Private school

Preparing students for the rise of a Passion Economy

Schools are preparing students with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the world of freelance, consulting and entrepreneurship

Special Advertising Feature: Private School Guide Fall 2021 

Though economists have been discussing the rise of precarious work for years, nothing could have possibly prepared them 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 University of Toronto 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.”

Fewer people are being drawn to the 9-to-5 office job, says Dhuey. This was true of millennials and Gen X, but even more so of Gen Z and beyond, whose job expectations continue to 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 you feel good about their life and values.”

Another name for that? The Passion Economy, and even without a crystal ball, a quick look in a history textbook would show a push to passion is definitely coming up next. “After any hardship, there’s a renaissance period and a desire for creativity, happiness and fulfillment,” says Cheryl Cran, future of work expert in Vancouver. “People are inspired to re-evaluate their lives, change their work and follow their passions.”

For many, finding and following your passion involves freelancing, consulting or starting your own business. In the before-times, this was a risk usually taken only after years of on-the-job experience. Today, we can teach the same 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 7 to 12 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 with the skills they’ll need to succeed. “Self-actualization, intrinsic motivation and general problem-solving skills are central to our overall approach to teaching and learning,” says principal Graham Vogt at Rosseau Lake College. “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.”

Also as the co-director of FutureSkills Canada, Dhuey would approve. “We want to learn the best way to educate people for the future world of work—even when we don’t know what the future looks like,” she says. “The evidence shows us that creativity and problem-solving are the skills we should focus on because whatever happens, we’re going to need those.”

A generation of children and youth spent eighteen months, by necessity, working on those skills exactly. And for all parents’ gripes about remote learning, there are positives to be found. “Lots of kids are coming out of the pandemic very resilient and with intrinsic motivation to work efficiently and independently,” says Dhuey. All those frustrated Zoom hours have given kids superior tech skills to take wherever they go, which could be anywhere. “They’re not tied to geography anymore, which means more opportunities, and all these tools that were niche are now widespread and mainstream.”

Students are so good at technology and remote work, notes The York School director David Hanna, that they’re actually teaching the teachers a thing or two. “They’re so fearless with technology and pushing the limits to what tech as a tool can do for them.” The very first thing to get going on a passionate career where you get to be your boss? “If I were 17 and graduating today, I’d start with a one-page website with my photo and my goals and vision for the future of work in the world,” says Cran. “In 2021, it’s all about showing what excites you and what you have to offer the world.”