Calgary is home to five public post-secondary institutions, including two major universities. There are also several private institutions offering a variety of courses for adult learners. Courses range from business, technology, art and design to medical administration, IT, languages and project management. The list of continuing education programs is extensive and there are many benefits to enrolling, regardless of current career placement or past academic history.
Registered psychologist and career counsellor Dr. Susan MacDonald says people take continuing education courses to keep up with the times and the ever-changing workplace. “We live in an information age and knowledge is increasing exponentially, and more than any other time in history. Also, the world of work is changing more rapidly than ever before. Changes in technology, globalization and demographics mean that many new jobs and industries have created more opportunities and new careers. The benefits continuing education offers includes increased knowledge, skills and competencies, which makes people more marketable.”
Janet Segato, dean of SAIT’s School of Business, says the reasons for taking continuing education courses varies, but for most, the flexibility of courses – delivered in the evenings or online – help maintain a work-life balance. “Many learners are looking to enhance their skills to grow their career or earn a promotion while others are looking to reskill in a new field. The benefit is flexible delivery and the ability to balance education with work and family responsibilities. Continuing education classes create a community of support by connecting learners to their classmates and faculty and often these learners continue to network and support each other after the course ends.”
At SAIT, Segato says courses range from one-day options through to two-year diploma programs. “Most are looking to enhance a specific knowledge area as professional development and to build their career opportunities or they are looking to change jobs and move into a new area. Others want to complete a certificate or a diploma and simply cannot commit their time to full-time studies. Through continuing education, students can take up to five years to complete a certificate and seven years to complete a diploma. Working students often get support from their employers for tuition and study time and they can immediately apply the knowledge and skills they are learning adding value to their workplace right away.”
Brad Mahon, interim dean of the faculty of continuing education and extension at Mount Royal University, says, “Continuing education is experiencing a renaissance in 2018. There is a voracious appetite for quick turnaround programs that meet the demands of our increasingly complex workplaces. Continuing education’s role is to be aware of immediate industry trends and labour shortfalls. It must respond to the sector’s skills gap by offering relevant, time-sensitive, flexible, accommodating programs that allows professionals to efficiently upgrade their abilities and see a direct return on their investment.”
Mahon adds, “An example of CE’s market responsiveness may be seen in MRU’s cannabis education courses. Three online courses will equip students with the relevant knowledge they need to successfully enter this emerging industry.”
Enhancing an individual’s skill set increases their employability and makes them more competitive. “For others, it can simply be for personal learning or growth, and a natural interest in a particular subject. Many professions require ongoing professional growth and development, so some are required by their employers or registered profession (such as nursing, for example) to take courses,” says Mahon.
And while many continuing education students already have bachelor degrees, many do not but still wish to acquire skills that will be applicable in the workplace and make them more hireable.
Quite simply put, says Segato, they want to advance in their current career or move into a new one. A “good” employer will invest in their employees – all their employees. “Continuing education supports career enhancers and career changers by offering courses that can be immediately applied by the learner. Faculty have industry expertise and ensure students learn how to apply their education to real business problems. Many of our continuing education students get support from their employers for tuition and study time. This truly is an investment for the employer as the student can start to apply what they are learning immediately to solve problems and advance the success of their employer. Investing in employee development creates engaged employees who work to align their success with their employer’s success.”
Karin Vetter, an immigrant to Canada and a current continuing education student at Mount Royal University, understands the value of taking continuing education courses. “Continuing education courses here in Canada will allow me to get an education that is recognized locally. This is a common problem for immigrants to Canada. We studied back home and acquired bachelor degrees, however, they are not recognized in other countries. By taking continuing education courses, I will acquire skills that are specific to the local economy, market and government, which will, in turn, allow me to have better job opportunities and be more competitive.”
Married with three children and working full time, Vetter adds that she enjoys and appreciates the flexibility of continuing education courses. “Continuing education courses don’t require the long-term commitment of a degree. They are more flexible and allow you to attain certificates in the area of your interest at a pace that is convenient for you. For others, they enjoy these courses as it allows them to explore different options, before entering a university program, for example.”
Vetter is currently taking a business management course with the hopes of completing the marketing certificate program. “In my case, I am taking these courses for both personal and professional development. I believe that in order to stay current in a competitive workforce, you need to invest in your education. I try to make sure that the courses I take not only allow me to comply with the certificate requirements, but that they are also relevant in my current job and in the job that I see myself doing in the future.”
When it comes to employers and professional development support, Mahon says companies should invest in their employees because an employer’s greatest asset is their people. “Employees who engage in lifelong learning continue to bring that advantage to their teams. Companies who place a value on continuing education cultivate a workforce poised at the forefront of their field.” Continuing education, says Mahon, has never been more relevant than it is in 2018. MRU’s programming offers a variety of specialized professional upgrading – pathways that allow students to refresh their workplace competencies.
MacDonald refers to research that shows employees have greater job satisfaction, commitment and productivity when employers help fund courses. “Employers should not just limit funding to courses that are related to their work. Funding other types of courses that are not work related increases worker satisfaction and can help improve cognitive functioning by using other parts of the brain.”
“Investing in employee development creates engaged employees who work to align their success with their employer’s success,” says Segato.