While COVID-19 has posed – first and foremost – a health emergency, overcoming the broader social impact of the pandemic requires a much broader skillset.
The pandemic has shown that a healthy mix of resilience and innovation are critical to weathering setbacks and obstacles. These traits will be equally essential as Canada reignites its economy and builds for a stronger future.
In the months ahead, there will be countless opportunities to consider how we live, learn, work and play. Yet, as the urgency of the pandemic eventually fades, we know new challenges will emerge – talent gaps in high-growth sectors, mental health and well-being, climate change and an aging population among them.
That’s why it is crucial that we prepare the next generation with the skills needed to overcome challenges, both known and unforeseen.
At Algonquin College, our employer partners were calling for job-ready graduates able to adapt and grow even before the pandemic. The pace of change has been unrelenting and the ability to adapt is even more important today. We expect that demand to ring even louder in the years ahead.
This reality requires a new kind of post-secondary education that stays ahead of demand, and faculty, with a keen sense of where industry is headed. In my view, this is what polytechnic education is all about and what makes it distinct.
Take, for example, Algonquin’s Health and Community Studies programs. While nurses and personal support workers have faced tremendous stresses over the last two years, we have had to consider what’s ahead for these occupations, particularly given Canada’s aging population.
One way we’ve responded is with an Accelerated Personal Support Care Workers program, building a combination of theoretical and experiential learning in partnership with the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, a long-term care facility in Ottawa. Learners attend a classroom on-site at the care home and work with the centre’s senior citizen clients under experienced mentors. When they graduate, students can transition seamlessly into the healthcare workforce.
Healthcare is not the only sector under duress. Statistics Canada’s recent report on job vacancies indicates many parts of the economy are struggling with workforce shortages. There is immense pressure for new entrants to be job-ready on day one.
We’ve found one of the best ways to rise to this challenge is by offering work-integrated learning opportunities – co-ops, clinical and field placements, and apprenticeships – to ensure students have work experience embedded in their post-secondary programs. The college has more than 50 co-operative education programs serving 4,000+ students and 3,000 employer partners every year.
Employers are also struggling to find the skills and the ability to rise to new workplace challenges as they emerge. At Algonquin, we call these innovation skills.
Over the last decade, our Office of Applied Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship has partnered on close to 3,000 projects, most with small businesses and social enterprises. Students not only contribute to these projects to develop competency and confidence, but they also begin to build their employer network. They learn how to problem-solve real-world challenges in a collaborative, team-based atmosphere that replicates the workplace.
Yet, the challenges in today’s workplaces are also evolving. We now anticipate that climate change will be a defining challenge for the next-generation workforce.
This year, we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence. In that time, 17,400 students have graduated from one of the 24 programs offered in this leading-edge facility, from architecture, design and engineering technology to building trades and building science. Each program embeds sustainability and gives learners opportunities to build climate resilience skills.
To address the complex challenges ahead, adaptability and innovation will be key. As we emerge from the pandemic in the months ahead, applied, hands-on learning combined with a deep connection to the business community will become an increasingly powerful way to reinvigorate the economy.