Your typical teacher in Canada first entered the classroom 16 years ago — before the birth of Facebook.
The world of work has rapidly evolved since then; but the very people preparing our students to join this new workforce haven’t experienced exactly what it’s like firsthand.
This is one of the challenges raised in a new RBC report, Bridging the Gap: What Canadians Told us about the Skills Revolution. The report is the result of a year spent travelling across the country, following up on our landmark research into the future of work, Humans Wanted.
What if co-ops weren’t just for students, but for teachers? Sarah Reid, a young professional working as a cheese maker in Blyth, Ontario, thought this might better connect the education sector and the world of work.
“Teachers would know what students are going to see and experience, what they’ll be expected to do. That kind of integration would be amazing,” Reid said. Right now, only about 1 in 6 high school students realize their career plan through to age 25; much of this is due to poor awareness of their post-secondary options and potential jobs.
Jesse Rodgers, the CEO of the Volta innovation hub in Halifax, saw a lot of value in the idea. If teachers spent time at Volta, they could learn about new ideas and careers being created there through the use of new technology. They would then have more information to share with students as they begin to make their own career choices.
In addition to career counselling, teacher co-ops would instill a deeper understanding of how the world has fundamentally altered, sharpening teaching skills no matter the subject.
It’s an idea that’s already gaining traction in the United States.
Last year in Pennsylvania, 1200 educators took part in the state’s Teacher in the Workplace program. Teachers, counselors, and administrators from K-12 are matched with industry and business leaders to learn about industry trends, needs, and opportunities. With this firsthand experience, teachers can enhance instruction, student learning, and career readiness.
This spring, the state’s governor expanded the program under its new Workforce Command Center, announcing a 30% funding boost to commit US $2.6 million to the project.
“Teachers bring that experience to their classrooms to develop lessons that teach students the skills they will need for those good jobs,” Governor Tom Wolf said at the announcement. “Teachers can also tell students and parents about the new and growing careers available in their community.”
Pursuing a similar idea in Canada is intriguing – but there are still questions to be answered.
Former high school teacher Kari Marken, who now works as an educational designer at UBC’s Centre for Student Involvement & Careers, suggested bringing people from the workforce into schools for classroom talks is a better way to give students insights, without creating more work for teachers.
Marken also noted that many teachers have professional experiences beyond school that they can draw on to inform their conversations with students.
While the average tenure of a teacher in Canada is 16 years, younger teachers still have one foot in the workforce. In Ontario, 62% of first year teachers must take non-teaching jobs due to lack of permanent positions. More than half of them take jobs as tutors, child care, or adult education, while the rest work in hospitality, retail, administration, and many balance more than one alternative work arrangement.
“As the workforce undergoes rapid changes, I’m not sure that anyone is equipped to offer career advice,” Marken said. “However, I think we all have a role to play in posing really good questions that challenge and support students in their navigation of so much change.”
Testing this idea on a small scale could net results on the local level, as the Chamber of Commerce in Minnesota has found. It has funded two pilot projects to strengthen the links between teachers and local businesses. In the northern town of Hibbing, high school teachers visit businesses for an in-service day to learn about future jobs that will be available to students.
Further south in Winona, middle school and high school teachers have the chance to complete a one-week paid summer immersion program in the local manufacturing sector. There’s an added bonus with this program: the businesses also gain valuable feedback from having experienced teachers joining them on the job for a week, providing meaningful contributions to the workplace.
Every fall, Take Your Kid to Work Day gives grade nine students the chance to explore the workplace. It’s time for a serious discussion about whether there’s value in earmarking another date on the calendar: Take Your Teacher to Work Day.
John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the Office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and sits on the boards of Queen’s University, the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada and the Literary Review of Canada. His latest book, "Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future", explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.
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