In a world now defined by rapid change, being futureproof is crucial for success. Fortunately, colleges and institutes understand their pivotal role in preparing individuals and communities for what lies ahead.
Let’s explore the top trends expected to impact the post-secondary sector this school year as we, colleges and institutes, steer Canada toward a more sustainable and resilient future:
Gender Equality (SDG 5 & 10)
For years, colleges and institutes have taken bold steps to bridge gaps and break down barriers for equity-deserving groups as we work to narrow the enrollment gap and support female representation in male-dominated fields. Despite having made progress in many areas, women still earn less than their male counterparts in some fields. For instance, women certificate holders consistently earn close to $10,000 less than men in higher-earning fields such as mathematics, agriculture, computer and information sciences and business (Statistics Canada, 2018).
With these realities top of mind, colleges and institutes are doubling down on efforts to advance gender equality and create safe spaces for non-binary and gender-diverse learners. These efforts include participating in initiatives like The Government of Canada’s 50-30 Challenge and programs like Career Launcher Apprenticeships, which are advancing diversity and inclusion within workplaces.
Sustainable Education and Climate Change (SDG 13)
The transition to a net-zero economy is an enormous challenge for Canada and the world. There is now international recognition that, as we strive to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, our response to climate change must be an integral part of the recovery process. In the labour market, 75% of jobs are expected to be affected by decarbonization scenarios, and workers in resource-dependent regions will be particularly vulnerable (Future Skills Centre, 2023). To thrive, workers will need a blend of technical and non-technical skills to develop “green literacy.”
For colleges and institutes, this means training learners to work in green industries and conduct research in the latest clean technologies. Currently, it’s estimated that 10% of all college and institute programs focus specifically on sustainability, with more to come. Moreover, we continue to upgrade our campuses to become leading examples of net-zero and sustainable design through strategies like building retrofits, LEED and STARS certifications, the Cégep vert du Québec, and our net-zero campus pledge, in addition to including sustainability practices into most programs. You can read more about these efforts in CICan’s Are We Ready Report.
Digital Transformation, specifically Artificial Intelligence (SDG 8 & 10)
One of the most prominent trends to shape the upcoming school year is the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI). While student engagement with new AI tools, such as chatGPT, garners considerable attention, post-secondary institutions have also begun rethinking day-to-day operations by exploring how to harness the power of machine learning and data analytics to optimize administrative processes and revolutionize learning experiences. This trend is underscored by the introduction of specialized programs dedicated to preparing leaders for a world driven by AI, machine learning and data analysis.
We can also expect to see colleges and institutes continue to help businesses adapt to these new technologies through their applied research activities, as well as collaborate with one another to create comprehensive institutional policies and guidelines that foster ethical AI implementation, ensure data privacy, and promote equitable access to evolving AI technology.
Demand for Soft Skills (SDG 8)
Despite the projected growth in future employment, automation is expected to negatively impact college and institute graduates. While modest and less severe than the impact on high-school-educated jobs (-1.5%) or occupation-specific training (-1.2%), estimations suggest a reduction of about 0.5% in jobs requiring college credentials (Conference Board of Canada & Future Skills Centre, 2022).
Recognizing this shift, colleges and institutes are underscoring the need to develop soft skills that are inherently human and difficult to automate. These encompass critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, emotional intelligence and communication skills, which can be learned through our immersive, hands-on learning experiences. This is what creates futureproof employees with the skills to leverage new technologies in changing workplaces.
Reskilling & Continuous Learning (SDG 8)
At the end of this decade, an estimated 235,000 or about 13% of new and emerging jobs, will be found in positions where job descriptions are changed significantly by the impact of the green transition. The ongoing shift towards sustainability is just one of the many areas reshaping the present job market. Digital transformation, cyber security, remote collaboration, and the rising efforts to advance equity, diversity and inclusion are also reshaping cultures and expectations. As a result, colleges and institutes are responding by growing their offering of fast and focused reskilling and upskilling training solutions like microcredentials which are easily accessible and help prepare Canadians, including newcomers to Canada, for the changing job landscape.
Global Collaboration and Internationalization (SDG 8 & 10)
As Canada continues to be a sought-after destination for international students, colleges and institutes will continue to emphasize global collaboration and partnerships with institutions worldwide and champion solutions that increase equity and the quality of educational experiences for international students.
On the flip side, it has become a strategic imperative in our increasingly interconnected world that Canada prepares Canadian students with the competencies and global skills necessary to address global challenges in inclusive environments. Enter Global Skills Opportunity, which makes international learning experiences more accessible to Canadian post-secondary students.
Mental Health and Well-being (SDG 4 & 10)
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health support for students. Recent data from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations reveals that three-quarters of postsecondary students have struggled with mental health during their studies, with half accessing mental health services through their institutions. Unfortunately, 1 in 3 students reported that on-campus services do not meet their needs, citing wait times as the top barrier. Hence, colleges and institutes are intensifying their advocacy efforts for government support in developing, researching, and contributing to best practices for student mental health.
Lastly, it must be noted that we are halfway through the United Nations 2030 Agenda. As we navigate these trends, the Sustainable Development Goals remain our compass, guiding our actions to ensure they contribute to positive change for people, community and the planet.