In many contemporary industries and workplaces, training and education upgrading is no longer an extra, as much as a vital necessity.
Academic institutions like SAIT and Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, as well as employers agree. Industrial training helps develop skills in the application of theory to practical knowledge and helps develop skills and techniques which are directly relevant to desired workplace goals. It also increases responsibility and good work habits.
Industrial training and education exposes students to real work in an industrial environment and, at the same time, enables them to gain knowledge through hands-on experience and job execution.
Employers and academics are unanimous. Industrial training helps develop work integrity, project management, time management, communication and other useful skills.
In the past five years or so, there have been many changes in industry, as well as training. Pandemic lockdowns and disruptions of the past two years have had a tremendous impact on training and education, primarily with the transition to online learning, emerging technologies and new ways of doing things.
The supply and demand for programs is being re-defined as are the requirement of workplaces and the expectations of students.
“There has been a move to highly tailored, customized programming that fits the needs of organizations and individual,” says Tanya Verhulp, director, Executive Education at the Haskayne School of Business. “There is less desire for off-the-shelf programming. If an organization is going to invest in learning, they want to see a behaviour shift as a result. Business training now – as opposed to five years ago – is all about return on investment.
“Micro-credentials such as stacked certificates, certifications and degrees – are becoming increasingly important for hiring and promotion. How people get these credentials have changed with a heavier reliance on technology, personalization and social learning. Overall, individuals are having to become lifelong learners.”
The organization’s expectations have changed, and so has curriculum and student focus. According to Janet Segato, dean of the SAIT School of Business, “The pace of change in industry continues to accelerate and education has changed to ensure graduates are ready to successfully launch their careers and lives. Digital knowledge and digital IQ are required foundational knowledge for most careers as more companies are transforming how they use technology in all areas of their business.
“Employers are also seeking graduates that have human skills, the ability to think critically, understand problems and apply creative solutions, communicate well in different modalities and to be adaptable.”
For generations, “industrial training” became a misleading, misunderstood cliché and for some, it is still misnomer and a stereotype. “When people think about training, they may think about things such as mandatory health and safety training or a one-day workshop that their organization mandated them to attend,” Verhulp says. “Those still exist, but truly building leadership and business acumen skills takes time and a growth mindset through an engaging process that is purposefully designed, such as a leadership development program.
“The transformation that an organization can undergo as a result of several employees completing a program together – such as common language, breaking down of silos, shared understanding of key concepts or working through mentored projects, can be unprecedented.”
While emerging technology was a fact of industrial training life several years before the COVID disruptions struck, managing the work-from-home (WFH) and remote learning surge war speed accelerated the role of technology in training and education.
“Like all industries, technology is transforming education, not only in what is taught, but how it is taught. We want our students to learn the technology being used in industry and have a level of comfort and openness to learning new technology as they continue their careers,” Segato points out.
“Throughout the pandemic, all industry along with educational institutions have escalated the use of virtual tools and collaborative tools for operational efficiency and communications. SAIT graduates need to know how to participate or host a virtual meeting, how to collaborate on projects using virtual tools and how to start a professional relationship with a colleague virtually who may be in the same city or may be around the world. Many programs are exploring virtual reality and artificial intelligence to enhance the learning experience and ensure graduates are ready for their future.”
In addition to the surge of technology that was an abrupt part of the sudden switch to online learning, changing trends and requirements of contemporary workplaces are continually impacting industrial training and education.
Verhulp explains that one of the key drivers for change has been a huge migration in people moving into new positions, careers, industries which require further skills. Many companies are realizing they need to continue investing in their employees’ learning and development to keep them engaged.
“A highly impactful leadership development program and a sense of the employer investing in their people can aid in engagement and retention,” she says. “It’s now an expectation from employees that there will be opportunities for continuous professional development throughout their careers. The skills required to be successful in the future workplace are changing and employers are seeing gaps.”
Another driver for the changing need in business training is that organizations are needing to adapt their core business and processes and they need employees to lead that change. “Aging demographics are driving the need for business training. Many senior leaders are preparing for retirement in coming years and training will help fill this gap – by helping junior leaders to grow,” she emphasizes.
According to training and education experts, one of the biggest challenges for today’s student participants is time commitment, with many participants being unable to get the time from work or just having too much on their plates to commit. “We find that participants often share that they are impressed by the value and return on investment they receive from a well-designed program,” Verhulp says.
“The opportunities to apply learning, through practical tools and resources or Action Learning Projects provide significant return on investment for learners and their organizations.”
Major companies, like Suncor, rely on opportunities for training and education of employees. “A number of factors have contributed to the increase in training over the past several years,” says Leithan Slade, spokesperson at Suncor. “Large scale implementations involving technology and process upgrades, as well as business simplification required new training for awareness and upskilling.
“Migration from paper to system tracking resulting in higher reported training numbers, an increased focus on operator driven reliability in fixed plants operations, front line leadership training and specialized training for analytics roles. The addition of new on-demand online content has provided employees the opportunity to explore new areas of interest and to develop existing ones,” he says.
Changing times call for changing training and education programs.
Currently, at Calgary’s SAIT, the most popular programs include health care, aviation, information technology and business. Specifically in business, supply chain management is growing as is the demand for business analytics across all areas of business education.
At Haskayne, popular programs include Strategic Leadership Development, Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking, Digital Transformation and preparing for business of the future, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“There is a focus on upskilling and re-skilling as so much transition and change are taking place across all industries,” Tanya Verhulp emphasizes. “The ‘great resignation’ has caused so many companies to re-think their hiring and talent acquisition practices. Many technical experts are being promoted into leadership positions and there is a need for support in their transition to their new role.”