The Future of Work: A Commitment to Work Integrated Learning

54% of employees will need fundamentally new skills by 2022. What does that mean for employers as we hire new graduates, train existing employees and embrace the ever changing landscape of the future of work?

7 min readOct 27, 2020

As the world shifts and a new future of work emerges, one drastically shaped and accelerated by the global pandemic, career expectations have changed dramatically.

In a recent presentation by Commitech and Manulife, the Waterloo Region Future of Work research group, in which they shared some of their learnings, including “young persons graduating today will have 17 different jobs across 5 industries¹ and by 2020 30% of the skills employees use today, they didn’t have a year ago².”

What’s more staggering, “54% of employees will need fundamentally new skills by 2022³.” That statistic means that to be successful, those in the workforce will need to earn the equivalent of a master’s degree every ten years².

The idea of continually needing to gain further education can seem daunting, for both new grads and those in mid-career levels. On top of the many other expectations including remote work, altered hours and ensuring a work/life integration (which is different for everyone), changes to child care and added stress to mental health, innovation and collaboration are key to success.

Globally, many industries are rethinking their concept of work integrated learning (WIL) in response to these shifts. Here in Canada, 87% of the workforce is made up of mid-career employees who need new skills (age 37–54)⁴. Trends also point to organizations increasingly becoming comfortable hiring from global talent pools and it’s fair to assume this will continue. The demand for flexible and adaptable workplaces that have a focus on life long learning and retraining will become the norm, and every industry needs to get on board.

As the global workforce moves towards an increasingly virtual world, it is critical for not only individuals to plan how they will stay relevant and adequately skilled, but how organizations plan to offer WIL to employees, new hires (perhaps who need re-skilling), students and new graduates.

The impact of Covid-19: education, changes in the talent pipeline and the increased need for work integrated learning, including work term opportunities

The impact on the economy from the pandemic is largely responsible for shaping the new ways we are learning, working and living. Much of the innovation we are seeing across all industries had been previously envisioned, including the changes in work integrated learning, the need for digital literacy, and the increase of work-from-home options. As certain industries closed their doors to in-person activity, sectors like education have been forced to make changes that under normal circumstances likely would have come to fruition 5–10 years from now, in months.

While an acceleration of research and the promise of futuristic remote learning opportunities due to new global partnerships sounds exciting, there is no doubt some scary realities that students and recent grads are facing today.

Executive director at the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), Kalin McCluskey shared recently, “students are still worried” about how Covid-19 will impact their education and finances long-term. A staggering “60% of students say coronavirus is making them worried, 90% of students in Atlantic Canada reporting that COVID-19 has made them stressed both worried about their future (86%) and stressed about finances (78%)⁵”, says Kalin. “61% say the current government support isn’t enough to help them through the upcoming academic year.” In terms of international students, over 80% reported a negative impact on their financial situation, with 68% expecting to rely more on personal savings for Fall 2020⁵.

A number of students lost opportunities for co-ops or internships due to the pandemic. These opportunities are designed to give them a chance to develop the skills to take their learnings and apply them to the world of work. Many organizations and institutions scrambled to provide Spring/Summer internships for 2020. Some positions have been recovered through innovation models; however we’re now hearing from clients and students that those worries have continued into Fall 2020 and for WIL in 2021.

EnPoint’s CEO Chantal Brine shares, “hiring work term students can benefit your organization in navigating COVID-19’s immediate and known impacts but also set employers up to better predict and respond to the evolving and unknown situation”. EnPoint went through hiring processes in April and June for co-op students; she mentioned the impact of the pandemic proved in some cases to help students build their resiliency and insight into their own strengths and areas for improvement.

“What’s stood out for me as we interviewed students for the Fall co-op term is the number of individuals who were forced to work from home for their Summer co-ops. Some were able to use that experience to learn and then share their learnings about how they work best in a remote working situation, including the level of support they need and adaptations they have made for themselves in order to be successful. This self-awareness is critical under normal hiring and work circumstances, let alone in the face of a world-wide health crisis and coming into a start-up that is navigating through that crisis.”

For employers who might be worried about hiring a co-op student while they are working virtually she offers, “An expanded and more diverse candidate pool is perhaps a hidden opportunity through this. When you are not restricted to location, you can find the right fit based on passion, value, experience and connectivity between the candidate and the employer. ”

A new era: multi-generations in the workforce, new flexible career trends, and lifelong learning

As the labour force shifts, and the need to reskill presents itself for many, having core transferable skills will be necessary for careers to evolve. Building resilience and a diverse range of skills such as leadership, communication, and critical thinking is more important than ever.

In the same presentation of the Waterloo Region Future of Work Learnings, a heightened need for transferrable and human skills was highlighted. Adaptability in a rapidly changing workforce that includes non-linear and lateral career paths, and personalized and flexible experiences as work environments become more informal and integrate with regular life, is a vital skill.

To grow and prosper we will need to re-focus on innovation and collaboration. The research suggests that millennials are already seeking workplaces that focus on physical and mental health, over those solely driven by the bottom line. An important trend, not only in the continued experiences of the pandemic, but the reality that Millennials are going to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025⁴.

Organizations with cultures focused on adaptability, values, and employee experience will be flexible enough to work with 5 or 6 generations at once. Re-structured workforces, including access to global talent pools, are incredible opportunities for learning and sharing knowledge in ways we never have before. Many of those opportunities for innovation and collaboration require thinking outside the box.

Moving forward and seizing opportunities for continuous work integrated learning

As a rule of thumb, we know that not all people learn the same way, and adults learn differently than children. If you dive into any research on adult learning theories you will note the consistent theme of learning through experiences in each of the theories. In particular, the experiential nature of adult education is a powerful tool. Gaining concrete experiences and reflecting on them by comparing the new experiences with their prior learning is an essential part of the learning curve. This type of learning is used in many corporate or management training because of the action-reflection aspect, giving it a holistic feel6.

Having a form of WIL, whether it is access to micro-credentialing, completing a new degree, self-taught or peer taught content or a mentorship program, is a powerful tool for professionals to stay relevant. There are so many ways to fold continuous learning into organizations, across industries or within institutions.

Mentorship programs in particular have been seen to be a cost effective way to set up internal feedback loops and mutually beneficial learning opportunities between generations in an organization. When we consider adult learning theories, pairing a mentorship program alongside training, reskilling or education can enhance capability and usefulness of new skills.

A recent Atlantic Canadian project produced by Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Volta, Halifax Partnership, Halifax Innovation District, EnPoint and Two Igloos demonstrates the effectiveness of cross industry collaboration and multi-generational learning. “Rethinking Employment 2020: Creating a Successful Path for Young Professionals in a Pandemic World” was designed for recent graduates to take a look at how local companies including corporations, startups, nonprofits, and government organizations have responded to the potential new normal of finding both full-time and co-op/contract employment.

In addition to helping young professionals build their professional network and self-confidence, the project enabled them to develop skills by 1) participating in a design thinking training (with Two Igloos), 2) applying those skills in conducting employer interviews and synthesizing findings into a report.

The completed project has identified opportunities and areas for consideration that support the need for youth employment despite the pandemic. The initiative focused on virtual hiring, the impact of COVID-19 on talent acquisition, and technology enablement for recruitment and on-boarding.

Start now: the future is here

One of the important aspects of the “Rethinking Employment: Creating a Successful Path for Young Professionals in a Pandemic World” project is the quick-paced collaboration between multiple partners in order to make a difference and provide local solutions to a global challenge. The global workforce is in new territory, not just a new normal. Changes that were thought to arrive 10 years from now are already here, and that calls for new levels of innovation and relentless drive to continue learning. Regardless of the type, lifelong learning, alongside resilience and adaptability are key pieces of the future of work puzzle.




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