With today’s economy being what it is, it’s never been more important to arm our workforce with practical skills that are in demand, and which the local business community needs to remain vibrant. It’s true on a macro economic level, and it’s true on an individual level, where a trade or other professional skill can mean the difference between feeding your family and lining up at the food bank.
Naturally, giving people a means to acquire marketable career skills isn’t an issue that’s unique to our community. In fact it was recently addressed at the highest level in the U.S., when president Barack Obama outlined a plan to reduce unemployment through partnerships with community colleges, which he praised as “places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now.”
As president of one such community college, the recognition that hands-on career training provides a direct path toward meeting a community’s labour needs is a concept I’ve promoted for years.
Traditionally, students have been told a university degree is the only acceptable path for any self-respecting high school grad. I have great respect for the energy, effort and commitment it takes to get a university degree, but one could argue that a B.A. in Philosophy, for example, is less marketable in today's job market than focused, practical career training.
Fortunately, or perhaps out of sheer necessity, young people today are migrating toward focused, career-training programs. In the past six months, for example, enrolment in many of our programs at Discovery has doubled. Graduates are leaving the college career-ready and are landing jobs that pay substantially more than minimum wage. In fact, 100 per cent of a recent class of health care assistant grads had been hired within the field even before their graduation ceremony.
Private career training providers are small and flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the community; if there’s a skill shortage, new programs can quickly be established to fill the need. And with rigid standards set by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency (PCTIA), private colleges are highly accountable to students.
There will always be a need for intellectual scholars and public universities. But community colleges are no longer the dirty secret of higher education; increasingly, they’re what’s driving local economies.