Lifelong Learning is Key as Every Profession Will Be Disrupted
- Student, workers, academia and employers must adopt and encourage a philosophy of lifelong learning to ensure the continued relevance and adaptability of their skillsets in the changing world of work.
- To lead in terms of talent Canada must: invest in retraining talent; invest in post-secondary infrastructure; increase funding for Indigenous post-secondary education; and increase the funding for applied research in colleges.
- Post-secondary institutions and the private sector must collaborate to define and design the programs that will train the workforce required to meet the labour market’s future needs.
Canadian businesses must help their employees stay up to date and instill a culture of lifelong learning that supports their professional development. It takes much more time to recruit and train a new employee, rather than an existing team member. In this world where there are many choices, keeping your employees and talent is a matter of survival as a company and an economy.
How would you describe the importance of Canada’s colleges and institutes to our national economy and workforce?
The role of colleges is critical. It is part of their DNA to work closely with their communities and help individuals acquire the skills they need to succeed in society. They also help employers by ensuring that they have access to skilled graduates that are trained to the highest standard and ready to take on the challenges and responsibilities of their job. They also drive innovation because of the applied research that they do. In 2018, colleges were involved in over 7,300 research partnerships to develop new products, new services, and new ways of doing things in a more efficient way.
“Canadian colleges and institutes, and the people they have trained, generated over $190 billion in added income to the national economy.”
We did an impact study using data from 2014 and 2015 – so the results today would be even higher today – that showed that Canadian colleges and institutes, and the people they have trained, generated over $190 billion in added income to the national economy. Meanwhile, Canadian society as a whole, received a return of $5.40 in added national income and social savings for every dollar spent on providing college education.
What are the most disruptive forces impacting the future of work and how must we prepare our workforce for that future?
Artificial intelligence (AI) and technology in general are major disruptors of the future of work. Because things are moving faster than ever, the key is to ensure that strong foundational skills are developed so that workers are able to adapt to change.This is fundamental. Our future workforce needs to have not only technical skills but also digital skills.
Another disruptive force I would mention is the question of lifelong learning. We have long assumed that from the ages of 6 to 25, you go to school and that is it, when in fact, it is very important to continue cultivating and nurturing lifelong learning. I consider lifelong learning a major issue because many companies do not encourage it, and the people that do not pursue lifelong learning will eventually lose out.
“I consider lifelong learning a major issue because many companies do not encourage it, and the people that do not pursue lifelong learning will eventually lose out.”
When talking about the professions most impacted by disruption, everyone thinks of the truck driver. Autonomous cars and trucks are coming around the corner. With that said, I believe that every profession will be disrupted. Whether you talk about lawyers, electricians, or even nursing, all of them will be disrupted. That doesn’t just mean that there will be jobs lost, but also that there will be new jobs created.
Would you say that colleges and institutes are nimbler and have been more reactive to the changing needs of the workforce?
Absolutely. About 50 years ago, colleges and institutes were created to serve the needs of communities. Now, 95% of Canadians live within 50 kilometers of a college or institute. Colleges work with labour market information in order to determine whether there is a need for a specific program. Also, no matter where in the country, colleges all have program advisory committees made up of experts and business owners from their community. They provide advice on the curriculum, equipment, skills that need to be developed, and they give further insight into the labour market.
Another thing institutions in the college and institute system have begun to do is offer degrees, because there was demand from our program advisory committees for it. They needed graduates to know a bit more and have what it takes to become supervisors or specialists in a given field. Now close to 1,000 degrees are offered across the Canadian college system. Not long after, again at the request of industry leaders, we started to offer post-graduate certificates. This allows students to go into focused study and into a specialized field. This is something that our institutions have adapted to and we now have close to 2,000 post-grad certificates, and every year we keep seeing more added. It allows our institutions to be very nimble, agile, and quick to answer industry’s needs.
We did a study across the country that found that despite the fact that education is a provincial and territorial jurisdiction, with 13 ministries of education, program advisory committees exist in every single province and territory. 91% of our graduates find a job, and we have data on that from across the country. The employer satisfaction level of our graduates is 93% nationally, so those numbers show the success of academia and the business or non-profit sector working together.
When we did this study on program advisory committees, we discovered that a number of colleges that had become universities, especially in British Columbia, retained their program advisory committees because they knew their value.
How can post-secondary institutions prepare future students and workers for a rapidly evolving job market and economy?
It is important to ensure that we encourage and nurture a philosophy of lifelong learning because there may not be programs right now for a job that will be created in four years.One of the things that institutions are doing more and more is encouraging students to create their own programs. We have institutes like the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Vancouver already implementing that, allowing students to go into different schools or different disciplines.
We instill a culture of lifelong learning at the college and institute level by having role models and people from the industry visit and talk to our students about their industry of focus. All of our students do internships in their relevant job markets so they can see for themselves what they do not know that they will need to work on. They have a whole new appreciation of what is needed in the job market because they have this hands-on experience of being there.
“It is important to ensure that we encourage and nurture a philosophy of lifelong learning because there may not be programs right now for a job that will be created in four years.”
Personally, I started off as a biologist, and then I decided to study in Education because there were hardly any jobs as a biologist. When I started to teach, I was teaching Literature, Theatre, and Poetry. So I did another degree but in Social Sciences because I realized I had never done Philosophy and other basic Arts programs and I felt like something was missing from my education.
This approach to learning is the future. I believe the more we work towards merging the disciplines, the better we will do. We need to tell our youth to pursue studying, be curious, and never stop learning. You can learn from books, from videos, and any other medium but do not stop being curious. If you are curious in the workplace, you will do better than others who limit themselves to their little world at their desks. Hone your soft skills such as working with others and being sensitive to the sustainability of what you do.
What is your advice to policymakers and businesses on how to strengthen Canada’s ability to lead in terms of talent?
There are five main things I would cover. First,I would ask to increase the investment in retraining talent because we need to increase our capabilities in this respect to ensure that employees can always continue to function at the highest level. Linked to that, I would put way more emphasis on prior learning assessments. This way, when people are taking different programs or training, we will first take into account what they have already learnt. There was a popular training benefit that was stipulated in the last budget, but it only applied to training. I would tweak it just a little bit to ensure that those funds can be used for prior learning assessments as well so that we can build on what people already know.
“I would ask to increase the investment in retraining talent because we need to increase our capabilities in this respect to ensure that employees can always continue to function at the highest level.”
Second, investment in post-secondary infrastructure is a must. We have old buildings and a need for about $7 billion in upkeep and upgrades. Our infrastructure is old, and it needs to be updated especially taking into account environmental sustainability and accessibility for persons with disabilities.
Third, I would increase funding for Indigenous people to study at the post-secondary level. While the government did provide more funding in the last two budgets, there is a need for more because there are a lot of Indigenous students who still do not have access.
Fourth, I would increase the funding for applied research in colleges. This research has helped small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) develop new products and services and, at the same time, create more jobs. With just $40 million more, we could double the number of companies that we are already helping. Currently, colleges and institutes only receive 2.5% of all federal research funding given.
“The economy will work best when nobody is left behind and we all grow together in a sustainable way. That is the future and the type of Canada that I want.”
A final piece of advice would be that growth must be sustainable. I say this not only from an environmental perspective, but also in terms of how important it is that everybody has access to work. Right now, there are still pockets of our society that do not have work, such as persons with disabilities that have less access, Indigenous communities that are disenfranchised, or people that did not go to school because of a lack of funding. The economy will work best when nobody is left behind and we all grow together in a sustainable way. That is the future and the type of Canada that I want.