Ensuring Tomorrow’s Workforce has Future Skills

How Higher Education is Adapting

September 2019

Global workforce issues are a hot topic in management and business today. At the forefront are growing concerns around un/under employment, skills gaps, technological adoption and disruption, knowledge or ‘corporate memory’ gaps as boomers retire, and the rise of the millennial generation and its shifting values.

When I sat down with Cara Krezek, the Director of Co-op, Career and Experiential Education for Brock University and Incoming President of Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, she shed some light on how higher education is adapting to meet the needs of the rapidly evolving workplace.

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Overseeing a team of over 50 dedicated HR, co-op, career development, and experiential professionals who work with students, employers, faculty and community members, Krezek is passionate about finding people’s passions. She has had a keen eye for innovation, workforce trends, talent development, and upcoming developments in higher education.

Krezek identified 3 significant trends, challenges, and opportunities facing her and her team, and other stakeholders in the workforce development arena:

1. Career options unknown: Upon entrance into post secondary, most students are vastly unaware of the breadth of career options available. They are expected to make career choices from a young age, yet how can they chart a path if they are unaware of the destination?

2. Training for jobs that don’t exist: Krezek points to the example of a social media manager – 10 years ago that job didn’t exist. Today, it’s a dedicated role in many organizations. Training for job titles is becoming an outdated approach - even known/familiar classics like accounting aren’t necessarily requiring the skillset that they did 20 years ago.

3. Human skills are needed now more than ever: Krezek says, “as technology continues to disrupt the workplace, humanity is needed more than ever.” Just as much as technology will affect our jobs – relationships will mean even more. As a career shifts into leadership roles, one needs to be able to lean into what has traditionally been called ‘soft skills’ (a note on that below).

In response to these trends, her vision is to recognize talents – an individual’s unique ways of thinking, feeling, and doing - and develop strengths early to help students navigate through the twists and turns of the modern career.

It’s a combination of our unique experiences that often determines our often complicated, non-linear career paths. Krezek wants to see students working towards their talents, not job titles that can be misleading.

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Students who take the approach of knowing who they are and appreciating the unique value they bring doesn’t limit them in way that a traditional job title would. Often degrees do not directly corelate to a career path – many of us who have fulfilling careers had no idea what our careers were going to be - but we leveraged our skills, knowledge and experiences to get there.

She, along with many others in the field, want us to adjust the traditional label ‘soft skills’ to core skills, or essential skills. Employers assume that a student with a university degree has the core disciplinary knowledge to do the job. But when you ask what they are looking for in their future talent, it’s actually ‘soft skills’ that they are seeking.

Skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, people management, and creativity top the list of the skills outlined by the World Economic Forum in their Future of Jobs Report. These are essential to our future of work and are definitely not ’soft skills’.

As our workforce evolves in the 4th industrial revolution, it is not how we transfer these skills from one job to the next, but how we mobilize these skills, learning from them, adapting them, and using our experiences to develop our talents that become the strengths we use to accelerate our careers.

This year’s cohort of 1300 co-op education students mark the first group who will be focused on strengths-based development at Brock University in order to identify and leverage their talents and tailor their experience accordingly. They join an increasing number of higher education institutions adopting this approach to disrupt the workplace and change the world.


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