by Heidi Riley
In response to the huge shifts in the labour force in the past 30 years, Holland College is changing the way it delivers its programming.
“In 2020, for every 10 people retiring, there were just seven to replace them, including immigrants and those working longer,” says Sandy MacDonald, President of Holland College. “We had to recognize this demographic shift, which is quite alarming. People are having fewer children, and industries are struggling to find workers.”
A new strategic plan developed by Holland College is responding to the demands of these new demographics. The principles of the new plan are innovative and flexible programming, support and inclusion, environmental leadership, and corporate innovation.
“The strategic plan was an exercise in communicating with our students, graduates, alumni and staff, non-governmental organizations, and over 170 submissions from industry,” says Sandy.
“Employers are telling us they need workers now. They want innovative programming, because they can’t wait one, two, or even three years for people to graduate from various programs. We have been visiting communities all over PEI to talk about what we heard and how to move forward.”
As a result of the consultations, Holland College has broadened its focus. “Traditionally we have had two major groups of students: those coming directly from high school, and those who are unemployed,” says Sandy.
“What we are hearing now, based on the demographics in Atlantic Canada, is that we need to focus on a third group of people: those who are already employed and need to be reskilled or upskilled. Upskilling is needed when someone is working in a job that requires skills training in a new technology or process. Reskilling is for people who need training to acquire a new set of skills to become employed again.
“Often, individuals who need training do not have the time or the inclination to come to the college for one or two or three years. We need to reskill and upskill them while they are employed. SkillsPEI has been invaluable in helping to fund some of these projects.”
Examples of training changes
“The Early Childhood sector on PEI is seeing a significant shortage of people available to work,” says Sandy. “We are trying to help the sector find the staff they need without waiting two years for people to finish an Early Childhood Education diploma. It is an innovative way to deliver this program, and we are working closely with the provincial government and the Early Childhood Development Association of PEI.”
A second similar initiative is aimed at reskilling workers for seniors’ long-term residence and care facilities. “Again, we are working with the provincial government and industry representatives to support this initiative.”
Another program is focused on bioscience, which is one of the fastest growing industries on PEI. The Canadian Alliance for Skills & Training in Life Sciences (CASTL) helps people already working in the industry to acquire more skills by taking courses at Holland College, UPEI, and other colleges and universities in the region.
The Holland College Culinary Arts program has added a short five-month entry-level Cook training program. Graduates can work in restaurants to support the trained Chef.
Students pursuing a Red Seal designation usually take time off work to attend college programming (block release). Moving forward, Red Seal Students in select trades will be able to continue working while taking part in online education.
Barriers people face when going back to school
Sandy says it can be a big challenge to go back to school. “If you have been in the workforce or out of school for a while, it can be daunting to come into a highly structured educational program and be expected to hit the ground running. It will probably take some time to get comfortable.”
Other barriers may be financial, academic, family responsibilities, self-confidence issues, or the perception that it is too challenging to go back to school.
Choosing the right program of study is also important. “People who fail to complete their coursework usually face one of two major stumbling blocks. The program may not be a good “fit” for them, i.e. it is not what they thought it would be, or they may have problems supporting themselves financially while in school.”
Holland College has recognized that one way to ensure a student’s chosen field will be a good fit and that they have the skills employers are looking for is through workplace integrated learning, which could include co-ops, internships, and work terms. There are several types of approaches.
“Employers are looking for people who are ready to work. They assume new hires have the technical skills needed for the job, but in addition, they are also looking for well-developed essential skills like literacy, numeracy, critical thinking skills, the ability to work with others, and good work habits. They are also looking for good communication skills, leadership skills, and the ability to work independently and problem solve.
“There are many terms associated with these types of skills, including essential, employability, soft, 21st Century, etc. What is similar about these terms is that these skills are hard to teach and access, and they are the skills that the more technical training tends to “stick” to.
“Typically, these skills are taught at the end of the program through a work term with an employer. Now, we hope to integrate more with industry. Rather than take a two-year program and do a work term at the end of that time, students may go out to work after the first semester, and will be evaluated on their performance in industry and in the classroom.
“If an employer notices a student who has good technical skills but does not work well with others, for example, we will know shortly after the first semester that the student needs to work on those skills in order to be successful.”
For more information about Holland College, contact the Admissions Office at 902-629-4217 or 1-800-446-5265.