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The Occupational Second Chance

Courses are constantly changing

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SHEILA LEBLANC, DIRECTOR OF CONTINUING EDUCATION FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY

Continuing education (CE), particularly in Calgary’s extremely changeable job market, is fascinatingly fluid and flexible.

While constantly shifting trends always impact options in education and continuing education, the supply-and-demand aspects of CE options in the Calgary area are much different from other Canadian job markets.

The basics of properly targeting education and skills for the workplace are layered with special speed bumps (such as the current recession) to compound the target of CE options in popular and respected Calgary CE facilities like the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary and Bow Valley College.

Specializing or generalizing (or a combination of both) has always been a CE dilemma. In a dynamic job market, people may need to be both a generalist and specialist to remain marketable to potential employers. CE courses are a popular option to help build on existing knowledge and learn practical skills to find a new career or advance a career-in-progress.

Technology continues to revolutionize continuing education – particularly online learning. As today’s adult working students have full-time jobs, schoolwork and volunteer obligations, not to mention family and social commitments, online CE learning is a good solution. Another edge of online CE is participants can select courses suited to specific needs; not a classroom location.

One of the newest CE buzzwords is intrapreneurship skills – the ability to approach problems inside a company with an entrepreneurial outlook. Workplace trends show many large and small employers are hiring managers who can solve company problems by utilizing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Whether it’s the Calgary-downturn necessity of alternate careers, or the social trend of the economy making the clichéd freedom 55 – or even freedom 65 – a dated concept and sparking people to reconsider retirement plans, people are in need of continuing education and acquiring new skills.

“We had been seeing significant growth in all our program offerings since before the recent downturn, so it is hard to separate out the effects of the economy from our current growth curve and increased profile in the Calgary community,” says David Allwright, dean of the Chiu School of Business at Bow Valley College.

“Demand for CE has certainly increased over the past two years. The focus has been towards industry certification across a range of industries and subjects; especially courses related to supply chain management, digital marketing, project management, as well as finance and accounting, have shown significant growth. Personal development courses, like leadership skills, have also stayed strong.”

In the past year or so, people are focused on CE for retraining and switching careers. And whether it’s the specific Calgary job market situation or a social trend, there is a subtle shift from degree or diploma programs to acquiring new skills, upgrading and certification.

“There is definitely a noticeable trend for a desire to create fill-in knowledge and get certificates, as add-ons to qualifications they already have” says Sheila LeBlanc, director of continuing education for the University of Calgary.

“About 60 to 80 per cent of CE students already have a degree. Just as an example, someone with a marketing degree from the ’90s, before technology happened, are bundling courses into a certificate series.

“As recently as last year, we started noticing the impact of the economy. There was a downturn in various supervisory training programs, especially among students who were getting employer funding. But this year, some other courses are taking off, like project management, business intelligence and analytics.

“And with the growing interest in people refocusing their career, we have added some courses to fill the niche, like encore careers: creating a second act with purpose and passion and career renewal and resilience.”

At Calgary’s world-renowned Haskayne School of Business – home of distinguished executive and MBA programs – continuing education trends are also impacted.

“Many students are coming not for academic credit or even formal certification,” according to Hugh Evans, director of executive education at Haskayne. “They express a need to learn about supply chain, business innovation, finance or a need to understand the numbers, cost values or how to negotiate better. It’s all about performance as an expected outcome, not doing courses from a CV (curriculum) perspective.

“Haskayne offers certificates of completion and they are popular,” he says. “They acquire the skills and have pride in completing a business program. One of our courses, business essentials, has doubled in size in the past 12 months. It’s popular with engineering, finance [and] salespeople. They have become more valuable in their career by understanding management systems; improving their portfolio systems from a career perspective. The others are students who may be in a company but looking ahead to the future; their foundation of skills to possibly change careers or maybe form their own business.”

“There is a definite demand for shorter-term courses and certification,” Allwright adds. “Many people currently looking to gain an edge in the job market aren’t necessarily looking for another academic credential that could take years to obtain. They want to be able to fine-tune or focus their skills.”

Seasoned CE professionals agree: regardless the trigger of the changes, CE continues to be a ferociously popular and in-demand work-in-progress. Working people at all levels, and in all stages of careers, in just about any industry in Calgary (and throughout Canada), agree they strongly rely on CE, because there is a huge gap between the training required to move up the career ladder and the training provided by their employers.

A recent survey found that while 71 per cent of employers agree they have a responsibility to provide career management programs for their employees, due to the economy or slumping job markets, only 29 per cent actually offer them. Continuing education is closing gap in skills improvement and training needs.

According to a recent Conference Board of Canada report, as much as $24.3 billion in economic activity is lost annually because employers can’t find people with the right skills to innovate and grow in today’s economy. It’s not only a massive lost opportunity for Canada but gives CE providers unlimited ideas and options.

As one random example, a report by Engineers Canada shows there are not enough engineering graduates to fill positions being vacated by retiring senior engineers. The report recommends better inter-provincial mobility of senior engineers and better support for internationally educated engineers and traditionally under-represented groups. CE can be customized to ensure the engineering sector is able to keep pace with the world’s engineering needs.

For many, particularly in the Calgary job market, by personal choice or unexpected circumstance, continuing education is proving to by a dynamic, constantly changing and popular occupational second chance.

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