At a time when so much of society and work is being "cracked open" by the pandemic, a liberal arts education is more important than ever.
That’s the view of Christine Kampen Robinson, director of the new Centre for Career and Vocation at Canadian Mennonite University.
"What work looks like in the future is being redefined," she said. "We don’t yet know what it will look like."
Helping students at the Winnipeg-based university navigate that new future is the goal of the hub, which launched March 1.
The centre is funded by the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), a North American network of colleges and universities that offers grant funding, resources, and support to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students.
CMU is the first Canadian post-secondary institution to become a member of NetVUE.
The centre seeks to equip students "to purposefully connect calling, courses, and career" through their studies and practicums — a requirement for all graduates of the university.
"The practicum is a cornerstone of the university," said Kampen Robinson, who also directs the practicum program at CMU.
Students can do their practicum part-time during the school year or full-time in the summer, she said, noting: "It gives students a chance to explore options, use their education, take what they learned inside the classroom to the outside."
The new centre will also help the university be more intentional about helping students find their calling or vocation.
"Instead of asking what kind of job I should get, we want students to ask themselves what kind of problems they want to solve in the world, and then find the kind of studies they need to develop the skills to address those problems," Kampen Robinson said.
For her, this is more of a "change-making approach" to education, as compared to a "job-title" approach, one that helps students find their vocation by aligning studies with what they feel called to do.
She hopes the centre can also help blunt criticism the liberal arts isn’t focused enough on job training.
"I fundamentally disagree with that premise," Kampen Robinson said, adding general knowledge about the world, critical thinking skills and character development are important attributes.
"They may not be as immediately seen, but they are just as valuable" when it comes to finding a job.
"Look at what employers are asking for now: they want people with communication skills, the ability to think critically and who are adaptable, especially now during a pandemic," she added.
These things "are foundational to a liberal arts education. Our graduates will be uniquely equipped to address this situation. It’s what a liberal arts education excels at," Kampen Robinson said.
The creation of the centre is not a reaction to the Manitoba government’s recent announcement of a new strategy to anticipate the skills employees will need in the future and ensure post-secondary institutions can provide them, said CMU president Cheryl Pauls.
"CMU has been working towards this for a long time," she said, adding: "We have used the language of vocation for about six years. The centre gives it increased visibility."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.