Leadership through Crisis – Polytechnics and COVID-19

Canada’s polytechnics are best known for deploying a just-in-time talent pipeline, solving pressing business innovation challenges and for offering agile solutions that respond to emerging needs. The COVID-19 crisis offers a case in point when it comes to community leadership, flexible problem-solving and delivering the talent Canada needs.

Polytechnics are contributing talent to the frontline COVID-19 response force. Many of Canada’s healthcare providers – including those in hospitals, eldercare facilities and the country’s paramedics have received hands-on training and preparation at a polytechnic institute. Police and security personnel are among our alumnae.

Thousands of Canada’s skilled tradespeople – at work in manufacturing facilities, on construction job sites and in critical infrastructure maintenance roles – received their technical training at Canada’s polytechnics. The applied and hands-on nature of polytechnic education prepares learners to enter the workforce at full speed, with the skills and real-world experience to make an immediate impact.

In the face of labour shortages, the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario asked post-secondary institutions to allow students in respiratory therapy programs to leave their programs early, deploying them to healthcare settings where they will be essential to patients that require ventilators. Fanshawe College responded with 43 students who were a month shy of graduating, knowing that they have spent time in real-world clinical settings and are ready to put their skills to use working with COVID-19 patients.

At Red River College in Winnipeg, 14 students in the Health Information Management program have responded to a call from Manitoba Health’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit and are now employed to assist with vital record-keeping and tracking related to the spread of the disease.

The British Columbia Institute of Technology has created an online, self-directed fast-track education course to help frontline registered nurses and healthcare providers provide critically-needed support to patients with COVID-19. The open-learning course is specifically designed for healthcare providers caring for patients requiring high acuity care, specialty monitoring and critical care.

Given the important part Canada’s polytechnics play when it comes to helping businesses and not-for-profits grow, scale and innovate, the pandemic has also offered an opportunity to put their innovation capacity to work.

Algonquin College has mobilized their 3D printers to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE), including face shields, for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. They are helping Hacking Health Ottawa recruit others with 3D printing capabilities to do the same.

Humber College has offered its advanced manufacturing technology and expertise, including equipment like 3D printers and CNC machines at the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation, to manufacture components for ventilators. The institution has also mobilized experts, researchers and students across faculties to support business and community partners as and when required.

As major community hubs, Canada’s polytechnics have shown tremendous leadership and charity over the last weeks. Not only have they donated thousands of pounds of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer and cleaning products, but have also been able to loan out equipment such as hospital beds and ventilators.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology donated 24 ventilators from its respiratory therapy program, preparing the equipment for clinical use even before the request came in from local health authorities.

Institutions have also mobilized emergency funds for students, recognizing that many are without employment or a source of income. At George Brown in downtown Toronto, their COVID-19 Relief Fund stands at $850,000 and will provide short-term support to students coping with financial, food or housing insecurity. The fund is the result of a partnership between the George Brown Student Association, George Brown Foundation, the college and the Government of Ontario’s recent emergency investment in higher education.

Recognizing that food insecurity is an issue for more than students, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s School of Hospitality donated 10,000 pounds of food to Calgary’s Leftovers Foundation.

The examples go on and on, but it is clear Canada’s polytechnics are responding to crisis by throwing the full weight of their talent, innovation and community spirit behind response efforts. There is no doubt that these same capabilities will be essential ingredients in the aftermath of COVID-19. For Canada’s polytechnics, the work is never finished.

About the Author

Daniel Komesch, Director of Policy at Polytechnics Canada.

As Director of Policy, Daniel is responsible for all Polytechnics Canada policy files, with expertise related to skills and employment, apprenticeship and labour market information. He supports the work of Vice Presidents, Academic, including an ongoing initiative to consider how members can collaborate to offer micro-credentials. Daniel holds a Master’s in International Public Policy from the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) and a Bachelor in Political Science, also from WLU. He is a prolific writer on the subject of polytechnic education.