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Colleges Make Canada Work

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By Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada

Political leaders, educators, parents and employers recognize the importance of preparing the next generation of Canadians for their future in a rapidly changing world. The options and pathways open to young Canadians are challenging and the decisions they make today will have lasting impacts on their future career success. It is important that they make informed decisions.

Complicating students’ choices and key public policy decisions are some of the myths that exist around colleges. One is that their credentials are second best and another is that they only offer trades programs. We know that is not the case and it is time for people to rethink what they know about college education.

The truth is that colleges, institutes and polytechnics offer diverse training programs and credentials, including dual credit options with high schools; in-class training for apprentices; as well as post-secondary diploma or certificate programs across Canada’s economic and social sectors. Four-year degree programs are offered by 47 of our member institutions; along with post-graduate programs; and thousands of articulation agreements and partnerships with universities – both in Canada and abroad.

Canadian post-secondary institutions have had to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing job market in need of a highly skilled workforce to meet the needs of employers and students. This is especially true in technical training, where changing technologies and growing industries keep creating new opportunities for young Canadians. These shifts have put colleges and polytechnics in the spotlight, as more Canadians realize that a university degree is not the only way, nor a guarantee, to a fulfilling career.

For several years, Canadian Chamber of Commerce members have identified “finding the right people to do the job” as their number one priority. The Canadian Home Builders Association faces a similar and worsening problem in the residential construction industry. These difficulties are being felt across several key sectors of Canada’s economy and colleges are increasingly part of the solution.

Colleges offer innovative, applied learning that serves the needs of tomorrow’s students and workplaces, something that’s being noticed by Canadian business. Since February 36 leading national industry and community organizations have joined a Colleges and Institutes Canada led coalition to seek solutions to ongoing regional skills gaps.

The Canadian model of technical training is also one of the most sought after in the world. More Canadians should know that colleges across the country, some in their own backyard, are active global players in education in places like China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Africa and several others.

Canada’s colleges are also seeing significant support from government, industry and communities at home because of their connection to local needs. Despite tough economic times and fluid job markets, roughly 91% of Canadian college students find employment within six months of graduation, depending on where and in which field.

 A collaborative approach that works

The Canada Foundation for Innovation calls partnerships between private sector and colleges “instrumental in the transformation of the business innovation ecosystem in Canada.” Partnerships with SMEs let colleges provide students with real-world experience through in-school co-op, apprenticeship and internship opportunities. These are integral to the applied nature of college and polytechnic programs.

Collaboration also drives college applied research, which helps develop new products, refine processes and provide opportunities for students to innovate in sectors as diverse as social sciences, engineering and resource extraction. The hands-on approach of colleges also encourages an entrepreneurial mindset in students by building knowledge and skills needed to start, grow and manage a small business.

We agree with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which encourages Canadian parents and educators to understand that trades positions can be terrific long-term careers for young people. Coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit they can even lead to ownership.

Regardless of whether at a university, college, institute, polytechnic or cégep, there are many pathways to a great education and career. Increased access to post-secondary education, especially for Indigenous learners; disadvantaged youth; people with disabilities; older Canadians; and new immigrants, is hugely important and choosing the right path is key.

With a good foundation there’s no telling how far they will go. Provincial and territorial premiers, federal cabinet ministers, top Canadian businesspeople and community leaders of all stripes are among Canada’s college graduates.

Most importantly a college education provides Canadians with the tools they need to succeed in any career they choose, while contributing to their community and their country. At the end of the day, colleges make Canada work!