Creating a Strong Workforce

NorQuest College

“NorQuest has said that we will focus on three angles,” adds NorQuest College President and CEO Dr. Jodi Abbott, ICD.D. First of all, she explains, the college works to increase the skill sets of Alberta’s underemployed to help them land better jobs. Second, the team targets people outside of the labour force to give them the education they need to launch a career. Third, NorQuest College strives to create a workforce that meets the current needs of industry and increases productivity.

One way that the college is able to provide up to date, industry relevant education is by working directly with leaders in the field. NorQuest created a Workforce Advisory Council made up of CEOs from a range of leading companies to ensure that the administration understands what kinds of training students really need. “This council provides advice for today and into the future, in terms of the kinds of job positions and skills that are needed,” Dr. Abbott explains. This is particularly important for a region that is facing a serious lack of skilled employees. “In Alberta over the next decade, we are seeing a labour shortage of 114,000 workers – a large number in terms of our population,” Dr. Abbott points out.

The Workforce Advisory Council works directly with the school to identify where the job gaps or skill gaps are today, as well as how industry is changing. “We modify or build new programs to be able to address those needs,” Dr. Abbot says. “Students who come to us know that we are at the forefront of working with industry. They know they are going to have very industry relevant skills when they leave the institution.”

NorQuest College also makes tremendous efforts to provide students with the support that they need to achieve their goals. “The kind of environment that we create for our students is really second to none across the country,” Dr. Abbott reports. “First and foremost we put all of the tools around the students [that they need] to ensure that they can be successful.” This support comes in a wide variety of ways and includes a large list of specialized programs designed to meet nearly every student need.

Several NorQuest College programs play a particularly important role in filling Alberta’s labour shortages. For example, the Apprenticeship Prep program prepares students to take – and pass – their apprenticeship entrance exams. “In Alberta right now trades are absolutely booming,” Dr. Abbott says. “We just cannot get enough people trained in the trades.” Therefore, it is especially important to give people who are already trained in a trade the support they need to pass the entrance exams. Many people who participate in this program practiced a trade in their own country, “but need to align with the certification in Canada.”

NorQuest College’s Practical Nurse diploma and Health Care Aide certificate programs are also helping to fill a labour gap. “In Alberta – and across Canada – we see waves of shortages of health professionals,” Dr. Abbott points out. “And, as our society ages, Licensed Practical Nurses, as well as Health Care Aides, are going to become more and more important, especially in the continuing care environment.” Not coincidentally, the college boasts the largest Health Care Aide training program in Alberta. In fact, of Alberta’s 1,500 Health Care Aide graduates in 2011, a whopping 77 percent were trained at NorQuest College. Furthermore, the school has a state of the art simulation centre to provide each health science student with the most technologically advanced training. The centre allows students to practice their skills on mannequins – anything from checking for vital signs to testing for diabetes. “They get experiential learning before they get their clinical placement,” Dr. Abbott explains. “They have a lot more confidence.”

Many of NorQuest College’s programs are specially geared toward students who are newcomers to Canada. In fact, a majority of NorQuest College students were born outside of Canada, so the college is careful to ensure that these students have the support they need to meet their career goals here. “Given that our student population often comes from other countries, they may need additional academic preparation,” Dr. Abbott explains. For instance, the Youth in Transition program enhances the English literacy skills of students in their late teens and early twenties. Students who speak English as a second language often start out in this program then transfer into other academic and career programs once their skills have improved. NorQuest College also works to ensure that international students can fully utilize the skills they have already acquired in other countries. “Our programs allow them to take a look at credentials from their own country to see how that credential might be recognized in Canada,” Dr. Abbott explains.

Not all NorQuest College programs are geared toward college students. For example, NorQuest College’s Centre for Intercultural Education supports employees born outside of Canada. “There is a cultural communication challenge that can happen because things mean different things in different countries and in different cultures,” Dr. Abbott explains. “So we work with the organization’s incoming employees, as well as the existing employees, to [help them] have strong intercultural communication.” The college understands that many of these employees are needed at work during traditional business hours, so training is available at nights and on weekends, and can even be given onsite at the company. “We have seen tremendous success in [companies] being able to retain people who have come from other countries,” Dr. Abbot reports. “We have also seen companies excel because they are offering something that is seen as a competitive advantage.”

NorQuest College is undertaking an exciting new building project that will consolidate a currently dispersed campus into a centralized, downtown location. The North Learning Centre will also provide space for even more specialized student support. “We are absolutely thrilled about the government of Alberta providing funding for the North Learning Center,” Dr. Abbott adds. The generous funding will allow the school to include a daycare, a large Aboriginal ceremonial room and an expanded resource centre. As a result, the project will create “better opportunities to support students through their learning.”

And supporting students is what NorQuest College is all about – no matter what the goal or challenge. “Our job is to be as creative as we possibly can to turn that challenge into an opportunity for them,” Dr. Abbott explains. “Our staff really step forward to say that no challenge is too big for us. We can be as nimble and flexible as possible to meet the needs of industry, the public sector, and our community.”

June 21, 2018, 11:26 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.