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Beyond White Collar

A look at continuing education programs in Calgary

Mount Royal's Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning.

As our world continues to grow and evolve, so does the need for individuals to enhance and build on their current skill sets. Despite the years many have spent pursing a degree, it is almost always necessary to expand knowledge in order to remain current and up to speed with today’s new pedagogy, technology and trends.

In fact, many who hold degrees make the decision to either enhance their knowledge in their respective areas of expertise or pursue an entirely different career path, both of which can be accomplished by enrolling in a continuing education program. Some individuals go from working a nine-to-five desk job to getting their hands dirty, so to speak – they go beyond white collar. And for those who may not have pursued a degree, continuing education programs can provide the skills and knowledge required to gain employment – well-paying, enjoyable, fulfilling careers outside an office.

For more than 60 years, Mount Royal University (MRU) has provided continuing education to the Calgary community and beyond. According to its website, MRU offers “more than 1,000 courses and 100 certificate and diploma programs to enhance your career or pursue your passion.”

“The world of work is changing rapidly and finding an innovative career that is sustainable and fulfilling has no parameters or rules,” says Heather DeBoer, program director for Mount Royal University’s continuing education program. “The flexible and adaptive programming offered by Mount Royal University continuing education coincides with the emerging needs of the workforce through practical and engaging programs for all ages, interests and capabilities.”

She adds, “The faculty offers a plethora of entrepreneurial and learner-focused programming that enhances Calgary’s pool of innovative workers and provides transferable pathways into employment by meeting the real-time needs of industry.”

Laurie Fisher, an MRU continuing education instructor and past student of the massage therapy program, says she chose to enrol in 2016 because she knew she wanted to attend a program within a university environment and MRU was a great fit for what she was looking for. As well, massage therapy is currently only offered in a continuing education format.

With a background in kinesiology, Fisher wanted to supplement her current qualifications (master of kinesiology) and continue to be involved in a medical health-care environment. “The program met all my interests and fit my desired work/life balance. I did a great deal of research prior to transitioning to massage therapy as a full-time career. Massage therapy is one of those careers where there are different paths at the end of training to determine where you would like to focus. I specifically chose to focus within a therapeutic medical environment.”

For Raymond Delos Santos, a current full-time student at St. Mary’s University studying psychology, his passion and talent for photography led him to enrol in a continuing education photography course at SAIT over the summer. His mom gave him a camera to “play around with” a few years ago and, in that time, he has developed a deep appreciation for the art of photography.

Delos Santos says he saw it as an opportunity to expand on his current knowledge of photography and polish up any skills he had already acquired through self-teaching. “The wonderful thing about SAIT’s continuing education program is that it fit so well with my work schedule as well as my bachelor’s program that I am also enrolled in. A continuing education course is a good opportunity for anyone looking to expand on their current skills and really build their skill set and knowledge base. If the opportunity presented itself, I would highly recommend enrolling in a continuing education course and taking advantage of the benefits it can provide.”

Does Delos Santos see a career in photography? “I see this as a passion that could develop and lead to a potential opportunity down the road. I plan to continue to nurture my passion and take additional continuing education courses when time permits.”

The SAIT website states its continuing education programs and courses can “provide you with the skills sought by employers and even help you prepare for industry certification in your field.”

DeBoer says, “The breadth of programs in continuing education allow adults of any age to find a course or workshop that meets their needs and goals. Students attend programs to upgrade their hard or soft skill set (e.g. computers, leadership, conflict resolution); pursue topics of interest for a career change (e.g. project management, education assistant, integrative health coach); or explore developing a personal passion (e.g. floral design, photography, interior decorating). Many of the programs provide graduates with the knowledge and skills to launch their own entrepreneurial small businesses.”

Elizabeth M. Cressman, continuing education coordinator at St. Mary’s University, explains, “Continuing education is designed for lifelong learners who are curious to learn new skills and/or to deepen some current understandings that they may have about given themes.”

Historically, says Cressman, St. Mary’s University (StMU) offered sacred arts courses over several years, focusing on areas such as iconography (painting of religious icons); calligraphy based on the work of The Saint John’s Bible housed on campus; stained glass; and more. “Over the past year, while StMU has continued with some sacred arts courses, it has been a time of market research and transition as the scope of continuing education courses has expended considerably to include areas such as the following: indigenous studies; journaling as a spiritual practice; beginner calligraphy; aging: genealogy; the art of photography; and more.

“Since it has been only very recently that StMU has broadened and deepened the focus of continuing education courses,” explains Cressman, “we are in the process of ‘trying to get the word out’ about these distinctive courses and the integrity that accompanies each one.”

And while traditional white-collar jobs may appeal to many, others prefer a much faster-paced environment, such as a hospital or care facility, for example. Mandi McCue is one such individual, and after years of contemplation and working as a nurse’s aide, she finally decided to pursue a career as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) through Bow Valley College’s continuing education program.

McCue says she has always wanted to become a nurse but lacked the confidence to take that “next step.” Thanks to a friend and some encouraging words, McCue finally decided to enrol in the LPN program, and she’s glad she did.

“White-collar jobs have never appealed to me,” confesses McCue. “I am a people person, and love being a bedside nurse – I enjoy being busy and on my feet having the opportunity to interact with people hands-on.”

McCue says she would absolutely recommend taking continuing education courses, especially for the more mature student who may have been away from an academic setting for a while.

With so many options available through the many continuing education programs available in Calgary, there is certainly no shortage of courses that would appeal to almost anyone. From floral design and funeral embalmer to millwright, continuing education programs are developed and instructed by industry experts who bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom.

Courses are engaging, applicable, and meet the needs and demands of industry today. “There are opportunities to network with other like-minded individuals within the classroom and build personal and professional connections for future opportunities. Upon successful completion, students may transfer these skills and knowledge to many professional opportunities,” says DeBoer.