Polytechnics are leaders in the delivery of experiential education, providing diverse work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities from applied research and capstone projects to interactive simulations and apprenticeships. To stay ahead of the curve, polytechnics continuously refine and improve programs in response to learner and industry needs.
At Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the commitment to hands-on experiential learning opportunities ensures graduates are work-ready. Partnerships with organizations like Riipen and the Business + Higher Education Roundtable illustrate an ongoing effort to strengthen opportunities for learners.
Polytechnics Canada sat down with Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Dr. Has Malik, to discuss the school’s industry partnerships and the strategies used to maintain experiential learning throughout the pandemic.
Polytechnics Canada: Your president often says industry is at the heart of education at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Can you tell us how this led to the creation of a new program in the agriculture and food production sector?
Has Malik: More than 700 industry professionals comprise our Program Advisory Committees, helping Saskatchewan Polytechnic ensure its programming responds to labour market needs and conditions. Our industry partners in the ag sector identified a need for multi-skilled workers, which led to the creation of a new three-year Agriculture and Food Production diploma. The program is designed to provide learners with the foundational, technical, environmental and managerial skills to meet the needs of employers, beginning in September 2022.
A key component of the program is that students will have an opportunity to participate in three paid work terms. This applied learning element ensures graduates are ready to contribute on the job on day one.
PC: How does work-integrated learning support the skill development of students?
HM: WIL allows students to deepen their core professional and technical skills, while also honing skills like communication, teamwork and collaboration. Employability skills such as such as critical thinking, problem-solving and digital literacy are also crucial to career success. While we build these competencies into our programs, WIL provides students a chance to employ them in an actual work setting. For example, participating in an applied research project requires a combination of technical and soft skills to solve a real-world challenge alongside a business partner. There is also a digital component to virtually every program we offer because employers tell us digital literacy is critical.
PC: What effect have the past 20 months had on your ability to offer experiential learning? How are you approaching hands-on training right now?
HM: There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, so we’ve had to be creative in our approach. In 2020-21 our instructors were tremendously innovative, from developing cook-at-home courses for students to using online WIL solutions like Riipen. Last academic year we also used simulation to train nursing students for whom clinical placements had become a real challenge.
Sask Polytech has returned to mostly in-person learning. Sask Polytech is a strong advocate that vaccination is the single most effective public health measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated, wear a level three procedural mask, wash your hands regularly and stay home when sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.
PC: As skills gaps emerge, how can businesses and organizations connect with Saskatchewan Polytechnic?
HM: It is as simple as picking up a telephone. Our deans and program heads welcome conversations about skills needs, whether they come through our Program Advisory Committees or directly from companies looking to collaborate with us on an applied research projects.
Another great resource is our Co-operative Education Office. By getting involved in WIL, employers actively help train students, while also evaluating candidates for future employment. For employers, it’s one way to fill short-term staffing needs. Meanwhile, students gain workplace experience where they can apply what they’ve learned in class.
We can also assist companies as they look to enhance the skills of current employees. Both our new Surge Micro-Credentials and a wide range of other professional development courses are available through our School of Continuing Education.
To learn more, see how Polytechnics Canada’s members are shaping the future of work.