Preparing Youth for the Future of Work

The recruitment and retention of talent is one of the top challenges that businesses face on their path to success and growth. The Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce (GKWCC) consistently hears this feedback from our members. In fact, the theme of the 2019 Manufacturing Summit that we hosted this past May was “Fuelling Your Business with Talent” due to the overwhelming business need of our members and the manufacturing community as a whole.

As businesses address their talent needs, it is important for them to consider engaging with students. This offers organizations the opportunity to access temporary resources, raise awareness of their business/industry, and build their talent pipeline. In the last few years, there has been more focus on what the future of work will look like and how it will impact workers. In a 2016 World Economic Forum report, 65% of the children starting school will work in jobs that do not yet exist. According to a 2018 RBC report Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, “25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade.” In addition, 50% of the jobs in Canada “will go through a significant overhaul of the skills required.” As a result, employees will need to upskill in order to ensure that they have the skills that their employer or field require, and displaced workers will need to reskill to find alternate work.

While those who have already started their careers will need to upskill and reskill, it is also important for young people to develop the skills and experience that employers require. For the person just starting their career, opportunities to develop critical skills and experience will help them to more easily transition into their careers. Businesses benefit because the quality of the talent pool increases, which means that new grads will become productive more quickly.

The GKWCC, in collaboration with our educational partners – Conestoga College, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University – launched our Access Student Talent initiative in May 2018 to help small businesses more easily connect with post-secondary student talent for experiential learning and work-integrated learning (WIL). WIL is the process of hands-on learning that enables a student to integrate their experience of working with an industry partner with the curriculum of their program.

Access Student Talent

We learned early in the pilot through a survey that there were several reasons why small businesses were not engaging with students and those reasons included:

  • They didn’t know that they could work with students
  • Time constraints
  • Financial constraints
  • They didn’t know what work to give a student
  • They didn’t know how to connect with students

The survey results revealed that small businesses need help in understanding the various aspects of working with students. As part of our pilot, we focused on educating the small business community about working with students including how they can work with students (there are many ways including field placements, co-op, capstone projects, in-class projects, apprenticeships, etc.); the financial incentives available to businesses who hire students; the importance of properly integrating a student into their business and how to do it; and how to connect with post-secondary schools. Through meetings, webinars, blog posts, and a information session, we were able to reach over 1,000 local small businesses with information about working with students during our first year.

How does it work?

When a business is interested in learning about working with students, a member of our Access Student Talent team speaks with them about their business needs and interest in working with students. We will then research the options that the business has for working with students and provide a summary to the business for review. If they are interested in exploring any of the options provided, then we introduce them directly to the appropriate school representative who works with them to determine if there is a fit, and if so, then they help them connect to a student.

Engaging Other Chambers of Commerce

To our knowledge, the GKWCC is the only Chamber of Commerce in Canada that has a program to help connect their members with post-secondary students for experiential learning. We believe that we are developing a framework that other Chambers of Commerce could use to implement a similar program. We have been fortunate to have the opportunity to highlight our program nationally at CEWIL Canada’s 2019 National Conversation on WIL in Canada: Next Steps, as well as on the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s webinar on Work-Integrated Learning. From those opportunities, we have connected with other Chambers of Commerce across Canada who are interested in learning how they might help the businesses in their regions connect with local student talent.

Preparing Canadians for the Future of Work

The Government of Canada sees the importance of helping Canadians prepare for the future of work and they have taken steps to help ensure that the workforce has the skills that businesses need through the creation of the Future Skills Centre and the investment in helping young people prepare for their careers.

In February 2019, the Government of Canada announced the creation of the Future Skills Centre and the Future Skills Council. The Future Skills Centre was created to be a national centre for research and collaboration that will help Canadians prepare for the changing labour market.

With the 2019 Federal Budget, the Government of Canada provided a significant investment to increase the number of work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities for post-secondary students. These investments include:

  • $631.2 million is being invested over five years expand the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) to provide wage subsidies to businesses who hire students for WIL opportunities including co-op work terms and internships. This investment will result is 20,000 WIL opportunities.
  • $150 million is being allocated over four years to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) to create partnerships with businesses to create 20,000 WIL opportunities per year.
  • $17 million is being allocated over three years to support the Business/Higher Education Roundtable’s work to organize partners such as post-secondary schools, businesses, and community organizations to create 44,000 WIL opportunities.

The GKWCC is excited about the work that is being done locally, provincially, and nationally around the future of work. We continue to help our local small businesses connect with post-secondary student talent and look forward to exploring ways of expanding this program and helping other Chambers of Commerce implement their own programs.

If you are a small business owner and would like to learn how you might work with a student in your business, please contact Allison Mitchell, Experiential Learning Outreach Coordinator at or at 519-576-5000 ext. 6056.