report was prepared by Cheryl Jensen on behalf of McMaster University.
The issue of
what skills are needed for individuals to succeed in the rapidly changing world
of work has received considerable attention, arguably world-wide and certainly
in Canada. The efforts to work with
employers and students to demonstrate that University graduates at both the
undergraduate and graduate level have the skills to succeed have been
successful, especially in the fields of undergraduate Science, Technology,
Engineering and Mathematics. The work
done in the fields of Arts and Humanities, where the focus in the past, has
been to prepare future professors for University research and teaching, has
been more difficult to quantify and to dispel negative perceptions of job
availability and relevance. In addition, Universities are under increasing pressure to make
measurable achievements in scholarly research impact, research funding and
scholarly reputation. This traditional mission of research-intensive
universities may seem incongruent with career readiness and employment
outcomes. Seeking appropriate balance of this mandate while supporting employability of graduates in an
environment demanding flexibility, agility and rapid adaptation is challenging
to achieve, but vital.
conjunction with the Future Skills Centre and Research Impact Canada, McMaster
University commissioned Cheryl Jensen, former President of Algonquin College of
Applied Arts and Technology, to provide advice on ways it could enhance the
links between university research activities and future skills for graduating
students in the labour market. Below is a list of 4 recommendations that Jensen
identified as opportunities and potential actions for universities within this
1: Develop a community advisory panel consisting of employers, students,
alumni, faculty members and administrators.
community advisory panel would focus on the changing world of work for the
stakeholders and actions for meeting the needs of future skills of students.
This approach has been employed successfully in the case of the Business and
Higher Education Roundtable (www.bher.ca).
recommendation is founded on perspectives developed in an RBC Report on a
survey of employers, students and government entitled Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption.
It suggests that employers need to re-think the way they hire, retrain and
continuously re-shape their workforces, while educators need to think beyond
degrees and certificates. The report suggests that major changes are needed to
the education system to support the labour force of the future, because many
jobs will be disrupted and Canadian business is not equipped to re-train to the
extent needed. The report focuses on foundational skills within six clusters,
an approach that could allow greater labour mobility.
important for the post-secondary education sector, the report finds:
- Only 37% of small business owners are satisfied with the job-readiness
of university graduates – these are the businesses that have the greatest
challenges in providing training
- Digital fluency will be essential to all jobs – this doesn’t mean
everyone has to be a coder
- Global competencies like cultural awareness, language and adaptability
will be in demand
- Virtually all jobs will place significant importance on judgement and
decision-making while two thirds will value the ability to manage people and resources
follow up study and report, Bridging the
Gap – What Canadians told us about the Skills Gap was conducted by the RBC
team about one year after Humans Wanted
was released. The RBC team, led by John
Stackhouse, Senior Vice President, Office of the CEO, over the course of 10
months, visited 12 cities, held 36 events and roundtable discussions, and
engaged with more than 5,000 Canadians, ranging from youth and workers to
employers, educators and policymakers, each with perspectives on how Canada can
prepare for a disrupted future. The team
heard the following, as given in the report:
- Don’t lose sight of Liberal Arts
- Place more value on extra-curriculars
- Connect teachers with the labour market
- Bring management skills to the tech sector
- Increase Indigenous youth training
- Help small businesses hire students
- Promote digital skills in non-digital industries
common thread throughout discussions with employers that informed the report was
the need for more information sharing between students, the academic
institution, leaders and professors.
Frequently bringing all voices to one table will enrich everyone’s
understanding of the issues, inform all of accomplishments and best practices,
work that is currently underway and bring ideas forward that would not have
been considered without this understanding.
2: Adopt institution-wide strategies to become co-operative education/work
integrated learning environments.
universities adopt institution-wide strategies to become co-operative education/work
integrated learning environments is easy to say, and challenging to envision
and implement. The demand from students for experiential education is high and employers
want students with more work experience, along with longer co-op terms. While
industry and government have been primary locations for co-op learning, there
is an opportunity to expand into the not-for-profit sector, where research
partnerships are growing and student learning opportunities are strong but
underdeveloped. It is recommended that universities seek deeper partnerships
with specific industries and companies, adapting programs to their needs more.
There are many
challenges to this recommendation, and not all programs would align well with a
co-op education model, however, the challenges would be worth addressing.
3: Expand interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate program offerings to
better equip students with the skills that can be gained through a liberal arts
education, focused on critical analysis and social impact, coupled with more
such programs include McMaster’s integrated business and humanities program and
the University of Toronto’s initiative called the 10,000 PhDs project. The
latter anticipates large increases in the number of PhD graduates and the need
to prepare these graduates for employment in the private and public sectors
providing the highly qualified personnel needed to drive an innovation economy.
This kind of
re-focusing can be very beneficial for the Social Sciences and Humanities. It
is already known that 40% of Social Sciences and Humanities undergraduates
return to school within a year of graduating, 15% of them enrolling in
community college. When institutions have expanded their interdisciplinary
undergraduate and graduate programs they have been seen a large change in
enrolment which can be attributed to making their programs compelling.
4: Establish regional consortia of post-secondary education (PSE)
institutions, business, NGO and government to plan for labour market needs and
strategies to produce the workforce necessary to meet those needs
In Ottawa, an
initiative called ‘Education City’ was started in 2018 to “develop more
integrated stackable academic programs and shared research shops that will help
find solutions to challenges faced by businesses, non-profits and governments”
(Ottawa Business Journal, February 25, 2019). While there are already many
examples of joint university-college programs, few of these are designed with
the thorough and systematic input of these regional employment stakeholders.
Education City involves a partnership between four public postsecondary
institutions – University of Ottawa, Carleton, Algonquin and La Cité – in which
the institutions have made a serious commitment to student-centred postsecondary educational options across
institutions. The vision is to develop a
new type of postsecondary education that is flexible, capitalizes on the
advantages of both college and university education models, and linked to
workplace training and lifelong learning and development. All four presidents
made a commitment to Education City in their strategic mandate agreements with
the Government of Ontario and funding was obtained from the provincial government
to develop the concept and success measures.
are challenges to implementing such a recommendation and concerns about letting
an institution own one segment of such an initiative in today’s hyper
competitive postsecondary environment, the benefits could outweigh the risks.
The collective benefit could be greater impact of the PSE sector in the
communities it serves as the needs of the changing workforce and economy.
This work was funded by The Conference Board of Canada through the
Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre
Any omissions in fact or interpretation remain the sole
responsibility of the authors. The findings do not necessarily
reflect the views of Research Impact Canada, its funder, or its partners.