protocols for permission forms, health and safety, expenses, student transportation)
  • must be recorded in the student management system upon completion, including the focus (ICE, coding, or mathematical literacy)
  • should, if possible, include documentation such as a certificate or other proof of completion for the student's portfolio and the student's SHSM Record

What are the considerations for planning an SPE?
SPEs are designed to provide safe and authentic experiential activities that enable students to apply their learning. Schools have the flexibility to adjust their choice of programming to make the best use of local capacity and opportunities within the community, and to align with the interests and needs of students.

SPEs may be delivered in a variety of ways, for example:

  • to an entire class, if the students are timetabled as an SHSM cohort, or to an individual student or small groups of SHSM students within a larger class or cohort
  • during the course of one school day, or over several days (up to a total of 6 hours)

After the SPE, students complete a self-assessment to reflect upon the mindsets and skills they have acquired.

The goal of an SPE is for students to acquire the following mindsets:
- I can see the value in understanding how ICE, coding, or mathematical literacy is important to my SHSM sector.
- I am willing to take smart risks and learn from them.


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph School boards can nominate courses for use as major credits in the SHSMs they wish to offer, and the ministry maintains a master list of eligible major credit courses for each sector, which it distributes annually to all Ontario boards.