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Nova Scotia Community College business students can carry their diploma into university. ‘This gives students a real competitive advantage when they join the work force,’ business school dean Greg Russell says.

With the input of industry, Canadian community colleges are developing and offering business programs that aim to graduate students with the skills employers are seeking.

Supply chain management is one area that is in demand at Toronto's Humber College, both for students and the employers who want to hire them. Currently 60 students are accepted in two annual intakes, in September and January. For every 60 who get in, there are between 300 to 400 applicants. More than 100 are wait listed.

The two-semester graduate certificate program provides a grounding in business and global supply-chain issues, including training with SAP (Systems, Applications, and Products in data processing) software. Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., United Parcel Service Canada Ltd. and Sleep Country Canada Holdings Inc. are just a few that have employed recent grads. This program is accredited by the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (CSCSC).

Additionally, Humber College and Supply Chain Management Association Ontario (SCMAO) have recently created a partnership to provide a pathway to the Certified Supply Chain Management Professional (CSCMP) designation. Students who successfully complete Humber's graduate certificate program with at least a 3.0 GPA receive advanced standing in four modules and two workshops in the CSCMP designation.

"Companies succeed or fail based on their supply chain," says Humber's Angelo Crupi, supply chain management program co-ordinator. "It's a relatively new management field. The skills aren't new, but what's new is bringing all the different functions of an organization together into a common database so everyone knows what everyone else is doing."

As many as 65,979 individuals are needed on an annual basis to accommodate demand growth, according to a 2012 Human Resources Study Update by the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council.

"We work closely with our advisory committee, which is made up of industry professionals," says Mr. Crupi. "Many hire our graduates, so they want to have input about what is taught in the program.

"Employers keep coming back to our networking events and posting jobs on our job portal, actively recruiting our grads."

At Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), the two-year business administration diploma is the largest diploma program by student enrolment at the school of business, as well as the biggest diploma program at the college overall. After completing a core first year, students can choose to go into one of several concentration choices, such as accounting, financial services, management, marketing or software and information management.

"Accounting is the frontrunner," says Greg Russell, dean of the school of business at NSCC.

"But, all of the concentrations appear to be in demand based on student interest and local industry requirements. Financial services are in growth mode, but then a lot of financial service companies are coming to Nova Scotia. Marketing and management are both strong too. The demand is fairly steady."

According to an NSCC follow-up study in 2015 on school of business graduates, 85 per cent reported being employed in a field directly related to their education within one year post-graduation. That included business management, applied business technology, tourism and culinary arts. Mr. Russell expects the numbers for 2016 will be similar.

Mr. Russell believes that NSCC's business programs have a certain draw because of the college's Articulation Agreement with several Canadian universities. Graduation from more than 70 of the college's programs, including business administration, can place graduates in year three of a four-year university degree.

"Many business students are attracted by the prospect of continuing after their diploma and completing their university degree through articulation agreements with our postsecondary partners," says Mr. Russell.

"This gives students a real competitive advantage when they join the work force."

Gary Gannon, professor of human resources at Durham College's School of Business, IT & Management in Oshawa, notes that the number of students choosing HR is a bit higher this year. The college offers a graduate certificate program for university students who typically have completed a degree. This program is also open to graduates of a three-year advanced diploma program, as well as individuals possessing three to five years of related work experience. Currently, up to 25 per cent of their diploma graduates apply directly to university.

"Colleges such as Durham work to create pathways for our diploma students so that the typical high-school grad can go through from diploma to university," explains Dr. Gannon. "They can capitalize on [the work done for their diploma] and then transfer over to a university program, thus ending up in a competitive position, not only for professional certification, but for employment, as well."

He adds that the hands-on aspects of the program also give students a potential career boost.

"The field placement component enables students to transfer that textbook knowledge into a practical experience that they can take into their career," says Dr. Gannon. "As well, we try to give them as much real-world experience as we can in a classroom setting. In our labour relations program, students engage for up to six hours in simulated bargaining where they decide whether they want to be on the management or union side."

Dr. Gannon believes the increased demand for HR grads is mostly due to the development of technology and the demographics that are facing Canadian employers with the aging of the current work force and impending retirements.

"HR technology has enabled organizations to create new positions to help support in analyzing data," says Dr. Gannon.

"What's also happening is that some of the traditional HR occupations in a business are being outsourced to another company, so you have the development of staffing agencies. Our students are getting placement opportunities in both traditional settings and the staffing agencies. There's more demand for services."