In an evolving job market, schools emphasize lifelong learning

Colleges can’t future-proof their degrees so they are focusing on soft skills alongside technical know-how

Vertical farmer. Drone manager. End-of-life counsellor. 

These probably weren’t the answers you gave when asked what wanted to be when you grew up. But this isn’t the first time in history when we didn’t know what jobs would exist in 20 or even 10 years.

Similar to the tailor or shoemaker who didn’t know what the Industrial Revolution would mean, the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the rise of digitization and artificial intelligence (AI) – along with other socioeconomic and demographic factors such as flexible working hours, is expected to disrupt every industry, as AirBnb has in hospitality to Uber in transportation.

According to the World Economic Forum, 65 per cent of children who entered primary school in 2017 will work in jobs that do not exist today. 

Given that, how can post-secondary institutions prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet or won’t exist by the time they graduate? 

Programs and courses at post-secondary institutions can’t future-proof their degrees for the jobs tomorrow, but they can teach students soft skills like teamwork, communications and building trust. These are the skills they’ll need alongside the technical training to prepare them for an uncertain job future. On top of that, most of us – wither we’re recent grads or not – need to adopt the practice of life-long learning so our technical skills evolve with the job market. 

To that end, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) offers graduates two credits they can use toward continuous education courses to upskill once they’re in the workforce.

“Universities have changed so dramatically in recent years,” says UOIT president Steven Murphy. “We don’t pretend to give you an education for 90 years. We offer a practical, hands-on education that you can use when get out in the field and human skills to adapt and identify change in your industry.”

The dream of a “job for life” outside of government is looking less likely. According to a study by U.S.-based research firm Future Workplace, 91 per cent of millennials (defined as those born between 1977 and 1997 in this study) expect to stay in a job for less than three years. That means they would have as many as 15 to 20 jobs throughout their lives.

Not that emerging sectors aren’t starting to reflect in curriculums. George Brown College now offers a blockchain program and Niagara College has launched a commercial cannabis production program. But what transferable skills can help students bridge technological advancements?

“Human skills, such as working in a team, leadership and negotiating – will be increasingly relevant,” says Murphy. “The key factors for higher education are, ‘How do we create resilient graduates and employees?’ ‘How do we begin to transition our entire economy, our entire way of thinking, our entire culture, to think about lifelong learning as a non-negative thing?’”

Murphy points to countries in Scandinavia that have adopted education models where people in the workforce come back to post-secondary institutions to learn new skills on an ongoing basis. “[Post-secondary] education isn’t just between the ages of 17 to 25,” explains Murphy.

At George Brown College, for example, 11 per cent of continuing education students are graduates. A lot of other continuing education is focused in the private sector, at boutique firms that offer short courses in UX design, web design, coding and podcasting. UOIT offers grads two credits they can use toward continuing education courses to upskill once they’re in the workforce. 

Rick Huijbregts, George Brown’s VP of strategy and innovation, says schools have to stay aligned with industry through partnerships to stay on top of job trends. To ensure courses are relevant, industry leaders sit on the college’s program advisory committee. “Not every industry knows what jobs will be available in three to five years, but they understand education has to be creative and innovative,” he said.

The dean of Humber College’s school of applied technology, Farzad Rayegani, started studying mechanical engineering at a Hungarian university over 30 years ago and now holds two master’s degrees. He believes post-secondary education should be based three domains in the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) framework: technological, personal and organizational. 

First, students have to be technologically ready and possess problem-solving and analytical skills to navigate an increasingly data-driven world. Personal involves understanding people and the culture around technology and adapting to a new way of working. Organizational involves buy-in from governments, communities, stakeholders and industry in order for the technology to flourish. 

This framework will underpin Humber’s Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation, which opens early next year. It’s a hub for the manufacturing sector where students and companies will work together to solve business and innovation challenges.

Back when Rayegani started studying mechanical engineering over three decades ago, robots were just starting to automate manual tasks.

“We now have robot programmers, designers and other jobs that have been created because of automation,” he says. “Today, adoption of new technologies is faster and people as a result are faster learners. This is evolution.”



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