Dr. Sheila LeBlanc
President-Elect, Canadian Association for University Continuing Education & Director, Continuing Education, University of Calgary
Unemployed? Feeling stuck at work? University continuing education may be the answer to your problem.
“Currently, universities across Canada serve a wide variety of continuing education students, including displaced mid- and high-skilled professionals who have degrees and significant work experience behind them,” says Dr. Sheila LeBlanc, Canadian Association for University Continuing Education President -Elect and Director of Continuing Education at the University of Calgary. “These are students pivoting their careers.”
In recent years, we’ve seen the effects of digital disruption in all industries in Canada, impacting fields such as auto manufacturing in Ontario and oil and gas in Alberta. And that was before the price of oil collapsed or COVID-19 had even begun to wreak its havoc.
“As a result of these events, the numbers and personal characteristics of those needing workforce development support have dramatically changed,” says Dr. LeBlanc. “Currently, more than 500,000 adult students enroll in university continuing education annually.”
Students choose to build on their education and experience through non-degree options relevant to their field or a field they’re contemplating. Through surveys, studies, and feedback, they’ve asked universities for fast, affordable, and convenient programs that deliver specific career benefits. They appreciate bite-sized programs that build on one another and fit easily into their personal lives.
Historically, university continuing education has always tried to meet the needs of its community. Initially, that was evening classes and correspondence programs that enabled students to earn degrees. Since then, many decades have passed. Today’s continuing education programs are offered in class and online, and respond to the most prevalent need in the community — workforce development. In this decade, people need to reskill and upskill.
“The days of completing a certificate, diploma, or degree, getting a job, working for 30 years, and retiring are gone. The ‘one and done’ learning model is a paradigm that’s no longer relevant,” says Dr. LeBlanc. “Today, to stay relevant, workers must keep their skills as up-to-date as possible.”
Currently, many students enroll in continuing education because they’re unemployed or displaced due to layoffs. They may be looking for a way back into the workforce. Some are working, but underemployed. They need new or updated skills that can lead to better positions. Others are employed but choose to update their skills so they can move up the ladder.
As the working world around us changes from factors that seem out of our control, Canadians can rest easy knowing that their local institutions are leading the charge in providing career-focused and forward-thinking education opportunities.
For example, each year, over 20,000 students attend more than 1,500 courses through UCalgary Continuing Education alone. Most students are working toward one or more of the 50 certificates offered, all of which can be taken online. These programs are updated regularly to respond to the needs of the student as well as the needs of the organizations who will employ them. This is just one example of the digital shift and opportunities available.