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Uni’s: Should they Teach or Train?


Max Blouw, Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and President of Wilfrid Laurier University (my alma mater!) wrote an excellent article in the September 3, 2013 Globe and Mail.

He says:

  • “Universities must provide the kind of broad intellectual and personal development that enables graduates to thrive in a world that is contantly changing, a world that demands innovation and adaptability, a world in which they will change jobs frequently beween the time they enter rhe work force and the time they retire” and
  • “Universities are primarily in the business of positive human development. They focus on enhancing the abilities of our graduates to communicate clearly and effectively, to analyze, to confront ambiguity with clear methods and confidence, to break down problems into manageable parts, to think critically and to question deeply”.

He goes on to say:

  • “Specific job training should come primarily from the workplace”.
  • “In the past…there would be orientation, training…a period of job shadowing, a trainee-mentor relationship, regular feedback and, if necessary re-training”.
  • “But in the modern workplace, more and more employers seem less willing to invest in training new staff.  Instead they call on universities to tailor curriculum ever more precisely to meet specific workplace needs”.

Some of the biggest complaints I hear from new employees include:

  • My orientation consisted of sitting by myself in a room for a day and reading “the manuals”.  Then I was expected to get to work…
  • I received some (but not all) legislated training (e.g. AODA, Bill 168, WHMIS) but nothing related to my role.
  • My training was all on-line and that’s not how I learn best.
  • There was no Role and Responsibilites document so I had no idea of the scope, autonomy or accountability of my role or what the employer expected.
  • There is no coaching-mentoring-feedback mechanism other than the annual performance review so I really didn’t know how I was doing.
  • There is no Career Development process.

Macleans magazine features “Canada 50 Best Employers” each year (compiled by Aeon Hewitt).  Many top employers showcase their  commitment to training and development but I particularly liked the following companies who detailed their Key Performance Indicators:

  • Aecon:  Provides a minimum 40 hours/year in training and development;  reimburses tuition 100%.
  • Birchwood Automotive Group:  Provides an in-house management training program through Birchwood U.
  • Marriott Hotels of Canada:  Provides Associates with an average of 78 hours Training and 34 hours Professional Development per year.
  • Vancity Group:  Provides $2,400 in tuition reimbursement.

A key question for candidates to ask prospective employers during the interview process is:

  • What’s your commitment to life-long learning and what kinds of support do you provide?

But it’s equally important that individuals take charge of their own life-long learning:  whether you learn best theoretically or experientially, in an actual classroom or on-line, you want to make time to ensure your skills are current.  Yes, you have to put money upfront, but it’s a tax credit and the return on investment is priceless!

For employers:

  • Consider the cost of re-recruiting
    • 1.5 – 2.5 times annual base salary;  25% = actual cost, 75% = opportunity cost, i.e. the impacts on:  staff morale as they cover a vacancy;  client service;  organizational profitability or sustainability.
    • Training;  perhaps Vancity’s $2,400 seems steep but compared with re-recruiting a $50,000 role @ 1.5 times annual salary?  It’s a bargain!
  • The Canadian Society of Training and Development  www.cstd.ca a group of professionals focused on training, learning and performance is an excellent resource.

Back in the day, a Liberal Arts Education was highly valued by employers.  As a WLU grad, I can confirm that I did learn to communicate clearly, to analyze, to confront ambiguity, to break down problems, to think critically and to question deeply.  Most (not all) of my corporate employers provided excellent in-house training resources.  As someone driven  by learning, I’m always looking for new things to learn and new ways of learning.  Currently I’m involved in on-line learning;  while it’s definitely not the way I learn best, it’s another experience to add to my tool box.