Published on 2013/09/13
AUDIO | Putting the Pieces in Place for a Stronger Labor Market
Without government support for workforce training programs, many adults — among them new migrants — might not be able to access programming critical to participating in the labor market.

The following interview is with Marie Bountrogianni, interim dean of the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. Bountrogianni recently discussed the importance of government funding when it comes to ensuring continuing and professional education programming is accessible to those who need it the most. In this interview, she discusses the concept in more detail and shares her thoughts on what the impact of a loss of funding would be on these programs, and the importance of these programs to adult students.

1. Why is government funding so critical in the creation and delivery of courses in high-demand fields for non-traditional students?

Well, first it shows a commitment to education and I think that’s really important for non-traditional students — actually I think it’s important for all students — to know that their government is committed to education. It is a great equalizer.

If the government cuts this funding, then some accessibility to some students is also cut. Not all students come from comfortable financial backgrounds and the government funding allows for more students to go to universities, for example, in their hometown rather than having to leave their hometown, and that’s a major savings for them. So the more the funding, the more the spaces, and the more the options, for students.

It also offers more diversity to course offerings so that if new ideas and new market trends point to requirements in a different area, then this funding can be used to develop new courses and, indeed, new degrees as well.

2. What are the most significant challenges involved in creating skills-bridging programs that help non-traditional students upgrade their skills for the workforce?

There are a lot of challenges, both on the student side and on the university side. One, the students — again, they come from diverse backgrounds, which is wonderful for our community and we celebrate that. But it also means they come from uneven backgrounds as far as where their learning levels are; that’s one challenge. We address it very successfully at Ryerson, but it does take a great deal of work both on the students’ part as well on the educators’ part.

The next is trying to predict with accuracy where the market trends are so that these non-traditional students that make these great sacrifices to go to school — often when they’re working, often when their English is not up to speed, great sacrifices, great challenges — when they finish, we want to make sure they can get a job with their certificate or their degree. And, so, one of the challenges is knowing and being able to counsel them on where the jobs are. And I think universities, in general, need to do a better job of counseling students in that area.

3. What would happen to these programs if provincial and federal government bodies cut back their funding?

A number of students would not be able to further their education. We keep hearing about the need for physicians, for example. We know there are many foreign-trained physicians and yet there are limited spaces for them to match the Canadian standards, for example.

I know when I was in government, our government 10 years ago doubled the amount of spaces; still it isn’t enough. At Ryerson, for example, we have bridging programs for dietetics and mid-wifery and other programs. We need these people. Here in a multicultural society like Canada, like Toronto, people from all sorts of different backgrounds in the medical field are crucial in dealing with patients, so their education would not be furthered and so this funding is essential.

Also, we live in a knowledge economy. We have to be lifelong learners staying ahead of the trends and, without the funding and without the continuing education, [it] just can’t be done.

4. What would be the long-term impact on the economy should funding for these programs be cut?

Well, a recent report showed a prediction that more than 700,000 Ontarians will be unemployable by 2021 due to insufficient education and skills or not the right education and skills, and so we need to address this. In fact, even in the United States right now, there’s a huge high unemployment rate and yet there are 4 million jobs unfilled.

There’s a mismatch and we have to do a better job of counseling adult students as to where the positions are. Now, having said that, that doesn’t mean that students should not study what they love — they should definitely study what they love — but, at the same time, augment the skills needed to get the job, in other words, communication skills, entrepreneurial skills, project management skills and computer skills. Those are areas where, regardless of where your background is, if you have those skills, you are employable.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of these programs to not only the buttressing the workforce but to helping more students gain accessibility to workforce training programs?

Well, it’s extremely important. You only have to go to graduations of, particularly, these non-traditional students where it is very emotional because one knows the sacrifices that these families go through for one of them, if not more than [one], to obtain an education.

So, it is very important; it’s important to our economy — but, as a psychologist myself — it’s also important to the self-esteem and the dignity of the person who wants an education. They deserve it as a human right and I’m very proud to be affiliated with a university and a continuing education school such as the Chang School where we take this very seriously. The students come first.

This interview has been edited for length.

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Readers Comments

Francis Beyer 2013/09/13 at 11:48 am

An interesting interview. Skills bridging programs target adults who have (often significant) credentials and experience in another country, and simply need a bit of extra preparation to meet their new country’s standards. They should not have to go through the arduous process of starting from the bottom all over again. Thus, I think the key is to keep skills bridging programs closely tied with market trends. This will ensure students are receiving value for investment, in the sense that they will come out of these programs ready to jump right back into the market.

Ravi Narayan 2013/09/13 at 2:45 pm

Skills bridging programs are important not only for the skills training they offer (e.g. operating new medical machinery) but for cultural training, which can’t be underestimated. I work in the medical profession and I am privileged to be in a role where I train my hospital’s new recruits. I notice in my orientation sessions the ones who did skills bridging programs and the ones who didn’t, because the ones who did catch on more quickly to our style of medical care in Canada, even though both groups’ hard skills are comparable. I’m not even talking about the differences in medical care between Canada and India, China or Iran (three countries many of our doctors come from), which one would expect to be quite different. Even US or UK recruits have a different style because of the different ways medical care is organized in each country. When medical professionals come to Canada, they need to know about our medical culture so they can settle successfully into their new careers. Bridging programs offer that and are, thus, invaluable.

Ursula V.F. 2013/09/15 at 11:01 pm

I agree with the overall message that funding these bridging programs is important. However, I’m not sure Boutrogianni makes a convincing case that these have to be funded by the government. If industries are finding this type of training useful, why aren’t they contributing to program operations? They’re the key beneficiaries, after all. Seems to me we’ve forgotten employers have a responsibility for job training as well; governments can’t shoulder it alone.

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