By: Namish Modi (he/him)

Waterloo’s Employer Impact Conference highlights insights on talent trends for a better future.

The emerging workforce and its impact on recruitment trends are top of mind for employers across industries. The University of Waterloo’s second annual Employer Impact Conference on Thursday, March 7, 2024, tackled trends and insights into the current talent market.

The conference theme was “talent for a better future” and speakers discussed building co-op work experiences that are meaningful for students and employers. Hosted virtually by Waterloo’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) unit, sessions focused on sustainability, diversity, healthy workplaces and more.

Our students play an important role in the future of work and provide valuable insight into what we expect from that emerging workforce.

Norah McRae, associate provost of CEE

Here are six key insights from the conference:

1. Get personal when recruiting emerging talent like students.

Try a more casual approach in the recruiting process. Connecting with students takes a personal touch in both job descriptions and interviews.

Ceragen, a biotechnology company that consistently hires co-op students, asks students to put hobbies and interests in their job applications.

profile next to a control bar

“Having that extra information gives us a well-rounded picture,” says Ashley Stegelmeier (MSc ’17), director of product development at Ceragen. The company finds it easier to plan for students’ work terms when they know more about them.

Sarah Lima, campus talent program lead at Geotab, the world’s top commercial telematics provider, believes passion is key to success. “Passion acts as a catalyst for potential, when they are passionate, students naturally strive to reach their full potential,” says Lima.

2. Be consistent and transparent in job descriptions.

The job description is an early opportunity to attract students to your organization. According to students in a panel discussion at the conference, the key factors for a good job description are transparency, consistency and investment.

Ankita Jamdade, a Master's co-op student studying Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in the Faculty of Mathematics, says companies must clearly outline their mission statement and values in their job descriptions.

magnifying glass with an arrow pointing right

“It’s important their values align with my own,” says Jamdade. This sentiment is backed by research from Waterloo’s Work-learn Institute (WxL) indicating Gen Z talent puts a large emphasis on organizational values and is more likely to work for organizations that align with their values.

Employers can demonstrate their investment and commitment to student growth in the job description, interview and throughout the work term.

Students want open lines of communication with management, a social element with their teams, clear avenues for professional development and room for extra-curricular activities (e.g., lunch and learns and wellness activities).

3. Provide meaningful work through sustainability.

Emerging talent wants to make a difference. Employers can engage with students by outlining clear sustainable strategies and assigning work that aligns with their values.

During his co-op work term at finance and insurance company Definity, second-year Environmental Science co-op student Hayden White had the opportunity to work on initiatives to motivate clients around sustainability.

Two buildings next to a leaf and three arrows around them

“I believe the majority of Gen Z wants to contribute in some way to sustainability, with different levels of commitment. But everyone wants to make a difference in some way,” says White.
Avery Sudsbury, an Environment and Business co-op student, claims almost all students she knows want to work with a company with sustainability goals. “We want to do things we can have an impact on," she says. "We want to make change right away, to get in there and get our hands dirty."

4. Create a hybrid plan.

Gen Z prefers a hybrid work environment. According to research from WxL, 80 per cent of Gen Z respondents prefer a combination of remote and in-person work.

However, employers need to be intentional about setting up a hybrid format. When staff are working in-person they want the office experience to be worthwhile.

gear surrounded by house and building

“If you are going to show up at the office, make sure we have somewhere to work,” says Sara Lockhart, vice-president of people and culture at Softchoice. “Book space for individual work and for the team to come together. Don’t come into the office if you’re going to lock yourself in Teams meetings all day. You can do that at home.”

Consider having the team come to the office for live events and critical problem-solving. To reduce silos, provide opportunities to work cross-functionally across teams and coordinate activities.

5. Use AI as a co-pilot.

When utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), Dr. Joel Blit, associate professor and economics and senior fellow at Centre for International Governance Innovation, explains that companies need a culture where people can share AI learning without a negative view of the tools used.

AI on one side with a brain on the other

“Experimentation is key,” says Blit. ”The role of the organization is to set up the guardrails, give people leeway to try things and share findings. This is how we are going to make headway.”

Komal Vacchani, a Computer Engineering co-op student, uses AI like ChatGPT in her work terms. “Don’t be afraid of AI, it is not going to replace us, but improve our abilities,” says Vacchani.

6. Power teams with diverse and inclusive practices.

A diverse team has countless benefits to an organization and inclusive practices are a must for attracting and retaining Gen Z talent.

“Having inclusion, diversity and equity at the forefront is no longer a nice to have, but a must,” says Jade Psutka, senior manager of indigenous enablement and recruitment at KPMG a professional services organization with more than 40 locations across Canada.

four hands holding a heart

“Gen Z want their values to align with their employer. They have the impact to make social change and want to know how they can participate in change.”

Co-op students want to get involved during their work terms to feel like they made an impact. “Get everyone involved in creating an inclusive culture,” says Margaret McBeath, co-founder and chief people experience officer at energy company Nuclear Promise X. “We’ve been able to empower our team to decide on the inclusion and diversity goals we want to achieve. We seek to understand where we’re doing well and where improvements are needed. Everyone must act towards it,” says McBeath.

Ready to get started?

Now that we've outlined what to expect in the year ahead when it comes to recruiting top talent, get started by hiring a co-op student. Students are part of the emerging workforce that can have a positive impact on any organization.

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