As our social, economic and technological landscape continues to evolve at a rapid pace, equipping today’s university students with a diverse set of skills during their time on campus will help them navigate a changing world after their studies.
Amidst this change, Ontario’s universities are working to ensure a university education in Ontario equitably benefits all students and helps them grow, thrive, and adapt – not only throughout their post-secondary education, but also throughout the course of their post-graduation lives.
Over the last two years, we have seen students, Ontario’s “Future Makers,” demonstrate tremendous resiliency in the face of great change and uncertainty.[i]
To help foster this resiliency, universities continue to innovate and transform programs, student supports, and ways of teaching and learning to best serve the needs of students. They are also responding to labour market demands to ensure students graduate with the hard and soft skills that are vital to employers.
A solid foundation, as well as life-long skills, innovative learning opportunities and a strong network of career and mental health supports will continue to help students adapt as the way we live, work, and learn continues to change.
Ontario’s universities continue to take a transformative approach in operating more flexibly and innovatively to allow our students to emerge on a stronger footing from today’s challenges and brace for those of the future.
Skilled, Adaptable Graduates Ready to Shape the Future
The future of the economy, work, and education are inseparable. As in-demand skills across diverse roles and occupations continue to evolve, employers will need a strong workforce to fill the jobs of today and adaptable talent that can navigate the shifting economies of tomorrow.
A university education will continue to help students advance in-demand fields and industries – and create new ones by driving the research and innovation that leads to new jobs and companies.
Across the board, Ontario’s university students are graduating job-ready and resilient. According to the latest Ministry of Colleges and University’s Graduate Survey, nearly 93% of university graduates are employed two years after graduating, with more than 90% of graduates finding work that was either closely or somewhat related to the skills they developed at university.[ii] This timely data demonstrates that the adaptable skills developed on campus are critical to ensuring students find meaningful work once they graduate.
Preparing Students for Career Success in High-Growth Fields
As changes in occupations, career paths, and industries become the norm, Ontario’s universities are equipping students with the adaptable skills required for high-demand fields and changing labour market demands.
Various sectors and industries will see unprecedented growth in the coming decades. For example, recent data shows Ontario is seeing an increase in demand amongst certain STEM and non-STEM occupations that typically require a university degree, such as engineers, computer programmers, and health-care professionals. In fact, a recent study conducted by Stokes Economics projects that from now until 2030, there will be more than 233,000 job openings in STEM and nearly 148,000 job openings in the health-care sector that will require a university education.[iii]
Not only is there a labour market demand for skilled talent across STEM and health-care, but data shows students are eager to fill these in-demand jobs and join these fast-growing fields. According to Ontario’s universities’ enrolment data, universities have seen a more than 65% enrolment increase in STEM and a more than 35% enrolment increase in health care between 2010 and 2021.[iv]
By offering programs that provide students – Ontario’s future engineers, scientists, health-care heroes and community leaders – with the experience and skills needed to be competitive in today’s job market and enter these fast-growing fields, Ontario’s universities are ensuring students can seize these opportunities and help solve big challenges.[v] For example, as cyberattacks become more sophisticated, Ontario will need a highly skilled cybersecurity workforce to manage these threats. Several universities have partnered with technology companies to create an on-campus cybersecurity and safety hub that will help train students in data analytics, deep learning, privacy and security to help fight cyberattacks affecting corporate and home networks.
Ontario’s universities will continue to provide the innovative programs and opportunities that will benefit all students, ensuring they are equipped with the critical skills and life-long foundation to adapt as the work landscape continues to change throughout their careers.
Student Entrepreneurship and Innovation to Fuel the Future Labour Market
Notably, Ontario’s universities are not only adapting and responding to labour market demands – they are also helping students create new industries, inspiring them to bring their creative and transformative ideas to life.
Students across the province continue to demonstrate their exceptional ability to identify critical challenges across sectors and develop the innovative solutions the province needs to transform industries and improve the lives of Ontarians. To help fuel their passions, universities across the province are ensuring students are connected with the resources and networks they need by becoming hubs of ideation and innovation.
For example, many Ontario universities have launched nationally recognized incubator and accelerator programs to help students design, develop, and launch their innovations. Through these programs, students can access opportunities to work with industry experts, prototyping equipment that help them reimagine, refine, or commercialize their ideas. Many Ontario universities have also developed specific incubator and accelerator programs for their alumni so they can continue their entrepreneurial journey even after graduation.
In fact, between 2014 and 2016, more than 280,000 students used campus-linked accelerators and incubators. These students created or supported more than 2,200 start-ups, which directly resulted in more than 4,700 jobs in Ontario during this time, according to the UBI Global Impact Study, Ahead of the Curve.[vi]
Ontario’s universities are also supporting the commercialization of intellectual property developed by students, researchers, and graduates. Through venture financing and private-public sector partnerships, universities have recently issued commercialization mandate statements to help foster job creation and economic growth in all regions of the province.
By creating environments that spark an entrepreneurial mindset, our students are well-prepared to enter, and be competitive in, Ontario’s growing innovation ecosystem, helping create the jobs of the future and becoming life-long problem solvers – able to identify and make the most of opportunities and overcome unexpected setbacks. Of note, several universities have developed on-campus clean energy incubator programs. As Ontario works to limit the impacts of climate change on people and businesses, it will need transformative clean technology solutions in electric vehicles, renewable energy and energy storage to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the province. Through these incubator programs, universities are providing students with access to the tools and resources they need to bring their Ontario-made clean technology innovations to market, such as industry experts, research labs and coworking spaces, to help address environmental challenges and fuel the green economy.
Future-Proofing Students for a Changing Ontario
Through community partnerships, work-integrated learning (WIL), reskilling and upskilling programs, and mental health supports, Ontario’s universities are providing flexible and innovative programs that are designed to build resilience and adaptability for a changing future.
Developing Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Programming
Ontario’s universities continue to innovate the nature of WIL, partnering with local industry to offer a range of programs such as co-ops, internships, and externships, ensuring students continue to benefit from these hands-on learning opportunities and gain critical work experience.
Through these experiences, students become exposed to diverse and dynamic workplace environments where they can develop critical hard and soft skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving, that according to the Business+Higher Education Roundtable Ontario’s employers are consistently in search of.[vii] This combination of skills not only enables students to remain adaptive, collaborative, agile, and resilient in response to industry disruption, and changing workplace and skill demands, but helps students develop leadership and make meaningful contributions to their workplace and communities.
By providing WIL for students in a variety of programs, including in high-demand areas, such as nursing, engineering, and computer science, we can ensure they graduate with the adaptable skills required to address the health-care needs of Ontarians, retool industries, and rebuild our province.
For example, Ontario’s nursing programs are streaming students to high-needs clinical areas, such as critical care and long-term care, as part of their clinical placements to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to practice in these areas after graduation. Nursing programs are also developing additional pathways to graduate nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in as little as 19 months.
Innovative and responsive programs such as these are helping students meet an identified and immediate labour market need. As our hospitals continue to face mounting staffing shortages, students will be prepared to graduate with the skillset needed to join the health-care workforce and provide frontline care to patients.
These work-integrated learning experiences help strengthen and enrich the student experience, while ensuring students can continue to develop the skillset they need to join their field of study after they graduate.
Encouraging Life-Long Learning
Today’s universities have an important role to play throughout a student’s journey – whether they are right out of high school, mid-career, or want to enter an entirely new profession.
Through a range of short-duration programs and certificates, Ontario’s universities continue to adapt to help the modern learner become a life-long learner. These learners are seeking out life-long learning opportunities through more flexible, part-time, online, and industry-tied models and micro-credential programs. Ensuring all students and learners have access to reskilling and upskilling opportunities across a variety of subject matters and industries helps build the resiliency and adaptability needed to progress in their current workplace or even enter an entirely new industry.[viii]
In 2020-21, Ontario’s universities offered more than 4,300 continuing education courses and more than 820 continuing education programs, according to data from Ontario’s universities. Based on enrolment data from 13 universities, 119,000 students were enrolled in continuing education programs at Ontario’s universities in 2020-21 – an increase of 28% since 2017-18.[ix]
With access to continuing education programs developed in partnership with local industry, students can reskill and upskill to meet the changing needs of employers. Ontario universities have entered into more than 670 industry partnerships to do just that, delivering continuing education programs and courses that directly meet a labour market need.
For example, one Ontario university recently launched an artificial intelligence and cloud computer continuing education program in partnership with local industry. Through the program, students from all backgrounds can participate in short-duration courses in areas such as software management and advanced coding. These courses are equipping students from all academic and professional backgrounds with new and adaptable skills that not only meet the shifting needs of employers, but help them take their career to the next level.
Helping Students Build Resiliency through Mental Health Programming
Students arrive on university campuses with varying life experiences, which both adds to the rich diversity of our campus communities and also creates highly unique and individualized experiences.
Across the province, Ontario’s universities are increasing student mental health services as the need for supports continues to increase, partnering for the mental health and well-being of our students and communities.[x]
Since the pandemic, a recent Canadian Alliance of Student Associations survey found that, overall, 84% of students reported the pandemic added new or exacerbated existing mental health challenges. In addition, since last year, at 71%, there has been a 10-point increase in those who say they are overwhelmed.
Recognizing the growing need for student mental health supports, universities continue to develop hybrid approaches, new and existing services, and events and courses to ensure students can access the resources and services they need to support their academic success and well-being.
Throughout the pandemic, many universities adopted virtual strategies and platforms that provide students with 24/7 support through a smartphone or web app. These platforms allow students to connect one-on-one with a counsellor or work on challenges independently and in real-time through downloadable or interactive resources. One example is Good2Talk, a free, confidential support service for post-secondary students in Ontario.[xi]
Another way universities and colleges are working to improve access to mental health services is through the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (CICMH).[xii] CICMH works with all 44 campuses and more than 100 community partners to share resources that help campus mental health workers on the frontline address student needs.
With 75% of mental health illnesses beginning before the age of 24, post-secondary students are particularly vulnerable to these experiences. Ontario’s universities will continue to partner with student groups, sector partners, and government to find new ways of delivering high-quality supports and services and promote the mental health and wellness of our students, faculty, staff and communities.[xiii]
Partnering for a Better Future
The world is changing rapidly and to keep pace with these changes, Ontario’s universities remain focused on continuing to transform in real-time in order to respond to the changing needs of our students.
The success of our students and graduates, as well as Ontario’s economic prosperity, requires innovative and flexible programs, services, and approaches that address student needs across the skills continuum and complement the development of resiliency in a fast-changing economy.
Our universities will continue to provide the high-quality education, experiences, services, and spaces that benefit all students, helping them collaborate across disciplines, approach work with a creative mindset, and problem solve real-world challenges.
Graduating with an adaptable skillset and a strong foundation for resilience, Ontario’s university students will be well-equipped to become the leaders of today and tomorrow, ready to build a brighter future, for everyone.
President and CEO
Council of Ontario Universities
This article is featured in the latest edition of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance magazine, Educated Solutions.
[i] The term “Future Maker” refers to a student, researcher, or university project that collaborates with internal or external institutional partners to engage in initiatives that seek to improve Ontario’s future. To read about Ontario’s Future Makers, please see: https://ontariosuniversities.ca/impact/future-makers
[ii] Ontario’s Universities, “Graduate Survey: University graduates continue to enter the workforce job-ready and resilient,” Ontario’s Universities, 2022, https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Graduate-Survey-Final.pdf
[iii] Stokes Economics, Ontario Future Labour Force Needs Study (Milton, ON: Stokes Economics, 2021), https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Ontario-Future-Labour-Force-Needs-Study.pdf
[iv] Ontario’s universities enrolment data collected through Statistics Canada’s Beyond 20/20.
[v] Ontario’s Universities, “Partnering to Build a Resilient Workforce,” Ontario’s Universities, 2022, https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Partnering-To-Build-A-Resilient-Workforce.pdf
[vi] Holger Meyer, Ahead of the Curve: On-Campus Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Ontario (Toronto, ON: Ontario Centres of Excellence, 2016), UBI Global.
[vii] Business+Higher Education Roundtable, “The Role of Ontario Universities in Powering Economic Growth,” Council of Ontario Universities, October 27, 2021, https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/The-Role-of-Ontario-Universities-in-Powering-Economic-Growth-BHER.pdf
[viii] Ontario’s Universities, “Partnering to Meet the Needs of a Changing Workforce,” Ontario Universities, 2022, https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Partnering-to-Meet-the-Needs-of-a-Changing-Workforce.pdf
[ix] Ontario’s universities enrolment data collected through Statistics Canada’s Beyond 20/20.
[x] Ontario’s Universities, “Partnering to Support Student and Community Mental Health and Wellness,” Ontario’s Universities, 2021, https://ontariosuniversities.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Partnering-to-Support-Student-and-Community-Mental-Health-and-Wellness-final.pdf
[xiii] Ronald C. Kessler et al., “Lifetime Prevalence of Age-Of-Onset Distributions Of DSM-IV Disorders In The National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Archives of General Psychiatry 62, no.6 (June 2005): 593-602.