Anne Fannon wearing a blue shirt and silver necklace

Anne-Marie Fannon
> Director, Work-Learn Institute

Massive transformations caused by advancing technologies, the global pandemic and an ever-evolving future of work, have employers looking for innovative ways to attract and retain top talent. As the workplace landscape shifts, the Work-Learn Institute (WxL) at the University of Waterloo has been leading research and tapping into data to support students entering the workforce while also providing insights to the companies that hire them.  


“At the WxL, our key area of focus is studying Work-Integrated Learning,” says Anne Fannon, director of the WxL. “The insights we gather help us prepare students for the future, but also allow us to support industry in engaging in work-integrated learning and ultimately attracting the bright new talent coming out of post-secondary institutions.”   

The WxL is the only institute in the world dedicated to research on work-integrated learning. It leverages a wide-ranging dataset from Waterloo’s co-operative education program, which is the largest and most extensive of its kind.  

“Research on work-integrated learning isn’t just valuable for students or practitioners,” Fannon says. “The idea is to is to mobilize our findings, make them accessible to industry partners and provide important insights to employers. We can share information about the whole spectrum of next gen talent from attracting and recruiting to retaining and upskilling.”  

Researching what matters to Gen Z talent 

One study from the WxL examined which type of job postings are most attractive to Gen Z applicants. It found that young people were more likely to apply to postings that highlight meaningful work and link the work to organizational impact.  

“A good way to monitor workforce trends is to tap into job descriptions,” says Judene Pretti, who led the study and is a senior advisor for the WxL. “Young people are very interested in the values of an organization. They are looking for ways to grow and contribute that are aligned with their own purpose and values. When employers are explicit about opportunities to learn and make an impact in their job descriptions, young people are much more interested in the role.”  

Another study that Pretti was involved in looks at the impact of remote work on students. The pandemic offered a unique opportunity: one cohort of co-op students experienced the transition from in-person to remote work and subsequent cohorts experienced only remote work. One of the things revealed in both studies was the challenge for students in the remote work setting to build informal connections and professional networks with their colleagues.  

“At Waterloo we have more than 20,000 students a year going out on work terms, so we have a direct line to what’s happening in the workforce,” Pretti says. “There’s a lot of disruption ahead for the future of work, so the key going forward will be to continue to monitor and adapt so that both students and employers are prepared.”  

Watch how the WxL delivers insights on the future of work

Partnering with industry to prepare a future ready workforce 

The WxL is also engaging employers through their Future Ready Workforce series, a series of events highlighting recent research findings, that have been attended by as many as 500 employers. The online events invite employer and student speakers to share best practices on topics ranging from onboarding young talent in a remote workforce to rethinking training programs to prepare teams for the future of work. The WxL also sends out a newsletter regularly with key research findings. 

Partnerships with industry collaborators are foundational for preparing students for the workforce. Waterloo has more than 7,000 co-op employers and works with other organizations for the EDGE program, which gives Waterloo students who are not in co-op programs an opportunity to develop their professional skills. 

“A future area of focus for the WxL is to partner with employers to conduct research to better understand the ways in which work-integrated learning supports talent development within their specific organization or more broadly within an industry,” Fannon says. “WxL is also available to consult with employers on their work-integrated learning strategy — on anything from recruitment to onboarding to supports for students.”   

Fannon says the WxL has many future initiatives planned that will continue to prepare students for a complex future, while also helping industry partners successfully bring new talent into their organizations. As a pioneer in this space, another area of future focus for the WxL will be to continue helping other post-secondary institutions across the globe build out their work-integrated learning programs. 

Talent done differently

A talent evolution is underway, and the effects are being felt in every sector. Waterloo’s robust talent ecosystem is equipped to respondfrom world-leading co-operative education programs to research and innovations that drive real-world change. Learn how your organization can benefit.