As we rebuild our economy, inclusive recovery is the next big challenge

The pandemic has radically transformed the nature of work and learning, but if you think the big changes are over, think again.

Canada’s labour market is being reshaped by countless forces, from climate change to digital disruption, urbanization to shifting demographics. As we rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19, the stark reality of rapid, constant change must be front of mind.

Challenges of this magnitude will rely on a recovery that is both inclusive and industry-aligned. Canadian employers need a workforce with the knowledge and skills to hit the ground running, even as the ground shifts under their feet. The runway from on-boarding to performance is shortening.

How can Canada ready itself?

Responding to these challenges requires Canada’s post-secondary institutions to develop talent in new ways — building flexibility and resilience in new graduates, and finding ways to keep the mid-career workforce connected to retraining over time. The human face of economic recovery is very much about meeting learners where they are, and evolving how we prepare them for what’s ahead.

At George Brown College, this means working with industry to understand the pressures they’re facing, then ensuring the programs we offer prepare people for those realities. It also means working within our community to identify how best to support and propel individual success, making room for learners of all ages, cultures and life experiences.

For youth looking to enter the workplace, classrooms must mimic commercial kitchens, hospital wards, construction sites and design studios. Instructors with years of professional experience ensure education is practical and relevant. We also embed experiential learning across programs. This is how many of our learners connect with the employers who will hire them upon graduation.

In response to an increasingly global economy, we have found ways to build intercultural skills using virtual placements with companies in Spain, Portugal, China, Japan, Singapore and Sweden. Closer to home, students innovate and problem-solve alongside industry through college-led research projects. Over the past 14 years, more than 15,000 student research experiences were delivered at our institution.

Those with experience under their belts have a different set of needs. In some sectors and occupations, the pandemic caused major career setbacks. Women and racialized Canadians were particularly hard hit, and many are looking for new opportunities. That’s why we actively assess prior learning and experience, shortening the path to high-demand careers in fields such as cybersecurity, the green economy and health care.

Other adult learners are looking to stay current, so we partnered with robotics solution provider GlobalDWS to create an online micro-credential in service robotics to bring working professionals up to speed on this emerging specialization.

Big changes are ahead, ready or not. I like to think we’re better prepared when we operate in the space between people and the private sector, where challenge and opportunity collide.

About the Author

Dr. Gervan Fearon, President, George Brown College

Dr. Gervan Fearon became President of George Brown College in August 2021. Working with colleagues across the college, he aims to support career-oriented programs to meet the needs of students and the demands of employers; advance college-led research; and enhance community engagement. With a proven track record of collaboration, transformative leadership and engaging higher learning communities in a shared mission, he leads George Brown’s efforts to provide transformative education opportunities that benefit learners, industry and the greater community.