The future of work is digital, adaptable and global

Future-proof businesses – ones that will survive and thrive in the future – are technically agile and hire talent with a global perspective, including co-op students from the University of Waterloo. This is according to Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education at UWaterloo, from a recent article featured in the Research and Technology Park newsletter.

While organizations continue to adapt to the COVID-19 environment, organizations need to start thinking about how they’ll function in the post-COVID-19 world. Your next generation of employees are cutting their teeth in the ‘digital by default’ world and to many, the idea of conversations in communal kitchens over leftover doughnuts is as archaic as only having one phone in your house.

McRae has confidence in the next generation of talent and understands their importance in the workplace. She identifies three areas where Waterloo students shine, and how they can impact your organization.

  1. They transfer valuable knowledge and skills.

Most students work with three or more different kinds of employers and industries over the course of their co-op work terms, allowing them a diversity of workplace experiences. The variety of work terms help students develop one critical skill – learning how to transfer their skills and knowledge from one setting to another. McRae says that this ability to transfer knowledge is extremely important as the global workforce adapts to both gig and remote work.

  1. They provide a fresh new perspective and impact the bottom line.

Businesses benefit from employees with experience from a different industry or who faced similar business problems in different contexts. “Students provide fresh, rich ideas, and innovation,” said McRae.

In Fall 2020, McRae reports that Waterloo students held over 5,700 paid co-op work terms. “People are still hiring because they see the variety of gains of hiring students,” said McRae. According to 2019 study by Deloitte that looked at the economic benefits of our co-op students to industry, for every one dollar invested in paying a co-op student, businesses gained a value of two dollars in return.

  1. They have digital skills and technological agility.

The University’s Future Ready Talent Framework lists critical competencies that students need to be future-ready, including technological agility. It goes beyond being tech-savvy. It is knowing how to learn new technology, apply it in different contexts and be comfortable in the digital world.

Knowing this, the University developed new Digital Skills Fundamentals courses to help students equip themselves for success in the workplace. “We partnered with leaders in digital marketing, website development, problem analysis, digital video marketing, online sales and e-commerce both on-campus and off-campus to create each module,” said McRae.

How can your organization succeed in today’s workforce?

Adaptation is key: at the individual level, the organizational level, the institutional level, community and government. It’s everyone’s responsibility. Organizations need to focus on aligning their values with employee values to attract and retain younger workers. “This next generation of talent is going to be more inclined to want to align themselves with organizations that really reflect their own personal values,” said McRae.

Success in the future also means that organizations need to be diverse and comfortable with all cultures. “We are in a global workforce. We need to understand our own cultural values, understand how to navigate those differences, work in really diverse teams in a way that is effective, and that means supporting inclusivity, belonging, respect, and tolerance,” said McRae.

Although none of us know what the post-COVID-19 world will look like, the University is committed to prepare students to effectively navigate the future of work.

Bring bright young talent into your organization today

Are you looking to hire co-op students this winter? Connect with us or post your jobs on our free job board today.

  • During these uncertain times, we’ve built in more flexibility and access to funding to make hiring students easier than ever – hire a co-op student for eight to 16 weeks for part or full-time work.
  • Access unprecedented funding through wage subsidies and tax incentives.

Join more than 7,100 other employers who have tapped into the value of co-op students from Waterloo to help future-proof their organizations. Learn more on our website or contact us at or (519) 888-4026.