2021: The year in review

It was a year of innovation, collaboration and for one institution, a new name. As I reflect on all that has been accomplished in 2021, it is clear that our members rose to the challenges of the pandemic and, at the same time, actively contributed to efforts to combat climate change, advance Indigenous reconciliation and enable inclusive recovery. 

Here are a few highlights that stood out for me: 

Applied Research and Innovation 

From building portable astronaut shelters at Kwantlen Polytechnic University to developing the next generation of protective coating for COVID-19 vaccines at Seneca, our members engaged in a full-spectrum of applied research and innovation projects. 

Environmental sustainability was at the centre of many projects this year. Not only did the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology build one of the world’s greenest houses, they also opened their Water and Wastewater Pilot Scale Treatment Lab in October. Equipped with the latest technology, the new lab prepares students with the hands-on skills they will need to ensure a clean water supply in communities across the country.

A little further north, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) has been spearheading a project to train Indigenous youth and adults to reclaim and reforest former industrial sites. 

Innovation activity benefits communities in other ways as well. At the start of the year, Conestoga launched its Canadian Institute for Seniors Care, increasing both research and workforce capacity associated with an aging population. In May, Fanshawe opened a new oral health clinic, providing dental services to low-income members of the community. 


Partnerships with industry and community organizations make the polytechnic model of education stand apart. In 2021, many of our member institutions leveraged joint initiatives in support of underrepresented groups. 

George Brown College, for example, partnered with the Pinball Clemons Foundation and Royal Bank of Canada to provide BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) youth with educational resources and career pathways in business administration and financial services.

The British Columbia Institute of Technology, in cooperation with Siemens Canada, Denesoline Corporation and the Digital Supercluster, is providing vocational training on clean energy power plants to members of the Łutsël K’é Dene community. This program builds capacity within the community to operate microgrid systems and creates high-paying jobs while also expediting the transition of northern communities to renewable energy sources.

Beyond these new partnerships, we also saw some strengthen longstanding relationships. Algonquin College and HealthCareCAN signed an agreement to expand their collaboration to deliver online training programs and build a “Campus of Care” for healthcare professionals across the country. Humber and Seneca enhanced their Humber-Seneca Polytechnic Partnership by adding 200 new academic transfer pathways for students.

Over the years, Cowessess First Nation and Saskatchewan Polytechnic have engaged in several joint initiatives.  In June, when unmarked residential school graves were discovered, the pair launched a Remote Sensing of Residential School Cemeteries applied research project. While the project has refined the use of remote sensing technologies and produced scientific findings, it has, more importantly, helped Cowessess First Nation narrate their story.

New Programs 

While the micro-credential movement was well underway before the pandemic, these short-cycle offerings caught the attention of governments across the country in 2021.  Increasingly, micro-credentials have emerged as a solution to the dramatic pace of change in today’s labour market.

Four of our members – BCIT, Fanshawe, SAIT and Saskatchewan Polytechnic – launched micro-credential programs. Other institutions added to their micro-credential offerings in response to industry needs. For example, RRC Polytech, in collaboration with IBM Canada, released three complementary digital credentials to address underdeveloped skills in Manitoba’s IT sector. 

Our member institutions also continued to address emerging labour market gaps. When the Ontario government announced funding to train new personal support workers (PSW) back in February, all seven of our Ontario members became delivery partners offering free training to help fill more than 8,000 PSW jobs in the province’s health and long-term care sectors. 

Understanding that small organizations were struggling with the abrupt, pandemic-induced shift to online business, Sheridan launched a 12-week digital marketing program that included $500 toward online marketing activities and expenses. RRC Polytech developed a suite of new social innovation micro-credentials to help businesses embed reconciliation efforts into their operations. 

The work of Canada’s polytechnics in 2021 really demonstrated their role in addressing society’s most pressing challenges – developing a highly skilled talent pipeline, boosting business innovation and providing support to marginalized groups among them. With 2022 on the horizon, I look forward to seeing how our members continue to contribute to a country that is more equitable, sustainable and resilient than the one we live in today. 

For more of the top stories from 2021, check out Our Members page.

About the Authors

Alexandra HornbyMore Info

Alexandra Hornby is the Communications Coordinator at Polytechnics Canada.

Nikita SukharevMore Info

Nikita Sukharev is a writer at Jooble.