Monthly Archives: November 2012

Skills development – Lessons from the Canadian Community Colleges. Paul Brennan, ACCC

As policy makers we almost always approach issues top down and not often from the learner’s or employer’s viewpoint in the many communities that we are ultimately trying to improve. Years later we wonder why things have not changed dramatically in the communities.  It is important to ensure taking the learner, employer and community perspective to elucidate what policy issues should be focused upon.

What students or learners want above all these days is to be able to find or create quality employment. Without a job, talking about citizenship is quite abstract. This means that institutions  must be closely linked to the employers and their communities, who know better what the job opportunities will be and what specific skills will be required going forward. Decentralizing authority to institutions is a key policy decision as that is the only way to allow rapid responsiveness to change.

As the knowledge economy replaces the agricultural and industrial ones, and the high value-added service one replaces basic manufacturing, the institution will also have to pay close attention to equipping its learners with the specific technical skills required by ever more demanding employers, along with essential employability skills (‘soft skills’) related to their profession, as well as opportunities for work placements to allow learners to obtain the experience which most employers are asking for these days.

To keep up with the constant imperative for innovation coming from global competition, institutions need to equip their learners with attitudes that encourage them to constantly,innovate and entrepreneurial skills to set up small businesses that can grow out of the informal economy into the formal one, or that lead to the creation of new businesses that take on the world of new global opportunities. In a world that requires constant upgrading of skills to remain competitive, and mobility when jobs move elsewhere, institutions and systems need to provide their learners with easy pathways to continuous learning and certifications that are recognized in other countries.

And as the positive economic development in a highly skilled global context is also creating a sub-class of people who cannot even get onto the first step of the escalator of skills acquisition, institutions need to be providing those marginalized populations with very practical, job-focused basic learning, allowing them to get onto the escalator.

The decentralized Canadian system, and particularly its highly responsive college and institute system, has allowed and indeed forced institutions to constantly adapt in order to better serve their employers, communities and especially students and adult learners,. What are the indicators of success?

  • Canada has the highest proportion of its population accessing post-secondary education, half of those are now doing so via a college or institute, and parents no longer consider colleges as a second-class option;
  • The 130 public colleges and institutes of Canada have an overall average of 91% of its graduates who obtain employment within six months of graduation, and a 95% rate of satisfaction of their employers with the quality of their new hires;
  • Institutions are measured by independently verified  and publicly available  indicators of performance, such as obtaining employment, and are funded accordingly;
  • Colleges and institutes have had the authority to rapidly develop new types of offerings and modes of learning that match the pace of change, including:

–       Pre-technology programs to allow secondary school drop-outs to catch up and acquire the basic skills needed to start a program, in dignity and with plenty of support services;

–       Two and three year diplomas for technicians and technologists or mid-level managers,

–       Four-year Bachelor degrees with mandatory supervised work internships amounting to one year of time,

–       Post-graduate certificates and diplomas for university graduates who cannot find employment and adults wanting shorter-term specialized upgrading, and

–       Applied research and technology transfer services for industry, and particularly small and medium sized businesses and start-ups.

  • Over 1,000 learning centres were set up across our vast country, to bring learning to the learners in remote communities, instead of waiting for the learner to perhaps travel to us;
  • Blended learning solutions were offered to reach out to more learners, including e-learning options, mobile workshops for practical training, and web-based strategies for the connected learner of today;
  • Green campuses were created across the country saving energy, training professionals for the new energies of tomorrow and acting as demonstration sites and centres of expertise on the green economy in their communities.

What about quality control and qualification frameworks?  Provincial ministries of education have very rigorous traditional quality control process frameworks, but are moving to control quality more by results, via employability and employer satisfaction rates, Decentralization does not mean losing all control, but rather that control shifts to measuring outcomes and allowing institutions the autonomy to adapt rapidly so that they can meet the changes in the market.

Is such a system a useful reference point for Asia?  Apparently as ACCC and Canadian colleges have been selected to help design and set up new or reformed TVET skills systems in Vietnam and Cambodia, to help open up institutions to poorly educated citizens in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and to help develop leaders, not only managers, but leaders of more responsive, community-driven and accessible systems by China.

A recently published forty-year History of ACCC in International Development: From Education to Employment, will be available shortly to see how some Canadian ideas were adapted and adopted in Asia, as well as countries like Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Jordan and South Africa, to name a few.