Post-secondary institutions in Western Canada are building new bridges from the classroom to the workforce and breaking down barriers between higher education and traditionally disadvantaged communities. Through innovative programs and educational models, these institutions are playing an important role in the national effort to expand workforce participation and better prepare workers for a rapidly changing job market.
Earlier this year, the federal finance minister’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth said Canada could generate more growth by improving skills training to help workers adapt to technological change. It recommended formation of a new non-profit organization through which key stakeholders could “promote and enable next-generation skills development.”
“We welcome the proposal for a new mechanism that brings together educators, employers and governments to better match the demands of the labour market with the supply of highly skilled Canadians,” says Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. “Universities are vital participants in the provision of upskilling and reskilling education. The traditional idea of universities as a place where people get a degree after high school and that’s the end of it, has evolved. These are now institutions of lifelong learning.”
Today, 400,000 students across Canada are enrolled in university continuing education programs, Davidson says.
The federal Advisory Council also called for measures to lift members of under-represented groups into the labour force, including indigenous people, older workers, women with young children, and lower-income and lower-skilled Canadians.
“Universities are using new kinds of learning and community outreach to meet the needs of employers, while also driving social innovation,” says Davidson. He points to Simon Fraser University, which offers coding training to low-income residents of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside neighbourhood to give them computer skills in high demand in B.C.’s technology sector.
Colleges and Institutes Canada is also pleased with the recommendation for a national organization focused on skills development, says president and CEO Denise Amyot.
“We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this national endeavour,” she says. “All colleges and institutes work closely with local employers to develop programs that meet their training needs and incorporate work-integrated learning into courses.”
Industry partnerships for reskilling and applied research are in fact “part of the DNA” of colleges and institutes, adds Amyot.
“Technology evolves so quickly that reskilling has to be part of people’s approach to the job market, and companies need to continually offer reskilling and upskilling opportunities to their employees to be successful and competitive,” she says. “This means that colleges and institutes need to work closely with employers in a variety of sectors and provide tailor-made training for companies and industries.”
Many of the customized training programs can meet industry needs while also creating job opportunities for under-represented demographic groups. One example is the Alberta Aboriginal Construction Career Centres program, a partnership among NorQuest College in Edmonton, Bow Valley College in Calgary, the Government of Alberta, First Nations communities and industry organizations.
“This program pairs students with employers who need tradespeople and builds the skills of indigenous workers in the Alberta construction industry,” says Amyot. “The program has brought significant benefits to the industry while creating new job opportunities for communities. Another strong feature of the program is its provision of indigenous awareness training for companies.”
To view more related to this story visit globeandmail.com