Digital acceleration: tips to prepare you for the future of work (a recap)

Missed the Beyond Digital event? Here's what you need to know

We don’t know what the future is going to look like, but that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare ourselves for it right now. In the midst of the pandemic, the world of work is becoming more digital than ever! But, as the world is changing, it’s important we learn how to progress ourselves as well.

The University of Waterloo President and Vice-Chancellor, Vivek Goel, President and CEO of RBC, Dave McKay, and President of Microsoft Canada, Kevin Peesker, came together to share their knowledge and expertise on creating a strong workforce that is ready for the future of work. They discussed everything from the WE Accelerate program, offered right here at Waterloo, to the digital future of Canada and the economy, and how you can best prepare yourself for it. Trust me, this is a read you don’t want to miss out on!

Photo of Waterloo President and Vice Chancellor, Vivek Goel, smiling with his arms crossedDr. Vivek Goel
University of Waterloo President and Vice-Chancellor

Photo of President and CEO of RBC, David McKay, smilingDavid McKay
President and CEO of RBC

Photo of President of Microsoft Canada, Kevin Peesker, smiling outsideKevin Peesker
President of Microsoft Canada


Practice those skills!

When you want to get better at something, what do you do? PRACTICE! You don’t gain a skill overnight (at least not usually). Some critical skills that are useful to have include artificial intelligence (AI), communication, collaboration, problem-solving and leadership. “Applying technology is as important if not more so than creating the technology,” says Kevin Peesker. “Both require a phenomenal asset of skills, collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, resilience, adaptability, having a learning mindset. I’ll make a big statement, which is, I think the reality is that every job is a tech job. What we're seeing is, those in marketing and finance and HR and operations and legal, they also require digital skills.”

To help you build on these skills you can participate in things like work-integrated learning, taking different courses and just getting more involved with your community can make all the difference. You can also have a go at the Digital Skills Fundamentals course to help you build on some of those skills, and it's free of charge!

Taking a look at the Future Ready Talent Framework, the three most important competencies to have are technological agility, the innovation mindset and developing yourself. This framework allows you to recognize the main competencies you will need to thrive in your career!

Step up your game with WE Accelerate 

Today, having digital skills has become quite an asset and is in demand for many jobs out there. By collaborating with some of the top tech industries, like Microsoft and Vidyard, the University of Waterloo has worked hard to create a program called the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program.

This program gives first work term students, who could not find a traditional co-op job, the opportunity to develop and improve their digital skills through skill development content and team-based projects, ultimately earning them a flexible work term credit. This gives first work-term students an option to gain work experience and skills that they can put towards their future co-op terms. Pretty cool, right? Oh, and did I mention that the companies themselves are the ones who are providing all of this! If the WE Accelerate program sounds like something that you would be interested in doing, go for it! Remember, just because this may seem like a different route from your regular co-op avenue, don’t be afraid to try it out.

Start small and dream big

In life, we always strive to reach for the best! But it will take time, almost like you're on a quest (wait, did I just rhyme there?). Basically, what I’m saying is when it comes to your work-integrated learning experiences, you don’t have to land a job at the best company; there are still other ways for you to build those valuable hands-on skills.

At Waterloo, there are opportunities for students to work for small businesses and to take part in the gig economy, to help give you a chance to gain experience in various industries. “With work-integrated learning, we can start to think about placing students in settings that might not traditionally have been able to afford to have a co-op student,” says Dr. Goel. “So, not-for-profit organizations, community agencies, and help them use different digital tools or other technology tools in addressing these really big global challenges that we face.”

Don’t just wait for something to happen, take action now!

Now, in no way am I a mind reader, but I’m going to guess (for some of us) finding your first co-op was/is quite tough, and the reason was probably that you did not have “enough” experience. A lot of us often face this challenge and regret that we didn’t get more experience when we were younger, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. In your free time, take courses, work on projects, develop new skills and volunteer! Taking these steps will not only give you something to put on your resume, but it will also allow you to become more determined and aware while going down your career path.

This is why work-integrated learning experiences are so important because they help you gain the skills and experiences that you will find useful after graduation. “When you put yourself in a position of being uncomfortable, you learn more about your values, your integrity, your respect for others, your work ethic and your accountability,” says Peesker. Going outside of your comfort zone can be scary at first, but once you do it, you start to discover many things that you never would’ve considered before.

Be curious and build a framework for yourself

Learning is key to your success! David McKay highlights that one good way to advance in your career is to approach each position you take with the mindset that you want to learn three different jobs in one. Learn your job, learn your boss’s job and learn your colleague’s job. This may seem a little intimidating at first, but once you keep doing it, it will eventually turn into a habit and will put you one step ahead in your career. We are lifelong learners and it's crucial that you build a framework that works best for YOU.

McKay brings forward an interesting comment about working in the “physical” world (e.g., welder, farmer, carpenter, etc.). “There's massive demand for young people to work in the physical world,” says McKay. This area is one that not enough of us think of going into. The digital sector is taking over but don’t lose sight of working in the physical sector, as the demand for that will soon be increasing. No rush! But this is something worth looking into.

Putting it all together

Hopefully, after reading this blog, you learned at least something that can help you with your career. Before you go, here are some things to make note of:

  • Work on those critical skills that are beneficial to you. Whether it's programming or communication, expand your skillset. Just like Benjamin Franklin said, “Practice makes perfect.”
  • If you are a first work-term student and you could not find a traditional co-op job, give the WE Accelerate program a shot. It matches you up with some of the greatest tech companies and rewards you with a flexible work term credit.
  • Dive into the world of small businesses and the gig economy. Do not undervalue the practical skills that you can gain from these types of work experiences.
  • Don’t expect things to be handed to you. It is your responsibility to go out there and try something new! The more you experience, the more understanding you gain for yourself and your work.
  • Have a learner’s mindset and show your curiosity. Use an approach that you know is going to work best for you and that’s going to pay off the most in the long run.

As a co-op student myself, I have learned a lot of new information from this that I wasn’t aware of or even thought about before. I’ll leave you with this: your career path is not going to be a smooth, easygoing journey. There are going to be lots of obstacles you will face, you’re going to fail and you’re going to succeed, but as long as you put in your best effort, you will be fine, believe me!

GIF of a baby penguin wearing a felt hat and holding a suitcase while walking, with the credit tag "GIPHY" located on the top right.

You can find the full YouTube video of the “Beyond Digital” discussion below. Feel free to check it out!

About the author

Fatima Muni

Social Media Campaign CoordinatorA photo of Fatima Muni smiling

Fatima Muni is an Arts and Business co-op student at Waterloo and is currently completing her second co-op term at the University of Waterloo, as a Social Media Campaign Coordinator for Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE). One of the main projects she is working on this term is writing blogs for the Co-operative Education blog page. To date, she has written about helpful co-op tips and student co-op experiences, and continues to write more blogs to share information that can benefit other co-op students! Feel free to check out Fatima's LinkedIn.

References and further resources

U of T to host science-to-policy COVID platform | Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (

Executive Biographies - RBC

The journey ahead is an as-a-service endeavour for businesses - Jolera

Business Working GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY 

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