We all think about it, whether it is when we draft a job description or read a job posting: what are the skills and competencies required to do the job well? Who can best fill this role?
Consciously or otherwise, we tend to answer by reflecting on our own credentials, skills and competencies or those of the person who held the job previously, and their performance. It is often, therefore, our understanding of the past, informing our staffing decisions for the future.
But education is changing. So are the skills needs of employers, including government. The question we need to consider is: are our hiring processes keeping pace? Are we fully considering college and institute grads as much as we should?
As president of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), formerly the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC), I have the privilege of leading the national association representing publicly-funded colleges, institutes, polytechnics, CEGEPS and universities with a “college” mandate serving 3,000 urban, rural, northern and remote communities. Every time I visit a campus, I am impressed by the innovative certificates, diplomas, degrees, and post-graduate programs and amazing successes of students and industry partners.
Colleges are in touch with the needs of today’s labour market. For example, colleges recognize entrepreneurial skills are useful, not only for those interested in running their own business, but also for those working in a wide variety of public and private sector jobs. Employers are looking for people to show leadership, think of new business development opportunities, and develop the strategies to implement them. As a result, colleges, such as Olds College (AB), have made an entrepreneurial course mandatory for all full-time students.
While many know colleges can be pathways to university, one aspect that is constantly evolving is the extent to which college diplomas provide advanced standing in university programs. For example, Fanshawe College and Western University have an agreement where students with a two-year diploma from Fanshawe in Business-Accounting can complete the university’s four-year Management and Organizational Studies degree program in just an additional two years of study. As a result, employers would be well served by understanding the extent to which college programs develop competencies akin to competencies developed though university programs and adapting their credential requirements accordingly.
Applied learning models, often the hallmark of college education, can improve the quality of student learning. A recent study conducted by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario at York University found that programs providing students with opportunities to engage directly with real-life projects resulted in stronger engagement and better outcomes. In other words, when university learning models adopt features of college learning, the experience of students improves. Consequently, when looking for eligible candidates for a given position, employers should give equal consideration to college credentials.
Colleges are not only a pathway to a trade profession or university, they are also the education provider of choice for many university students who choose to build on their university studies by obtaining a college credential. While the reasons for this pattern are diverse, the implication for employers is that there is no longer a fixed hierarchy of credentials and our job descriptions, screening processes and hiring practices need to change to reflect this pattern.
Finally, there are an increasing number of colleges across Canada granting degrees and offering post-graduate programs. College degree programs meet the same, provincially mandated, requirements as degree programs offered through universities. As a result, if employers want to make sure they are choosing from the best and brightest applicants, job postings and screening processes should include the term “post-secondary degree” rather than “university degree.”
While I opened by saying past hiring patterns are often informing future job descriptions, I also believe that intuitively, we know: opportunities for applied learning are invaluable, the ability to generate and pursue new ideas is an asset on any team, and there are many, equally valuable pathways to build competencies.
Our next step is to ensure hiring practices reflect our intuitions so that we get the best people to fill the roles we have.
But our future is too important to be left to chance. The public service needs to adopt a standard process for recruitment that is more inclusive of all college and institute credentials. Take a concrete first step: ensure the job you post tomorrow uses the inclusive term “post-secondary degree” in lieu of university degree.