For over 60 years, through our academic excellence paired with our gold-standard co-operative education program we have future-proofed learners, employers and ourselves.
2020 will be known forever as the year that COVID-19 challenged the world to respond, adapt and recover. Although Waterloo was built for change, the scale of this disruption was humbling. In Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE), we innovated in real time to help our students navigate a diminished and volatile job market. We had to act with urgency before a generation of talent was lost to uncertainty, fear and anxiety.
Although COVID-19 tested and challenged our success, our foundation is strong and has weathered upheavals over our long history of co-operative and career education, experiential and work-integrated learning. This foundation has three key elements that enable our success: our vision and thought leadership, our relationships and networks and the depth and breadth of expertise and capability across the CEE portfolio.
In early 2020, our vision, mission and values served as touchstones that grounded our work and actions. Our emphasis on quality work experience, future-readiness and purpose in work continued to resonate with our students, employers and staff and remain relevant to the work ahead and to the world’s greatest future challenges as defined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Our relationships and our compassionate support of each other and our students was critical in enabling successful student work experiences – whether through co-op or EDGE. We leveraged our relationships with faculty, campus partners, local community, peer institutions, our government representatives and our vast employer network to collaborate and seek solutions in our suddenly physically distant and completely digital world.
Our goals to future-proof our students, our employers and ourselves were tested in 2020 and have never seemed more critical. Across the CEE portfolio we pulled together to respond to COVID-19 with agility and purpose. We demonstrated the value and contribution of each area of expertise and the collective power of acting together for the benefit of our students and our institution. As we learn and grow as a portfolio, we remain committed to anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion in our practices and policies.
We’ve collected a vast amount of data on thousands of student and employer interactions within co-operative education over the course of many decades at this institution, and with the data we’ve begun to collect on work-integrated learning, we’re strongly positioned to provide insight amidst this latest, and critical, evolution of learning.
Though the future is impossible to predict, we do know an adaptable, resilient, talented workforce with a strong desire for lifelong learning is key to economic recovery.
This is often what business leaders talk about when they talk about the future of work. With unforeseen disruptions, demographic shifts and an aging population, it’s all about getting people into the right jobs who can adapt, think on their feet, hit the ground running, problem-solve, and come up with new, creative solutions.
Dr. Norah McRae
Associate Provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education
University of Waterloo