Co-operative and Experiential Education at the University of Waterloo is building on their strengths in talent development and advanced research to equip and power learners for the future of work and lifelong learning.

Their latest innovations are engaging a new "midlife evolver" audience in work-integrated learning. An evolver is someone who may be considering or navigating a transition from a primary career and curious to explore what's next.

In the fall of 2023, CEE tested two components of a new program that brings together students and midlife evolvers. The project was designed with three main focal points:

  1. Purpose — allowing evolvers to explore their values and skills and consider the legacy and impact they want to make.
  2. Proximity — broadening the perspectives of learners through exposure to topics from an intergenerational lens.
  3. Problem-solving — bringing various generations together to combine the wisdom of evolvers with the innovative mindsets of young talent to create solutions for social problems.

“What we've seen is the broader applicability of the work that CEE does beyond undergraduates,” says Jamieson Cox, senior manager, Centre for Work-Integrated Learning (WIL). “We can take the expertise we have in work-integrated learning and use that to offer programming to people in the middle of their career, those approaching the end of their career and even entering retirement.”

Evolvers eager to make an impact

CEE launched their first pilot project with GreenHouse Changemaker Labs for Green Youth — a program out of United College that partners with youth and municipalities to drive climate action and help Canada reach net zero by 2050.

Participants collaborated with undergraduate students on a design challenge to mobilize the climate action strategy TransformWR. Teams focused on developing solutions and recommendations for a thriving local food system that would feed the community by 2050.

 “The pilot used a lot of the pedagogy from the GreenHouse design sprint and the experience was collaborative,” Cox says. “To create a quality experiential learning opportunity, we ensured we were building in assessment and added in touch points where participants could reflect on their experience.”

CEE recruited evolvers to work with student teams, not as supervisors or mentors, but as equals.

“As a program facilitator, having participants from five generations is such a powerful multi-directional leadership opportunity,” says Lily Viggiano, senior project manager, GreenHouse. “Each participant lent their unique perspectives, experiences in the working world and insights on emerging technologies to build impactful solutions alongside one another. Having direct conversations with participants about intergenerational team building paved a path to positive experiences."

Feedback from the pilot found that after participating, people felt more hopeful about intergenerational collaboration. Participants felt comfortable about collaborating across different generations and they were less worried about being judged. The pilot also demonstrated that even participating teams without evolvers were impacted by the presence of evolvers in the program. When challenged to think differently, they worked in new ways.

“That's a positive takeaway that wasn't even anticipated. Just through sheer proximity, we’re getting people to think about this differently,” Cox says. “That's a benefit that we hoped to see, creating more relationships between different generations and breaking people out of these age-based silos.”

Designing for purpose in a second act

In December, CEE ran a second pilot to support midlife evolvers in exploring intention and purpose for their next chapter. The virtual workshop aimed to help evolvers:

  • Articulate the values they hold and the needs they have for their next chapter.
  • Identify which skills they enjoy applying to explore what motivates their interests.
  • Analyze their values, needs and skills to draft a blueprint for their next chapter.
  • Reflect on the interests, skills and values and consider how they might align with possibilities they are exploring for their next chapter.    
  • Explore meaningful opportunities to connect with and contribute to the learning journey of students at the University of Waterloo as well as the broader community.

“With support from Centre for Career Development as facilitators, evolvers were thinking about what they wanted to do next and what kind of impact they want to have,” Cox says. “That's a tentpole of the philosophy behind the midlife evolver project.”

Pilot facilitators Jayne Hayden and Khyati Nagar both share that by the conclusion of the workshop, most participants had brainstormed and envisioned a future for themselves that promoted a greater sense of meaning and purpose, while also forming a connected community of inspired individuals.

You can help by participating in our survey to share your perspectives on the potential value of intergenerational collaboration, at whichever career stage you are at. This study will lead to insights that we can share with students, faculty and the broader community, as well as to help set priorities for future programming. If you are interested in learning more about this program, contact Jamieson Cox.