Resetting and rebounding post-COVID
By Sandra Banks. This article was originally published on Waterloo Stories.
According to Randall Lane, chief content officer and editor with Forbes, COVID-19 has accelerated almost every field and trend that might otherwise take a decade to unfold.
“In my opinion, the next competitive battleground will be talent. Everything else is, or will become, a commodity,” Lane said.
In addition to developing talent, Lane says that universities play an important role at the nexus of public-private innovation initiatives, with employers benefitting from highly motivated, ambitious and knowledgeable teams of hyper-talented students. It’s why so many of them seek out University of Waterloo co-op students to play a vital role meeting their business objectives.
Now more than ever, our economy needs a resilient and future-ready workforce that will drive Canada’s recovery. At Waterloo, we’ve increased hiring flexibility and opportunities for employers to access funding as part of our wider response to changing needs of the Canadian workforce.
The virtual Waterloo Innovation Summit on July 22 where Lane will be the keynote speaker, also give employers across industry, government and knowledge institutions the opportunity to explore the talent imperative.
Seeing beyond the status quo
As organizations look to reset, rebuild and rebound, the focus on developing highly skilled talent has only intensified.
Take ApplyBoard, Canada’s fastest-growing tech company and a Waterloo alumni scaleup dedicated to helping international students with their post-secondary applications.
When the pandemic hit, ApplyBoard doubled down on its commitment to students.
“Student success and well-being are always at the centre of everything we do, and COVID-19 has only heightened our attention to students,” Martin Basiri (MASc ’13) said, ApplyBoard CEO and co-founder. “There is far more at stake than economics.”
Michael Litt (BASc ’11), co-founder and CEO of Vidyard, a company changing the way businesses connect and communicate in an increasingly digital world, has seen first-hand how the pandemic has shifted the business environment, creating a tail wind for digital platforms as more companies go online.
“If you can be flexible, the world is your talent bucket. All the big players have been taking advantage of global talent — now everyone can,” Litt said. “It will provide a wave of global commerce we have not seen before.”
Harnessing workplace data and insights
Employers must strengthen their talent pipeline to recruit and retain employees with the right skills that consistently drive the growth of the organization. Companies and global leaders, like ApplyBoard and Vidyard, partner with the University of Waterloo to develop that pipeline.
Waterloo is a global leader in the areas of experiential learning, employer-student connections and partnerships with employers. In the full year before COVID-19, Waterloo saw more than 21,800 work terms in 60+ countries, and in-field contributions by co-op students returned $525 million in employer gains and $567 million to Canada’s GDP.
It’s a new era that calls for the creation of new resources, like the University’s Work-Learn Institute (WxL), the only unit of its kind dedicated to researching the development of talent through quality work-integrated learning programs.
By analyzing rich data on employer and employee behaviour within Waterloo’s co-op program, insights are mined to help Canada’s employers both develop and attract the next generation of talent.
United Way charitable spotlight: House of Friendship
By Landon Jennings. This is an excerpt of an article originally published on the University's United Way campaign website.
Over the last few months, COVID-19 has affected people’s lives globally – whether that be through adjustments like working from home, losing jobs or income, not being able to hug family and friends, or battling new stresses and anxieties associated with uncertainty. For many, staying indoors and adjusting to a socially distanced life is challenging; but this new normal has disproportionately increased risks for the homeless members of our community.
The usual model of sheltering the homeless is not socially distanced at all: it involves placing several people in an open-air environment, in close proximity to one another, giving them a safe place to sleep and a warm meal to eat. In Waterloo Region alone, we are short 8,000 units of affordable housing, and 70 per ent of our homeless population are navigating mental health or addiction challenges that make stable sheltering a difficult reality.
Knowing that this model would not work during the pandemic, House of Friendship, a local social service agency that provides food, housing, addiction treatment and neighborhood supports for those struggling with poverty or addiction, and an agency who United Way Waterloo Region Communities supports, acted quickly to find dignified shelter for homeless men within our region. Particularly, along with the challenges we face for stable housing within our community, many homeless men were unwell along with experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. This combination made “life on the streets unbearable for their health and wellbeing”, said Jessica Bondy, director of Housing Services at the House of Friendship.
COVID-19 enables an unexpected pilot project/ShelterCare’s vision comes to life
The stigma around the homeless created difficulty in securing a temporary shelter for one of our most vulnerable populations - yet despite this, House of Friendship was fortunate to partner with a local hotel to provide a 24/7 shelter for homeless men until the end of August 2020.
Within 24-hours of the partnership, 51 men were moved from a shelter unsuitable for pandemic measures into the hotel, creating a more dignified and stable environment from the traditional overnight-only model. Through partnerships, not only has the shelter capacity safely increased to 97, but healthcare is provided onsite daily. A primary care clinic opened from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. seeing 12 participants a day. Staff were also able to develop a COVID-19 isolation floor allowing those experiencing symptoms to be tested and treated. There have been zero COVID positive cases.
For the men staying with us, “the hotel is a place where all their needs are met under one roof”, said Bondy. House of Friendship staff work closely with the men to care for their overall wellbeing ensuring Food, quality sleep, healthcare, recreation activities, community and support are provided. Finally, and most importantly, Shelter staff create a housing plan with the participants, to help get people back on their feet.
As expressed by Bondy, the larger vision of ShelterCare.ca has become a reality through this partnership, as “allowing access to the healthcare they need, and giving love, compassion, and kindness, we can positively change their lives”. For instance, with this model, Bondy mentions that, “we are seeing that people have more hope. They believe that housing is an attainable goal; whereas months ago, pre-COVID-19, it seemed too far.”
A Hopeful future for homeless men within Waterloo Region
In one powerful testimonial, a participant said: “I feel like for the first time in a long time I’m ready to tackle my addictions because, in the conditions of the hotel, I am able to see that I am starting to feel like me. Thanks to the hotel team I realized that I have a life worth living and can do this.”
Several staff have also expressed impact. “I believe the rest, and services at the hotel, gets participants to think about making healthy, alternative choices. Typically, at the shelter, we would have had 5 referrals to residential addiction treatments every 4-6 months whereas now we have had 5 in the last month alone.” Along with this, the model has resulted in a safer work environment for staff, decreased overdoses (and other serious occurrences), reduced incident reports, and increased the overall well-being of participants.
Q and A with the experts: the future of temporary foreign worker programs
The University of Waterloo has a number of experts available for comment on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For a brief moment in June, Mexico publicly declared that it would no longer send workers to Canada. Why? What effect will this have on the future of temporary foreign workers in this country?
We spoke to Professor Mikal Skuterud, an expert in the economics of immigration, to help us understand what is happening right now and what COVID-19 will mean for the future of these programs.
How do temporary foreign workers contribute to Canada’s economy?
Just as refugees receive greater media attention than other Canadian immigrants, despite them consistently accounting for less than 15 per cent of overall Canadian immigration in any given year, Canadians tend to associate temporary foreign workers with seasonal migrant workers, when in fact agricultural workers account for little more than 15 per cent of all temporary foreign admissions in recent years. Over time, Canada's temporary foreign workers, who now make up close to 3% of Canada’s employed labour force, have become increasingly skilled and a growing source of Canada's new permanent residents. The largest and fastest-growing group of temporary foreign workers are international students graduating from Canadian postsecondary institutions. The economic contribution of these new Canadians will almost certainly grow in the years ahead.
What does the current situation, particularly in Ontario, mean for the political future of this program?
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, which is just one of dozens of temporary foreign worker programs in Canada, has received much attention in the media in recent weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreaks and tragic deaths of workers employed through this program. Temporary foreign workers employed through Canada's Global Skills Strategy Program have also been in the news recently, as the Trump administration has opted to reduce employer access to temporary work permits in the United States. This provides Canada with an opportunity to better compete for these exceptionally talented workers, many of whom are employed in IT fields.
While the Seasonal Agricultural Worker and Global Skills Strategy programs are starkly different in terms of the types of workers who are employed, they both exist to provide Canadian employers with access to a supply of workers who employers argue are unavailable domestically, at least at the wage and salaries they are able or willing to pay. While there have been multiple concerted political efforts to curtail these programs over the years in response to controversy, especially during recessions when Canadians are experiencing more unemployment themselves, the fact is that temporary foreign workers comprise a larger share of Canadian employment than they ever have in Canadian history, and there is no indication that the growth is going to decline any time soon.
Should temporary foreign worker programs exist?
Canada's temporary foreign worker programs will undoubtedly continue to exist as Canada increasingly moves towards a "two-step" immigration system, in which skilled immigrants are initially brought to Canada on temporary work permits or student visas, but then transition to permanent residency after some years spent living in Canada. The option to transition to permanent residency is, however, by and large, closed off to low-skilled workers, such as those employed through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. An important policy question is whether these workers should be given the option to settle permanently in Canada.
Mikal Skuterud is a professor in the Economics department. His research focuses include the field of labour economics, especially in the areas of immigration policy, job search, and labour market regulations affecting the hours that people work.