Many people don’t know about one of the University of Toronto’s most important and exclusive programs. This valuable experience has an extremely limited number of seats — the faculty I applied to accepted 14 of the 100-plus applicants — and students undergo in-person interviews alongside their applications. Most of the work is experiential, which is highly recommended for the job market, and the program offers paid work experience. It is the work-study program.
Today, experiential and on-site learning is more important than ever. With advancing technology, the priorities of employers are changing. “The future job market will be different—almost alien—to what we have now,” wrote Compliance Search Group’s CEO, Jack Kelly.
Kelly is right; the job market is already changing. According to the documentary Generation Jobless, a university degree is no longer the golden ticket to a white-collar job. In fact, being too educated with too little work experience can damn a candidate to underemployment at best.
It is important that today’s graduates find additional experience to jumpstart their careers — this is where the work-study program comes in. In a Globe and Mail article, managing director of Launched Careers Peter Cavan advised undergraduate students to “seize integrated learning opportunities” such as “co-op programs, summer jobs, and internships,” listing a number of benefits, among them the opportunities to “develop and build skills,” and “gain valuable experience.” In short, students seeking employment after graduation have everything to gain from the work-study program.
Some may argue that the work-study program hardly offers any jobs in their field. Surprisingly, that might actually be a good thing; no matter what field you go into, a diverse skill set is beneficial. A recent report published by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship found that “four major hybrid job trends emerged… where employers are looking for distinct combinations of digital and non-digital skills.”
Furthermore, the Pew Research Center reported that “87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.” In another study conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center in 2016, most surveyed experts agree that “a diversifying education” is important for future job-seekers. While it may be unorthodox, applying to jobs outside one’s field might actually increase their chances of getting into that very field.
From a young age, most students have been told that certain positions — and thus certain degrees — are untouchable by modern technology. Medical sciences and law, for example, could not possibly be threatened by automation — except they already are. In 2016, IBM Watson, a supercomputer health care program, diagnosed a woman’s rare form of leukemia in 10 minutes, something that would’ve taken doctors days or even weeks to do.
Similarly, a program by JPMorgan Chase called COIN reportedly took seconds to parse contractual agreements and will save lawyers 360,000 hours of work a year. Even with current shortcomings, technology is advancing at a rapid pace and has the capacity to threaten under-experienced job applications. Regardless of what field students are in, work experience is imperative which only makes it more worrisome that the University of Toronto invests so little into experiential learning.
When the majority of U of T’s students enrol for the purpose of being prepared for employment, experiential learning should not be ‘nice to have.’ It is a must. The University of Toronto has already accomplished something great — now it just needs to be more accessible.
Morgan McKay is a second-year Criminology student at Woodsworth College.