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“In the future, we can expect to see more learners seeking out upskilling and reskilling options as their jobs and industries change and evolve and new sectors of the economy emerge,” according to Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), the umbrella group for community colleges.

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With the rapid changes in types and modes of work, learning new skills is critical for everyone, even those already employed, experts say.

“It’s really the way of the future for the work force,” says Linda Franklin, president and chief executive officer of the advocacy organization Colleges Ontario.

“We have all sorts of technological advances, artificial intelligence, and all of this is transforming everyone’s jobs – not just the jobs you think about immediately,” she says.

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Working with artificial intelligence is key, but it is more than that. On construction sites, for example, workers look at blueprints on their smartphones; in agriculture, growers need to know details about different strains of cannabis.

Community colleges across Canada are moving quickly to provide courses and training to help workers transition to a 21st-century economy.

“Already, 60 per cent of our students come from the work force, not directly from high school,” Ms. Franklin says.

“In the future, we can expect to see more learners seeking out upskilling and reskilling options as their jobs and industries change and evolve and new sectors of the economy emerge,” according to Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), the umbrella group for community colleges.

“College programs have come a long way,” says Waseem Habash, vice-president, academic at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont.

For nearly five years, St. Clair has worked with local industry to identify what kinds of training workers will need in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence for manufacturing work.

The school has also acquired its own metal-cutting factory, where students can learn for 46 weeks - and get paid - making parts for local heavy industries.

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“The students get paid, and they also get a ministry certificate [Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities] for a level- one apprenticeship. The program also helps employers, who can identify who to hire,” Mr. Habash says.

In a submission to Parliament’s standing committee on finance in advance of the next budget, CICan called in August for a national strategy for reskilling and upskilling the workforce.

“While it is difficult to predict the adjustments that will be required, a skills training infrastructure that creates a culture of lifelong learning is needed, to ensure the adaptability and resiliency that Canadians need to weather uncertainty,” the group’s submission said.

Experts say there is an urgent need for workers across all sectors to be nimble and ready for disruption. A research paper by the Royal Bank of Canada released earlier this year predicts that 50 per cent of Canadian jobs will be disrupted by automation in the next 10 years.

“Rather than a nation of coders, digital literacy – the ability to understand digital items, digital technologies or the Internet fluently – will be necessary for all new jobs,” the RBC report said.

Among its recommendations, the RBC report called for a national review of postsecondary education programs to assess their focus on "human skills," and a national target of 100-per-cent work-integrated learning, “to ensure every undergraduate student has the opportunity for an apprenticeship, internship, co-op placement or other meaningful experiential placement.”

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Another just-released study by HSBC Bank Canada finds that only 38 per cent of parents agree that their child’s education to date has prepared them for the world of 2030 and beyond.

Community colleges are positioned to help people adjust to the future, by providing programs that offer practical skills, Ms. Franklin says. They already offer courses that include, in many cases, on-site experience – the skills that people are looking for and which employers seek.

People recognize that the economy is changing, Ms. Franklin says.

“Parents and young people used to talk to us about how they want education to be a meaningful global experience, to lead to self-actualization. Ever since the last recession [in 2008-2009], they focus on education that will lead to a rewarding career. That’s a discussion that’s based entirely on learning skills,” she says.

Colleges can help students who are just about to enter the work force or are already there, Ms. Franklin adds.

“We’re going to see more and more ways of getting people the skills they need quickly, recognizing that many of them already have kids and mortgages and other responsibilities,” she says. “That means more quick turnaround courses, fast programs, more use of online."

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Mr. Habash at St. Clair College adds, “We’re basically teaching students how to be ready for Industry 4.0. It’s the complete integration of the operation at work and the data, from the moment the order comes in until it reaches the customer’s door.”

New-economy upskilling

At colleges across Canada, people can train – or retrain – for jobs that range from traditional, such as baker, fashion designer, crane operator or truck driver, or for new-economy jobs. Here are some:

Cannabis – With cannabis now legal in Canada, several colleges offer programs relating to this growth industry. Niagara College in Ontario offers a program in commercial cannabis production, teaching plant nutrition, environment and pest control, facilities management and staffing and security. College of the Rockies in British Columbia offers a cannabis retail specialist program. Durham College in Ontario has a cannabis industry specialization certificate for professionals with prior business experience.

Wind turbine technician – Wind power continues to grow as an alternative source of energy in Canada, according to the National Energy Board. Colleges such as St. Lawrence College in Ontario, Holland College in Prince Edward Island and Alberta’s Lethbridge College are training technicians. The program at Lethbridge, for instance, offers training in turbine maintenance, construction, manufacturing and blade repair.

Computer skills – Want to be a cloud application developer? Security intelligence engineer? Both Seneca College in Ontario and Bow Valley College in Alberta have partnered with the IBM Skills Academy, part of a worldwide initiative by the computer giant to teach computer skills that range from essential to specialized. Prospective students take a self-assessment to see if they are ready for particular courses.

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Robotics – To face the automation wave head-on, robotics programs range from a robotics technician certificate program at George Brown College’s continuing education department, to the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s mechatronics and robotics program.

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