In our rapidly  changing  economy,  corporate leaders  must respond to  the  opportunities  and challenges of  the  shifting  nature of work.  Canada and the world need creative minds who can  expertly  navigate  disruption  and leverage new  technologies  to ensure a prosperous economic future.

Executives from the private and public sector explored how to future-proof the Canadian workforce by attracting and retaining top talent at the Waterloo Innovation Summit in Ottawa.

“I believe our country will continue to leave a greater and greater impact on the world — and that is why we are so determined to support the development of future-proven talent through everything we do," said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

Here are three insights from the Summit on preparing Canada’s future workforce and ensuring organizations have the best talent to compete in the global economy.

Addressing workplace trends shaping the nature of work

The needs of the workforce are changing. The next wave of talent will have to apply knowledge in contexts that we cannot even imagine today, and no industry or career pathway will be immune to change.

However, trends are beginning to emerge that we can address today. Norah McRae, associate provost of co-operative and experiential education at Waterloo, noted five major trends that are transforming the workplace and economy:

  • The rise of the gig economy
  • A need for more talent with durable skills
  • Recognition of life-long learning as an imperative to innovation
  • Increase in decentralized teams within organizations
  • Higher value being placed on meaningfulness and purpose in one's work

McRae explained how work-integrated learning is becoming increasingly important to prepare students  for these trends and develop the  skills  and expertise  required  to succeed  and lead  in future businesses. 

Hear how work-integrated learning is addressing these trends

Accessing fresh talent with experience DNA, early

Attracting and retaining top talent is one of the biggest concerns facing leaders across many sectors. University graduates  are the next generation of our workforce. Strategic  organizations  have realized just how valuable it can be to tap into this  talent  pipeline early – before they graduate.

CTO and co-founder of  Faire, Marcelo Cortes, leveraged  local talent to build  Canada’s latest billion-dollar business. Cortes explained the importance of what he calls “experienced DNA from all over the world.” With the University of Waterloo down the road, Faire’s Kitchener-based office is just minutes away from local and international talent. In fact, Cortes estimates that around 80 per cent of Faire’s local employees are Waterloo alumni or co-op students. 

Watch Cortes on the “experienced DNA” that co-op talent brings to an organization

Benefiting from the co-op advantage

Cheri Chevalier (BA '95) was a Waterloo co-op student when she began working at Microsoft more than 25 years ago. Today, she is Microsoft’s global director for emerging solutions. Chevalier sees co-op as a win-win for both students and employers. As a student, she was able to see how her skills translated in the workplace, and now as an employer, she gets a front-row seat to meet and assess potential full-time talent.

See Chevalier discuss uses co-op to identify future talent

Just like Chevalier’s experience, Waterloo’s co-op program lets students try-on a career and see what work opportunities complement their skillsets. Anojan Gunasekaran, a project manager at Shopify, told executives at the Summit that he credits his Waterloo co-op experience for helping him decide what he wanted from his career. He believes that co-op gives students a sneak peek into potential employers and said, “The employee is interviewing the employer just as much as the employer is interviewing the employee.”

For Gunasekaran, his co-op placement was not just about getting a job, but also learning how to apply his skills to become effective in the workplace.

Gunasekaran on why co-op is more than a job

The Waterloo Innovation Summit was presented by the University of Waterloo in partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.