Programs and Pedagogies for 2022 and Beyond
The future of work
The shift in the way we work happened in a matter of weeks with the arrival of COVID-19. All at once, employees needed strong digital and technical skills while they transitioned to working at home, began streamlining processes, started meeting online, and developed the new tools they’d need to reinvent how they served their teams, customers, and clients.
The change had been predicted for some time. A 2017 report by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth said that by 2030, automation and changes in existing occupations could threaten the jobs of more than 10 per cent of Canadian workers unless they acquired new skills. What no one could have foreseen, of course, was how quickly it happened. And, now that the change is here to stay, we’re just beginning to grapple with what it means for skills development over the long term.
As Onrec, an online resource for HR directors and recruiters reports, professional skills now stay fresh for about five years, whereas they used to have a shelf life of 10-15 years. For technical skills, this can be even shorter. According to the ILO Global Commission of the Future of Work, “today’s skills won’t match the jobs of tomorrow, and newly acquired skills may quickly become obsolete.” That’s why upskilling and continuous learning need to become a priority for workers at all stages of their careers. TopResume has even placed “Continuous Learning” in the number one spot of their Top 13 Job Skills Employers Want in 2021.
All of this is perhaps why learning and opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness (after the nature of the work itself). Prioritizing upskilling serves the employer and the employee.
Where is the growth? Where are the gaps?
Now more than ever, the gaps we need to address in our labour market are clear — due to technological advancements, climate change, globalization, and the pandemic — and we must help workers upskill or reskill to bridge them.
Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in health care. Due in large part to the pandemic, Canada is seeing shortages that have reached a critical level. “Addressing the health workforce crisis is going to require an all-hands-on-deck approach. We can no longer afford to approach this from different silos,” says Dr. Katharine Smart, Canadian Medical Association president. “Until we commit to addressing decades-old issues such as training, retaining and recruitment of physicians and health workers, the health system — which no longer serves the needs of Canadians — will continue to crumble.” As I’ve shared before, we have what we need to begin addressing this shortage, now, through online reskilling and upskilling while workers stay on the job.
Similarly, the IT technicians, data scientists, and cloud computer programmers (LinkedIn’s number-two in-demand global skill in 2020) the market urgently needs can be trained online while they work. For example, the University of Toronto offers a certificate requiring three courses online through a mix of synchronous and asynchronous programming (and by the way, cloud computing is number 11 on TopResume’s list of top skills).
Building trades are also in demand, especially when combined with proficiency in climate change mitigation technologies, such as solar power. There are openings in well-paying careers such as electrical wiring, HVAC, carpentry, modular design and construction, and solar installation. The shortage comes on the heels of the retirement of the sector’s Baby Boomers -- and the need for new talent is critical to keeping projects on time and on budget. “By 2029, we will be short about 100,000 tradespeople if we don’t do anything,” says Kieran Hawe, chief operating officer of construction services company EllisDon Corp.
The future of postsecondary education
In postsecondary education, the pandemic was a catalyst for upskilling as well. It triggered a large-scale spontaneous experiment in how learning that was once offered in lecture halls, could be delivered online. Faculty who moved to online learning for the first time found that it wasn’t simply a matter of converting the on-campus experience to a digital format — and that the implication for the future is that we will spend the next few years re-imagining what an on-campus course looks like online for digital natives, from the ground up.
For example, Athabasca University, Canada’s largest online-only school, takes a learner-centered approach to skills development. Course leaders encourage peer-to-peer interactions (such as team-based learning and virtual study groups) that develop soft skills like active listening, speaking and critical thinking that will be in the highest demand for Canadian employers. As Andrew Schrumm reported for RBC, Athabasca’s April 2020 enrollment grew by 12.3% for undergraduate and 10.7% for graduate studies; an early signal of student preferences in the COVID-19 era.
The move to capture the market — working learners eager to upskill or reskill on their own time and in their own communities — is currently being spearheaded by online, non-degree granting institutions. There are opportunities for Canada’s postsecondary institutions to scale and grow with this demand and many are already embracing the digital pedagogical shift by adopting existing digital-enabled innovations such as mastery learning, flipped classrooms and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
Looking ahead, new augmented and virtual reality technologies and AI developments will make virtual learning more “hands-on” than ever, allowing students to practice and explore without the risk of harm or error. Through a headset, nursing students could walk around a simulated hospital environment to learn about different medical objects. In manufacturing, students would no longer be dependent on materials (that are subject to cost and availability restrictions) and could virtually manipulate anything they can imagine in a 3D world. The possibilities are endless, and could remove some of the remaining barriers to wide-scale online learning.
I’m proud to say that Keypath is partnering with Canadian universities to integrate some of these approaches as we help working learners retrain and upskill in in-demand sectors such as policing/criminology, and engineering management. In fact, engineering management is expected to see job growth of almost 19% through 2025, with salaries rising 15% over the same period.
The best way to address the needs of workers and those in disadvantaged areas of the labour market is upskilling, through programming that reaches them on their time, where they are.
In an earlier post, we introduced the working learner. Working learners are best-defined as mid-career professionals (probably in their 30s or 40s) in a skilled profession with career-oriented goals and needs to further invest in their skills to get to their next level. As we’ve seen, there is a case to be made that every worker will need to consider how they can be a working learner. And that comes with certain challenges, unless we have a major paradigm shift. Because how can upskilling fit on a plate that’s already full with family, mortgages, and responsibilities? The window of time when one can simply pick up and relocate to a campus is narrow and fleeting.
However, there is a will to pursue change, and postsecondary institutions clearly represent the way. What if postsecondary institutions took what they learned when we were all thrown into remote versions of how we approach work and education during COVID? What if we planned more courses and programs more carefully and deliberately? It is a large group and a large opportunity for postsecondary institutions that can harness that demand through thoughtful, optimized, high-quality online options that are skills-driven.
The benefits are threefold: skills for working learners, support for the learning missions of postsecondary institutions, and meeting the demands of employers that require human resources to compete in an increasingly globalized marketplace. The future is bright: it’s lit by the glow of our screens after the kids have gone to bed.