Toronto Universities are responding to new business needs

In an era of constant change in all sectors of the Canadian economy, university graduates are finding that they must rethink their career path. Candidates in the job marketplace can no longer assume they will accept a managerial position in a Corporation and eventually work their way up to President. To compound their search, graduates are fighting for positions in a shrinking employment landscape due to corporate downsizing, mergers and acquisitions. To add to the crunch, a survey, recently completed by the Conference Board of Canada, states that CEOs are openly discussing moving their corporate headquarters and positions out of Canada.

Not only does the graduate have to bring job skills to their new career to help their transition from student to employee and meet the employer's demands for an easily trained worker. But to succeed during this period of change, graduates must accept that employment will be a long series of career changes during their work life. Different careers must be chosen with the idea that aptitudes learned on a peculiar job will enhance the graduates' skills when it's time to make the next career change.

"A colleague of mine who has a Ph.D. in archaeology found he had to look for work in a different field when opportunities dried up as an archaeologist," says Sue Horton, Chair, Division of Social Sciences, University of Toronto at Scarborough. "He was able to find employment in the Digital Media Industry. Sure he had to learn some technology but his years as an archaeologist taught him project management, budgeting, report writing, presentations and people handling that helped him in his new position."

Even the traditional U of T and York university landscape is changing as Advisory Boards that are composed of all sectors of the community including business are urging that programs be adapted to give graduates needed analytical tools. The two universities are encouraging students to take double majors or a degree and a certificate in an applied component like Digital Media. The Ontario Government is encouraging universities to partner with Community Colleges so that specific courses can be counted towards a degree. The changes will send a more flexible graduate to the work force that has the skills for life long learning.

"In a knowledge based society like ours, surveys show employers like to hire university graduates because of their flexibility," says Arnice Cadieux, Executive Director of Public Affairs for the Council of Ontario Universities.

In practically all sectors of the economy community computers have been drafted to do both the mundane and the more complex tasks associated with producing a product. The versatility of the computer means that change can happen more quickly than the previous era. Innovation forces both employees and employers to adapt and become productive without having a comfortable period to learn how to accomplish the desired result.

The expanding Internet has created a demand for talented people who already have an abundance of computer skills but can also think "outside the box". Industry Canada says we already have a shortage of Information Technology specialists and the shortage will increase in the future. To meet the demand for IT technicians, institutes of higher learning are hiring more technology minded professors. In addition, universities are developing more co-op programs with business that will give the graduate at least eight months of work experience when they complete their degree requirements.

"The University of Toronto is developing eight new co-op programs to give a graduate some work experience to add to their resume," said Horton. "Our goal is to enable the graduate to think critically no matter what the situation."

"Course content includes reasoning, writing, critical research and presentation skills," says Shelia Embleton, Vice-President Academic York University. "Also graduates are being provided with life long stress skills to meet any challenge."

Joint partnerships between community colleges and universities benefit students from both institutions. The top 20% of community college graduates can have their courses count towards a university degree if they wish to pursue farther training. Colleges can design a learning program that will enable students to plan for a career that encompasses both practical and theoretical training at the college and university level respectively. Seamless education where students know what institutions they must attend to complete any program enable Colleges to become a major player in the educational landscape. Corporations can now ask for a program that could end at the MBA level.

Ryerson University that always had a gaggle of eager consumers for its graduates is modifying its courses and course offerings. More emphasis will be placed on engineering courses especially those associated with the Information Technology sector said Bruce Piercey, Manager of Affairs, Ryerson.

"We have always been able to keep abreast of the latest business trends because of the active role our professors take in the outside community," says Piercey. "Up to now we have been prodding the other universities but we can't rest on our laurels."

Piercey points to Ryerson's increased research mandate as a way to attract more business interest and applied researchers. He believes Ryerson graduates will benefit from this activity, as they will have more contacts and gain experience working on state-of-the-art projects.

"We want a student who knows what they expect from the university and where they want to begin their work life," said Piercey. "We want someone who is totally focussed."

Administrators believe the undulating economic landscape will bring a new breed of student to the university campus. Present day students are more focussed on their career aspirations. No longer are they hoping that a degree will magically ensure a well paying position in the future. They are looking for training that will be useful by the time they graduate. There is no safe path for a career only alternative thinking will enhance their lifestyle.

Graduates from the three Toronto universities can be found in all walks of life including what use to be considered non-traditional occupations for university graduates like becoming electricians, plumbers or assembly line workers for the auto industry. Graduates say they took non-traditional jobs or became self-employed because of better pay and benefits or they were unable to find a position that fitted their needs.

The administrators quoted in this article all believe that a proper university education will teach the graduate how to learn and that ability will help the graduate move up the promotional ladder.

 

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