By Steve Higham, Senior R&D Manager, Business + Higher Education Roundtable
In our recent Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) report, Upskilling and Reskilling: how employers are retraining and retaining Canada’s workforce, we found that opportunities exist for industry to leverage the resources, expertise, and experience of post-secondary institutions to support their upskilling and reskilling efforts, particularly Continuing Education units.
For decades, Continuing Education units have been delivering certificate programs, non-credit courses, customized training, and other programs and services, primarily to help adults advance in their careers or transition to new jobs. For businesses unsure of where to turn for help, they are a valuable starting point for developing potential industry/post-secondary partnerships.
These types of partnerships can help businesses respond to a growing range of challenges, from helping their workforces develop social and emotional skills or in-demand digital skills to navigating the net-zero transition or the relentless pace of technological change (including automation and AI).
For many businesses, that means investing in employee training programs to ensure they have the talent they need, for both entry-level and established workers. The catch is that post-secondary institutions don’t always make partnering simple and straightforward. Businesses who look for information or to discuss partnerships find that multiple departments and faculties within the same institution run distinct programs with different levels of industry engagement, making the process time-consuming and confusing.
Another barrier is the perception that post-secondary programs are not agile enough to keep up with industry. For businesses facing immediate skills and talent shortages, the prospect of working collaboratively with a post-secondary institution that needs multiple levels of institutional and governmental approval to develop responsive programming may seem cumbersome.
What we found was that Continuing Education units have relevant experience, networks and expertise, and can often provide more flexible and responsive training opportunities than traditional degree-diploma programs. When BHER convened HR managers from leading companies to discuss upskilling and reskilling, we heard that an advantage of working with Continuing Education units is that they aren’t beholden to the degreed programs and can move quickly to incorporate emerging knowledge or skills demands into their programming.
What we also heard was that real or perceived barriers about partnering with post-secondaries are leading businesses to develop upskilling and reskilling programs on their own. While large companies have the resources and capacity to recognize skills gaps, identify appropriate partners, and develop targeted training programs, the majority of small and medium enterprises don’t.
The good news is that in the face of disruptive change, Canada is making significant investments in the national skills ecosystem. Budget 2023 renewed support and investment to develop entry-level talent for the environmental workforce, and the federal government has also established the Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program (SWSP), the Canadian Digital Adoption Program (CDAP), and the Upskilling for Industry Initiative (UII) to support mid-career workers. These investments will encourage the development of programs and initiatives to help employers and employees adapt to the disruptive pressures they face.
But we need to make sure that these investments don’t encourage siloed approaches or duplicate what already exists in Continuing Education units across the country. We need post-secondary institutions to be more proactive about communicating the services and value they provide to support upskilling and reskilling efforts. We need businesses to share knowledge and be open to collaborating on their upskilling and reskilling efforts. And we need networks or leadership forums for business leaders to share best practices and discuss ways to collaborate.
Here’s where organizations like BHER can help. BHER informs, connects, builds capacity, and drives change in Canada’s skills and talent ecosystems. As we speak, we’re leveraging our experience and expertise when it comes to convening partners, consulting with members and stakeholders, generating evidence, developing tools and resources, creating quality programming, and analyzing program impact to figure out how best we can support Canada’s upskilling and reskilling ecosystem.
Reach out if you’re a post-secondary institution or an employer doing something that’s working or looking for a partner.