Preparing Gen Y and Z for the Future of Work Through Co-operative Education: A Case Study on the University of Waterloo

Preparing Gen Y and Z for the Future of Work Through Co-operative Education: A Case Study on the University of Waterloo

T. Judene Pretti (University of Waterloo, Canada) and Norah McRae (University of Waterloo, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6440-0.ch005
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There are many predicted changes for the future of work. These changes will have significant implications for the type of work that people will do and the careers they will have. The question for many higher education institutions is what can be done to support students in preparing for what is predicted to be a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) future. In this chapter, work-integrated learning (WIL) will be explored as a model of education particularly useful in preparing students for a VUCA world. The chapter will examine one WIL program in particular, the University of Waterloo's co-op program, and consider how its design aligns and supports students in preparing for their future work.
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There have been numerous reports written over the past few years regarding the expected ways in which work will change dramatically in the coming years (Amery, 2018, Lent, 2018, Rivera et al., 2020). While thinking and writing about predictions for the future are not new, the concept of the “future of work” is a topic that has become increasingly popular in the past decade. The Web of Science graph shown in Figure 1 illustrates the frequency of the phrase “future of work” in peer-reviewed publications since 1996.

Figure 1.

Web of Science bar graph showing the frequency of the phrase “future of work” between 1996-2020 (total: 571 records)


The phrase “future of work” appeared for the first time in 1996 and increased from 2011 onwards. Occurrences of the phrase in peer-reviewed publications have almost doubled in 2019-2020 as seen in Table 1 below:

Table 1.
Frequency of the term “future of work” cited in Web of Science (total: 571 records since 1996)
Year RangeNumber of Articles in Web of Science Results

The nature of what was being discussed in reference to the future of work has changed over time. In a synthesis of 32 reports on the future of work written between 2015 and 2020, the following key themes were identified: advances in technology; the need for skill agility and transferability; responsibility for adaptation; fostering cultures of equity, diversity, and inclusion; the expansion of the gig economy; and the tension between organizational and employee values (Stevens et al., 2020). The following sections will highlight key insights from the reports and literature for each of these themes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Gig Work: Employment that is associated with completing a short-term task or project rather than being employed as an ongoing member of an organization.

Co-operative Education (Co-Op): A model of work-integrated learning that consists of alternating academic and paid work terms.

Pedagogy: The approach taken in teaching or delivering curriculum.

Work-Integrated Learning (WIL): An educational approach that uses relevant work-based experiences to allow students to integrate theory with the meaningful practice of work as an intentional component of the curriculum. Defining elements of this educational approach require that students engage in authentic and meaningful work-related tasks, and must involve three stakeholders: the student, the university, and the workplace/community.

Lifelong Learning: The concept that learning will occur over the full span of one’s life, not just as a pre-career phase.

VUCA: An adjective used to describe something as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

Talent: A competency or skill.

Professional Development: The act of learning in support of one’s career or professional interests.

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