Simon Fraser University will expand its current minor and certificate program in Labour Studies into a major beginning fall of next year. Students, however, will be able to declare a major in this discipline as early as next semester.

Since 2012, the faculty of arts and social sciences has worked on developing a labour studies major for its students. The notice of intent to add the new major into the curriculum was submitted to the Ministry of Advanced Education in 2015 and was recently approved for implementation earlier this summer, according to Kendra Strauss, director of the labour studies program.

The major will not be fully launched until fall 2018 because there are a few changes to the program requirements that are currently undergoing the curriculum approval process. In particular, there are several new 200-level courses being added, according to Strauss.

“The world of work is changing, with implications for all of us,” emphasised Strauss. “For young workers, there are challenges with the rise of precarious employment. Our economies are increasingly globalized, with larger and more complex flows of capital, goods and people, but there are also significant backlashes against these trends.”

The current labour economy operates as the ‘gig economy,’ where workers, especially but not exclusively in the field of media and high-tech sectors, are increasingly employed on insecure, short-term contracts.

“These contracts tend not to have any benefits, and workers have to spend as much time looking for work (their next gig) as performing the work itself. While it offers flexibility, it also produces a lot of insecurity,” explained Strauss.

The new major will look at the current labour market trends and experiences of work, placing an emphasis on critical analysis, thinking, practical writing, and research skills, according to Strauss. “We also focus on the future of work, looking at topics like technological change, automation, and demographics and migration,” she said.

“We have a lot of financial support for a small program, and are working towards co-op and paid internship programs. Our co-op program will launch in the fall, so that our students can gain real-world experience in their field,” noted Strauss.

The labour studies minor has expanded a lot over the last five years, and students have voiced their interest in seeing the program develop into a major. The launch of the new major was funded by the late Margaret Morgan, a long-time labour activist in Vancouver.

There are approximately 130 students in the labour studies minor program from a variety of academic disciplines and the number of students enrolled has increased over the years, according to Strauss.

“We’ve seen a steady increase, with enrolments more than doubling since 2013. We’re still a small program and we have work to do to raise awareness of the program, but we’re hoping that more courses and a focus on skills and experiential learning will help bring more students into the [labour studies] program,” expressed Strauss.

A reception will be held for the university community at SFU Woodward’s on December 8 to celebrate the launch of the new major.

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