A combination of access to technologies and talent plus input from industry is empowering colleges and institutes to engage with their partners in new ways, says Dr. Christine Watson, vice president, academic at Winnipeg’s Red River College. “In the past, colleges would go to industry to say, ‘Tell us what you need and we will build it,’” she says. “But increasingly, industry is coming to us for direction about what the future holds.”
Many companies, and especially small and medium-sized enterprises, may not have in-house capabilities to gauge the potential impact of things like machine learning, artificial intelligence or advanced manufacturing on their business. Yet they recognize the need to stay competitive – and that’s where colleges and institutes can help, proposes Dr. Watson. “We are working to ensure our infrastructure includes the most advanced technology, which means our students are trained on state-of-the-art equipment and industry partners can access research and development opportunities to prepare them for coming disruption.”
Among Red River College’s state-of-the-art facilities is the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre (STTC), which opened in 2018 to support a range of learning in woodworking, construction sciences, machining, manufacturing, mechanical and electrical programs.
An emphasis on hands-on training paired with mentorship from instructors who are experienced industry professionals caught the attention of Jessica Burzminski when she was looking to advance her career in machining.
“What Red River College offered stood out for me,” says Ms. Burzminski, who first completed a manufacturing technician program and recently graduated from a manufacturing CAD certificate program. “It was great to have access to experiences with multiple manufacturing processes to figure out what I wanted to do. It also sparked my interest in the design and programming aspects.”
Her efforts to encourage women to enter trades careers have earned Ms. Burzminski, who now works as a computer numerical control programmer at Price Industries, a Red River College Lieutenant Governor’s medal.
Student success is at the forefront at Red River College, says Dr. Watson. “We need to be agile in how we design and deliver programs to ensure our graduates are equipped to meet their employers’ needs today and in the future,” she explains. “With technology disruption, there is a huge focus on lifelong learning as well as upskilling and reskilling for people currently in the workforce.”
There is also a heightened focus on what Dr. Watson calls “power skills, such as communication, team work, innovation and creativity, collaboration, intercultural competency and respect for diversity,” she says. “These are competencies employers look for, since they help to drive initiative, innovation and leadership.”
Another example of how Red River College is responding to specific community needs is the ACE (Applied Computer Education) project space in downtown Winnipeg, where students, who work with startups and small businesses looking to take their ideas to the next level, gain exposure to entrepreneurship.
Dr. Watson adds that a 100,000 square-foot Innovation Centre is planned for the heart of Winnipeg Exchange’s District to create further opportunities for students to lead clients and partners to solutions that shape the future of their industries. “We want all our programs to have this style of engagement and interaction with industry in real time to add value as well as support the economic and social growth of the province,” she says. “This kind of interaction is where colleges can add the greatest value for employers and industries.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.