While greening post-secondary institutions takes many forms across the country, colleges and institutes have a unique approach: they utilize a feedback loop to – and from – industry as a reality check, says Rod Miller, associate vice-president, corporate training solutions at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).
“Whether it is ensuring that clean technologies are built into our programs or the measures we take to reduce our environmental impact, sustainability is an important driver at SAIT,” he explains, adding that industry partners are helping to create the roadmap.
“Close collaboration with industry forms the foundation of everything we do as an organization. It informs the process of learning and makes a substantial contribution to our – and our students’ – success,” he explains.
About 75 program advisory committees, consisting of more than 1,000 industry members, provide input for the curriculum delivered at SAIT, says Mr. Miller. “Our partners tell us about emerging areas where we need to train people. This enables us to stay ahead of the curve and develop programs that are relevant – it also ensures that our students are hirable and work-ready.”
A field where development and innovation are much in demand is green building technologies, says Mr. Miller, and SAIT’s achievements include advancing net-zero energy home construction and accelerating the application of solar technologies to reduce electricity use. An industry partnership between SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) department and residential home builder Mattamy Homes led to Calgary’s first five net-zero energy homes. Owners will benefit from energy-efficient building envelopes, solar photovoltaic systems and ongoing monitoring of the homes’ energy performance.
Closeness to industry also enables institutes like SAIT to respond quickly to changing conditions, says Mr. Miller, who has observed a shift in employment opportunities in the resource industry.
“The impacts of the oil downturn and pipeline debate are quite evident across Canada and here in Alberta, where energy has been a large driver of the economy,” he says. “People who are affected by these changes often need to re-evaluate their skill set and might consider going back to school.”
The good news is that entering educational streams has never been easier. “Education today is more fluid. People have different needs and expectations on how they want to be educated. They may want to participate in traditional full-time education programs, shorter courses or online learning,” says Mr. Miller, who adds that some students juggle the demands of earning a degree with caring for a family or full-time employment.
And educational institutions are adjusting their offerings to meet the students’ needs. “There is this ongoing desire and need to continue to learn. The learning stream has changed, and people can enter at many different points and times,” says Mr. Miller, who sees the current model as a matrix rather than the predominantly linear trajectory it once was. “At SAIT, we’re also seeing an increase in the number of applicants who already have post-secondary credentials. They are looking to enhance their skill set through a hands-on learning approach,” he adds.
Online learning can also help to reduce the environmental impact of the educational institution and commuting, says Mr. Miller.
Another factor shaping education is globalization. “Today, knowledge flows very freely, and individuals may be engaged in a variety of projects anywhere in the world. Being able to take advantage of this very diverse and dynamic environment requires different skills,” says Mr. Miller. He adds that colleges and institutes are broadening their learning streams to stay competitive.
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