By Philip D. Gardner

Tips for students, career professionals, employers and faculty on how to respond to disruption

The next wave of technological innovation is already upon us. Susskind and Susskind (2017) have studied the future of the professions and offer a cautionary tale of what the future holds. All fields face disruption from various types of technology driven by accelerating advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive systems and data analytics. As technology pushes forward, the educated worker now faces challenges, largely avoided up to this point. How do we prepare our post-secondary graduates to prepare for a life of constant disruption, complete with job interruptions, shifting skill demands, and new approaches to sustaining a healthy career?

Disruption as a way of life

Friedman (2016) explains the hollowing out of jobs as a process of pulling job tasks apart where high-value elements are skilled up (requiring more advanced abilities) and low-value elements are skilled down (requiring lower abilities), or are eliminated by technology. Technology will handle more and more tasks associated with popular jobs sought by university and college students, eliminating the need for their talents (Susskind and Susskind, 2017).  David Mindell (2015) of Massachusetts Institute of Technology emphasizes the impact of advancing technologies on our workplaces this way:

“Change the technology and you change the task, and you change the nature of the worker – in fact you change the entire population of people who can operate a system.”

In other words, technological adoption changes the composition of the tasks in a job that triggers a need for a different type of person. As the type of workers changes in an organization, the organization reshapes itself, thus changing the connections within systems where they reside.

Sustaining one’s professional career depends on the individual’s ability to identify, and agility to adapt to, technological forces that are reshaping their jobs. These forces affect all of students, career professionals, employers and faculty alike.

Responding to disruption


  • Need to engage in a variety of learning environments, mostly outside the traditional classroom, to gain insights in adapting learning in new situations.
  • Will be required to have professional work experience prior to their final year. These experiences will have to be longer in duration (8 to 12 months) in order to begin to develop, apply and understand the skills, competencies and work behaviours required for success. Schools in Canada already experiment with longer employment terms with the University of Toronto’s Professional Year program, for example.
  • Must understand that recruiting practices are changing quickly and they will have to adjust to more social media interactions, online assessments, and third-party services (online interviewing) before the first face-to-face meeting with an organization’s representative.
  • Must shift their mindset to embrace the interconnection of academic and professional success and to consciously acknowledge both upon the first day of class.
  • From the liberal arts need to integrate their experiences through reflection, crafting their personal legend (story) that captures the interest of employers.

Career professionals

  • Face technological advances (which reduce head count and limit budget growth) that will eliminate many tasks currently performed, including event planning, scheduling and co-ordinating the interface between student and employer.
  • Accept that affective computing will provide automated (sophisticated AI software plus robotics) “trusted advisors” that can serve as basic career advisors.
  • Will coach and train other academic staff (academic advisors, faculty and other academic support services) to be front-line career agents.
  • Will assist students in learning how to handle new recruiting strategies adopted by employers and provide coaching on how to build social relationships that advance their career prospects.
  • Serve as the key “integrators” of the student experience, working with students to weave their total post-secondary experience into whole cloth and craft one’s personal story.
  • Must adjust their approach to career counselling as described in Pryor and Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers.


  • Will begin using more sophisticated applicant tracking systems that integrate new campus hiring with experienced hiring.
  • Will adopt more neurologically-based assessment (such as gaming) to assemble talent pools linked more to organizational fit than selection-based criteria such as academic major or limiting selection from only core schools. Work attitudes and behaviours will trump skills which employers now assume that universities are addressing.
  • Will invite younger students to engage with the organization in a variety of ways, including internships.
  • Will employ new strategies to avoid the fees requested by many universities to attend career fairs, connect with students through classes and information sessions, and obtain profile information.
  • Expect to interface directly with students without university of college representatives serving as gatekeepers or intermediaries.


  • Have to set the campus culture that success is a combination of academic rigour and professional development.
  • Must validate student experiences by recognizing them and acknowledging them in their classes.
  • Encourage and support student participation in work-related experiences, especially faculty in the liberal arts.
  • Failure to provide a healthy climate for professional development may face declining interest in their disciplines and face students struggling to transition, even in very strong labour markets.


Philip D. Gardner is Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. His major areas of research include the transition from college to work, early socialization and career progression in the workplace, workforce readiness, and other areas related to college student studies. MSU’s nationally recognized annual college labour market study is done under his direction each fall.


Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Mindell, D. A. (2015). Our robots, ourselves: Robotics and the myths of autonomy. New York: Viking.

Pryor, R., & Bright, J. (2011). The chaos theory of careers: A new perspective on working in the twenty-first century. New York: Routledge.

Susskind, R. and Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. United Kingdom: Oxford Press.