THE FUTURE OF WIL
This rapid review of the future of work literature resulted in the identification of 32 reports and six major trends with respect to the future of work. Although these trends have been discussed widely in both Canadian and international reports, there is often little discussion centering around the implications for WIL. WIL programs are an essential part of developing a talent pipeline as it gives employers the opportunity to find the talent they will need for the future success of their organization, and students the opportunity to develop the skills necessary for the workplace, and to gain perspective on the working world and their place in it. Therefore, WIL needs to be included in discussions around the future of work.
The following are recommendations of how WIL can help mitigate some of the anticipated challenges with respect to the future of work:
With the threat of increased technology, AI and automation, many have identified a need to prepare the talent pipeline with appropriate skill development. This goes beyond “hard” or technical skill development and includes “soft” or “human” skills. WIL experiences can assist in bridging the gap between graduate attributes and industry requirements by fostering the requisite soft skill development through reflective learning components, in parallel to the technical skills students acquire during their WIL experiences and in their academic curriculum. Furthermore, organizations can leverage the digital skills that students often have to mentor other staff or introduce new technologies to the workplace.
WIL institutions can also help to develop a talent pipeline that is prepared for the future of work and “hybrid roles” by ensuring that students develop skill agility by taking the skills that they have developed through academic and co-curricular experiences and applying them in a workplace setting, and meanwhile, continuing to develop new skills and enhance existing ones, which they can bring back into the classroom.
There is also a role for post-secondary institutions to play with respect to sharing the responsibility for the adaptations required for the future of work with individuals, employers and governments. WIL experiences often foster an appreciation for lifelong learning by exposing students to professionals in their field of interest at an early stage in their careers. On the other hand, the infusion of WIL students into an organization may motivate permanent staff to pursue additional learning opportunities. Educational institutions may want to explore how the curriculum that is offered to WIL students can be packaged as micro-credentials for mid-career professionals who are upskilling or re-skilling.
As the need to create a more culturally and demographically diverse labour force increases, so does the need to train workers on EDI. WIL programming and reflective exercises can help students to think deeply about their experiences and uncover biases to further enhance this kind of competency development and become better advocates for themselves as well as allies for others in the work environment.
Students entering the labour market need to be informed about the gig economy and the implications of precarious work. They need to develop strategies to mitigate these challenges and be prepared for the reality and prevalence of precarious work in their respective industries. Firsthand experience in their industry through WIL opportunities will allow students to achieve this perspective.
Finally, participation in WIL can help students gain clarity on their values, talents and awareness of what the world needs, which can help them to engage in purposeful and meaningful work after graduation. WIL institutions can also play an important role in helping communicate employee values to employers to help them with effective job design and attracting talent in order to enhance post-graduation conversion to hires.
As the realities of what the future of work holds draw nearer and become embedded in the present, there is an increasing need to support the next generation of talent in adapting to the evolving labour market. WIL plays an essential role in preparing the talent pipeline for the trends described in the grey literature reviewed. WIL practitioners, employers, students and post-secondary institutions can use these insights to further engage with and enhance WIL opportunities and curriculum.