At first glance, Alazar Elyas may not seem your typical college student. At 47, he already has 23 years of experience working as a plumber under his belt. Yet when the Eritrean refugee arrived in Canada with his wife in 2016, his English language skills were not yet at a sufficient level to successfully gain employment in a field where communication and safety are essential.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and my career in plumbing. When I came to Manitoba, I talked to many places and offered to volunteer for experience,” says Mr. Elyas. “[Then] I heard about Red River College’s Pathway Program from the immigrant centre and enrolled right away.”
Red River College’s Pathway Program to Construction Skills provides newcomers with the opportunity to enhance their English language skills and, at the same time, gain practical hands-on experience in fields like drywalling, masonry and flat-top roofing. “It’s been great to learn and develop new skills in areas like carpentry and drywall,” says Mr. Elyas, who is part of the program’s second cohort of students. “When I graduate, I hope to gain full-time employment and work alongside a skilled plumber so I can continue my learning. In the future, my goal is to return to Red River College and complete my plumbing certificate, and perhaps one day open my own business.”
The goal of the program – for students to successfully enter the job market when they complete their training – is something all colleges and institutes across Canada strive to achieve. And a focus on applied learning, whether it takes the form of internships, co-ops, work placements or applied research, means that “employers can count on graduates from colleges and institutes being work-ready from day one,” says Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan).
“The challenge for all of us, no matter where we live or work, no matter our age or prior education, is to be future-ready,” she says. “Colleges and institutes are making sure that there is always an open door, and they offer a variety of pathways to employment.”
This ability to adapt to different market needs means that student bodies at colleges and institutes are increasingly multicultural and diverse. They include newcomers to Canada like Mr. Elyas, learners of different ages and experiences, and international students, says Ms. Amyot. “In 2016, Canadian colleges and institutes hosted more than 55,000 new international students,” she explains. “And 47 per cent – nearly half – of all Canadian college students have already attended post-secondary institutions when they arrive, and 34 per cent have a degree or diploma.”
Those looking to update their skills can be assured that prior credentials and work experiences will be taken into account, says Ms. Amyot.
Colleges and institutes are also “champions of inclusion that offer many adapted support services to vulnerable and under-represented populations,” she adds. People who don’t have a high school diploma, for example, may think this will prevent them from moving forward, says Ms. Amyot. Yet many colleges have programs designed to help with meeting entrance requirements for employment or advanced education.
Mythra Lagueux, community and contract services programmer at the Training Group at Douglas College, says many of the people signing up for the college’s essential skills training face more than one barrier to employment. “They often have been out of the workforce for five years or longer,” she explains. “They may have previous addiction or mental heath issues or have been single parents.”
While each of the barriers may appear significant, every person also brings her or his own skills and experiences, says Ms. Lagueux. “We focus on the things our students have done and can do, and come up with a plan that meets their individual needs. Having access to foundational skills, like completing job applications or setting personal goals, can help people manage bigger, more complicated tasks and navigate life more effectively.”
Ms. Amyot adds, “Across the country, Canadian colleges and institutes are clearly responding to the call to action to facilitate lifelong learning.”
About Colleges and Institutes Canada
Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) represents Canada’s publicly supported colleges, institutes, cegeps and polytechnics, which work with industry and social sectors to train learners of all ages and backgrounds at over 420 campuses serving urban, rural and remote communities across Canada.
For more information, visit www.collegesinstitutes.ca.
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