This year’s Cannexus virtual conference featured a Spark! session moderated by Magnet’s Executive Director, Mark Patterson, titled Building the Workforce of the Future. Featuring speakers representing employers, post-secondary institutions, and students, the discussion focused on how organizations and post-secondary institutions can work together to prepare students from all backgrounds for the workforce.
Presented by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC), Cannexus is an annual conference which brings together voices from across the career and workforce development ecosystem to explore research, policy, and practice.
During the session, speakers discussed how work-integrated learning (WIL), which has long been a bridge between post-secondary and employment, was about more than just connecting students to placements. In order to build an inclusive future of work, employers and post-secondary institutions need to work together to reach a wider net of participants and provide support so that participants gain the greatest benefit from their experience.
Jan Basso of Wilfrid Laurier University emphasizes that placements should be accompanied by learning objectives, preparation, and subsequent reflection that allows students to make meaning of their experience.
Basso adds, “Reflection is what differentiates experience from experiential learning. While experience has always been an asset, we can enrich the experience of the client with guided reflection that makes meaning of their experience.” This process involves helping learners assess their WIL experience and parse out the skills and achievements they gained.
Convery agrees, stating that “We need to change the talent narrative. Students finish school and might say, ‘I just graduated,’ but you had various internships and volunteer opportunities.” As part of the WIL process, says Convery, employers should be invested in helping students understand their experience so that they can stand out to hiring managers and see more opportunities for themselves.
In addition, Convery encourages employers to reimagine their own narratives, especially around who they hire, and suggesting that they work with co-op departments to develop new ideas about how they can share job postings beyond traditional parameters. “Learners are coming from everywhere, of all degrees and backgrounds,” Convery says, suggesting that employers should be reaching beyond traditional faculties for talent, including recruiting mature students, which increases the possibility of finding diverse talent.
Speaking from the perspective of a mature student, Ana Santos highlights that while her co-op placement was greatly beneficial to her career, mid-career students remain one of the groups that face barriers to being hired, whether through age bias or being perceived as overqualified. However, her previous work experience not only allowed her to build key skills such as communication and project management, but allowed her employer to benefit from the rich skillset and knowledge of a mature student, says Santos.
A full recording of this session is available for conference attendees here. For highlights from the session, check out the video below: