ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY
The discussion around the role artificial intelligence (AI) is currently playing and will continue to play in the labour market is vast and continuing to grow. The trend of advances in technology was touched upon in 23 of the 32 future of work reports reviewed (72%). This discussion often centers around which industries will be most susceptible to disruption by AI and which are most resilient. Some predict that low-skill sectors may be more susceptible to replacement by AI6,8, while others argue that AI and block chain technology could replace knowledge and trusted workers – such as medical, finance or law professionals – making some high-skilled workers susceptible to this threat as well5. Conversely, organizations such as the Royal Bank of Canada have chosen to focus on skills clusters, rather than industry to predict vulnerability to disruptions. Regardless of method, this conversation about preparedness for the advances in technology needs to be brought to the forefront of those in the labour market talent pipeline, especially emerging graduates.
There is an opportunity to fill anticipated labour shortages and skills gaps as a result of advancing technology with new talent, but that new talent needs to be informed on where they should be focusing their education and skill development. WIL opportunities allow for students to gain first-hand experience developing skills that are most sought after in an advancing technological labour market. For example, WIL opportunities can introduce students to existing uses of AI and automation in the workplace and allow them to develop the requisite skills to work in a complementary fashion to advancing technology. On the other hand, students in technical academic programs can act as reverse mentors to introduce organizations to new advances in technology, and student roles can be leveraged to advance technology within organizations. Although higher education curriculum (particularly in STEM programs) might provide the technological and theoretical development required for the future of work (including opportunities for digital upskilling, such as the University of Waterloo’s Digital Skills program), current curriculum often fails to provide the “human skill” development that will be necessary to work in harmony with AI and automation8.
There is a role to be played by educational institutions including higher education, to ensure that students are developing both the technical and human skills that will be required in this new reality. WIL experiences tend to assist in bridging the gap between graduate attributes and industry requirements by fostering the development of transferrable or soft skills. This can be done through reflection components, often embedded within WIL programs that enable students to draw insights from their experiences within organizations. An example of this is professional development (PD) programming, where students learn about conflict resolution, problem-solving, intercultural skills, and teamwork to complement their academic studies and better prepare them for the workforce. As Dave McKay, CEO of RBC stated: “The age of automation need not be a threat- if we apply our humanity- to be creative, critical and collaborative- it can be an advantage”8.
There is a role to be played by educational institutions including higher education, to ensure that students are developing both the technical and human skills that will be required in this new reality. WIL experiences tend to assist in bridging the gap between graduate attributes and industry requirements by fostering the development of transferrable or soft skills.