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Gaining a Competitive Edge to Advance Your Career

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Given the current economic climate and global market uncertainty, employees looking to sharpen their skills and gain an edge to advance their careers will want to consider continuing education opportunities.

For employers, encouraging and supporting professional development comes with many benefits. For one, having skilled employees allows a company to grow and stay competitive. In addition, employees who show an interest in learning and growing professionally often make ideal candidates for future promotions and leadership roles within a company.

By keeping abreast of current industry practices and staying ahead of the game, employees set themselves up for future growth opportunities and for potential salary increases. Those who show an interest in growing professionally are perceived as assets, and consequently, more likely to survive cutbacks and layoffs. Continuing education courses can help nurture professional growth and give employees the skills they need to stay competitive.

According to Dr. Sheila Leblanc, director of continuing education at the University of Calgary, the number of enrolments at institutions offering continuing education courses appear to be on the rise. “In 2018, there were almost 500,000 registrations in continuing education courses at 31 Canadian universities. This speaks to the demand adult learners have for professional and personal development learning opportunities.” (Source: Canadian Association for University Continuing Education.)

In 2018 alone, 10,000 adult learners were enrolled in a University of Calgary continuing education program. “According to the university’s annual survey of certificate and diploma program graduates, the top five reasons people enrolled in continuing education programs were: to update their skills; to earn a credential; to upgrade their career; to enhance their earning potential; and to help them make a career change,” says Leblanc.

She adds, “Post-secondary continuing and professional education units in Calgary play a significant role in developing a skilled labour force. For example, in collaboration with Calgary Economic Development, University of Calgary continuing education along with Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Bow Valley College are developing programs to help train highly-educated workers who were displaced as a result of the changes in the energy sector. These programs will provide training for tech jobs such as data analysts, full stack developers and information technology project managers.”

Aside from flexibility and quality instruction, many choose to pursue continuing education to keep on top of the ever-changing workplace landscape. “Regardless of the generation, companies who want to stay ahead of the competition push to innovate their sectors and subsequently transform their workplace. However, now this is compounded as more careers are being affected by automation and artificial intelligence. As just one example, imagine you are mid-career and your educational background includes a marketing and/or communications degree. It’s unlikely you would have studied best practices and strategies around social media or digital campaigns,” explains Brad Mahon, dean of continuing education at Mount Royal University (MRU).

At MRU, the continuing education department offers a wide array of programs in a variety of disciplines. “Our most popular programs right now,” says Mahon, “include cybersecurity, project management and leadership development. These offerings see a very diverse student body from across multiple sectors. As well, we have a successful cannabis education program meeting the needs of that emerging sector.”

Stefan Myroniuk, IT manager with the Real Estate Council of Alberta, took advantage of the program offerings at MRU and recently completed the project management certificate program. “I am an advocate for adopting strong leadership, project management and information security practices and am now considering enrolling in MRU’s advanced cyber security certificate program to further grow my skill sets. I view MRU’s continuing education programs as opportunities to develop and align my professional development goals.”

Mahon adds, “We also have data supporting evidence that people are not staying in one career, rather, their professional life may be viewed as chapters, or even as different stories altogether.

“For many who find themselves unexpectedly (accidentally) in leadership roles, our management course will help learners fill in some gaps. We can help emerging and even established supervisors explore the fundamentals of leading people, understand how organizations work, how to manage conflict, and how to build and maintain successful teams. People are complex. These courses are always a good investment.”

The Calgary economy, in particular, has pushed many to diversify and acquire new skills that can be transferred to new roles and even a new career. “In Calgary, we’ve seen a big change in the energy sector too. As an example, people who had careers in oil and gas are recognizing their transferable capabilities and reskilling. With our short-term, flexible courses, continuing education is helping them to reset for their next professional chapter,” says Mahon.

Karen Cunliffe recently received a continuing education certificate in professional management from the University of Calgary, specializing in risk management, health, safety and the environment. She chose to enrol in the program in the hopes of “future-proofing” her career in Calgary’s oil and gas sector. “If I hadn’t been keeping my eye on the future, I probably would have been unemployed by now,” she says. “I’ve survived two very, very, deep rounds of layoffs, and I credit that to my education.”

For those already working at a mid-senior level, there also are programs geared at advancing or enhancing their roles or organizations, with a focus on professional development. Director of executive education Tanya Verhulp explains that her program runs through the Haskayne School of Business, separate from continuing education. Nonetheless, it’s another opportunity for mid-senior level employees to equip themselves with the skills and knowledge required to remain competitive and achieve sustained success in an uncertain business environment.

Verhulp is confident the Haskayne executive education program provides real-world results. “Our program offers an elevated educational experience that combines real-world knowledge, leading-edge research and practical applications to empower leaders and executives to achieve sustained success and to enable our business community to grow and prosper. It’s ideal for those looking to transition from a tactical to a strategic position; those wanting to become an influential leader within their organization; drive innovation and change within their team; or those who need to build their business acumen and be confident navigating scenarios within their organization.

“Haskayne’s open enrolment programs aim to equip learners with practical business concepts and develop their leadership proficiency. Whether you are a technical professional attempting to differentiate your skills, an experienced manager with increasing responsibilities or an executive challenged to compete in uncertain markets, Haskayne deliberately designs and delivers programs that support achieving career goals and return on investment for your organization.

Our diverse portfolio of executive programs offers leading-edge leadership skills, core business principles and high-performance strategies.”

Continuing education is, without a doubt, beneficial to both employer and employee. It aims to improve efficiency in the workplace, provide employees with promotion opportunities and help employers increase profitability. It’s an investment that yields positive results – for everyone involved.

“Investing in employee development creates engaged employees who work to align their success with their employer’s success,” says SAIT’s dean of business Janet Segato.

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