What the future of work means for the traditional career path is one of the most asked questions the Waterloo Region Future of Work and Learning Coalition hears. Plum co-founder and CEO Caitlin MacGregor gives a good analogy for what we might see – “The future of work means that the career ladder is going away. It’s going to be more like a career web.” 

We know that there’s a growing interest in trying gig-based and freelance roles across a variety of professions. But what options do professionals have to try these out?

“There needs to be stepping stones to get to the gig economy,” said Lindsay Tayler, Co-ordinator, Professional Development Programming at Wilfrid Laurier University. Tayler is a great person to speak to this. 

At the start of January, Communitech along with coalition member Wilfrid Laurier University partnered on a year-long experiment to see if secondment could potentially be one of those stepping stones.

Secondments are opportunities to work temporarily at a different company or department within your current company. At Laurier, Tayler’s work focuses mainly on supporting the development and delivery of non-credit programs. These programs are designed to help anyone in the community to up-skill and re-skill for new roles. At Communitech, Tayler is working as the Future of Work and Learning Co-ordinator. She will support coalition members with their programs and events and look for ways to engage more people in the community.

The experiment came out of early conversations during the creation of the coalition. “When the team at Laurier thought about our strategic priorities, there was a big interest and push for credential innovation and professional development,” Tayler said. Laurier is actively researching what other credentials the 108-year-old university can offer to both new and returning students besides a four-year degree or diploma program. Tayler’s role in the university’s Office of Professional Development made her the perfect candidate for the secondment experiment.

Originally from Toronto, Tayler earned her Bachelor of Business Administration at Laurier before starting her MBA in the part-time program there. “I love the university and what they do, but I also have an interest and background in business.” 

For Tayler, the secondment is an opportunity to see what another industry is like without having to leave her current role. “My first day here at Communitech, it was clear that both Laurier and Communitech are focused on excellence. The two organizations have different structures, but share similar goals of supporting their communities and stakeholders.”

Tayler did note similarities in leadership style between Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy and Communitech CEO Iain Klugman. “Our president is very involved with our institution, she is approachable and part of the Laurier fabric. The same with Iain here. I met him at the IT desk on my first day and now he says hi to me all the time. I feel very welcomed.”

The secondment does come with its challenges. It’s not a full secondment, so Tayler splits the week with days working at the Laurier campus in Waterloo and the Communitech Hub in Kitchener. “I find I have people at both places asking me when I’m going to be there, especially as my Laurier team was used to having me there all the time.” Tayler also noted Communitech’s policy of not having assigned desks as a challenge. “People at Communitech are here every day, they’re just in different desks. It’s interesting to wrap my head around that.”

Tayler was also quick to point out that there’s less risk with this type of secondment. “It’s like an exchange. I get to experience the culture of somewhere else without the personal risk of quitting my job. And this opportunity allows me to learn more about another organization and develop skills that I can bring back to Laurier.”

Some Future of Work and Learning partners worry about potentially losing employees during a secondment. Tayler acknowledged this: “There’s a risk, but the employee could leave anyways. From my perspective there is such an opportunity for me to grow with this experience. And the chance to see how another organization operates allows me to develop new appreciations for Laurier.” 

The coalition’s mandate includes experimenting with different Future of Work models to find what works and what doesn’t work. We’re going to follow up with Tayler and her colleagues at both Laurier and Communitech over the next 12 months as part of our commitment to open source our learnings. To learn about this pilot and other Waterloo Region Future of Work and Learning Coalition programs, visit our website.