Though economists have been discussing the rise of precarious work for years, nothing could have possibly prepared us for a global pandemic. Eighteen months later, as the economy slowly reopens, experts are beginning to see and imagine what a post-COVID economy might look like. “I don’t have a crystal ball, unfortunately,” admits U of T economy professor Elizabeth Dhuey, though the specialist in the economics of education can make a very educated guess. “Fair to say there will be a whole lot of job shuffling in the near future. People are moving out of traditional jobs and into consulting or independent careers.”
Dhuey is nicely saying that no one wants a boring 9-to-5 office job anymore. This was true of millennials and Gen X, but even more so of Gen Z and beyond, whose job expectations climb ever higher. “People do want to make money, of course, but they’re looking for more than a paycheque,” says Richard Lachman, director of the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University. “Nobody is willing to make work their whole identity if it doesn’t give back some meaning and make me feel good about my life and my values.”
Another name for that? The Passion Economy, and its seeds are already sprouting in a new generation. “To an ever-increasing extent, students are thinking beyond the norms and distancing themselves from traditional paradigms of careers,” says Graham Vogt, principal at Rosseau Lake College. Many will never work a conventional job at a desk and report to a boss, instead freelancing, consulting or starting their own business.
In the before-times, this was a risk taken by a rare few who can tolerate uncertainty; in 2021, instability is par for the course. “The pandemic made so many things uncertain,” says Lachman, “but so did climate change and AI and automation.” This generation will emerge from the pandemic with confidence they can survive anything and a reluctance to wait for the (non-existent) perfect timing to launch a business.
We can and should therefore teach the necessary skills to the greenest of budding entrepreneurs. “We developed Branksome Hall’s Noodle student accelerator program—the first of its kind at the high school level,” says Katie Gillespie, associate director of marketing at Branksome Hall. Participants from grades seven through twelve complete a 38-week intensive entrepreneurship program culminating in a final pitch to experts and judges, and the winner enjoys a grand prize of $10,000 in seed funding for their idea.
Seeing this explosion of the passion-driven economy unfold in real time, many Canadian schools are preparing secondary students to succeed. “Self-actualization, intrinsic motivation and general problem-solving skills are central to our overall approach to teaching and learning,” says Vogt. “Students are increasingly and intentionally exposed to meaningful challenges and disruption. We ensure our students are comfortable being uncomfortable and familiar with the unfamiliar.” It’s a sentiment also seen at The Bishop Strachan School: “Students are prepared to handle situations that have unpredictable outcomes,” says junior school principal Catherine Hant, whose educators therefore teach “tools to problem solve, build relationships and master communication skills—all with an emphasis on listening.”