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Hit the Ground Running: Continuing and Distance Education in Saskatchewan

Continuing and Distance Education - Edwards School of Business
Continuing and Distance Education - Edwards School of Business

It’s rare to spend a career with one company, or even the same field—unlike decades past. People change jobs, companies, and career paths several times throughout their lives. Today, with a pandemic lingering (and still shaking up our economy) and technology disrupting virtually every industry, new skills are needed to move on or up into something different. Now more than ever, reskilling and upskilling are required to adapt and stay sharp.

However, many people cannot afford the time or money to complete a full-time degree. Continuing and distance education is often the answer to get the knowledge and skills required, without the major commitment of a traditional post-secondary education. Offered by post-secondary institutions across the province, continuing and distance education can be the key to making your next career move happen—or the way you can give your employees the knowledge they need to advance your organization’s goals.

Centre for Continuing Education, University of Regina

The University of Regina offers continuing education for professional development through its Centre for Continuing Education. “Our Career & Professional Development professional students are typically adult learners who are working in their careers but want to enhance their resume, expand their skills and evolve in their position,” says Karen Merz, manager, Non-credit, Career & Professional Development. “They are also individuals who are seeking a career change and want to learn a new skill or enhance their resume for potential new employers.”

Students come from across sectors—public, private, and not-for-profit—and typically range in age from early 20s to 60s. “We see a combination of degree-seeking students taking a certificate as a secondary program to their degree, and working adults looking to move up or change careers,” says Robin Markel, head of Career & Professional Development.

The most popular programs are in business, leadership, and project management as these skill sets are needed in many industries. The Centre sees that employers are seeking strongly developed leadership skills in employees. “Regardless of position, leadership is a trait that when well developed, enhances the organizational culture, performance and function of individuals and teams. Employers are continually reviewing and assessing leadership abilities, and focusing on growth in this area, which is evident by the demand of our leadership programs both by individuals and organizations wanting to train teams,” says Merz. This fall, the Centre will offer their full suite of certificate programs in the areas of Business Analysis, Project Management, Leadership, Management, and Innovation. With some core courses as prerequisites in multiple certificate programs, it is easy for students to branch off into additional programs on their professional development journey.

The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the Centre’s offerings. This spring, the Centre moved many of their most in-demand courses to remote delivery with great success. “In greater response to the pandemic, we are moving all of our face-to-face programs, both certificate programs and seminars, to a remote delivery method for the fall semester,” says Merz. “What this tells us is that even during a pandemic, employers are supporting their staff in continued personal and professional growth, just as they supported them pre-pandemic.”

Plus, people impacted by pandemic job loss are also reaching out. “In our function as the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) hub for the University, we’ve seen an increased interest in RPL submissions,” says Markel. “Those who aren’t currently able to work are finding they have the time and energy to spend on creating a portfolio for prior learning assessment. We are also seeing students wanting to take more than the usual course load over the spring and summer term. Many students who are not able to work are looking to fast-track their programs to be ready for employment at the end of the pandemic.”

Merz and Markel also have advice for those looking to advance their careers with further education. “All professional development training enhances an individual’s portfolio and gives them an edge,” says Merz. “Education is a life-long process; continue to engage in learning to enhance your skills both personally and professionally.” Markel sees the gift of time that the pandemic has brought about: “if you’re not able to work, use this time wisely by focusing on learning.”

Edwards School of Business, Executive Education, University of Saskatchewan

Business education doesn’t end with an undergraduate degree or college diploma. Business is dynamic and changing every day with trends and technology. Edwards Executive Education keeps business people ahead of the curve with continuing education with a wide range of programming in areas such as communications, management, leadership, process and project management and governance. The typical learner in executive education ranges from entry-level supervisor to those in senior leadership.

COVID-19 converted programs online, and Edwards demand for their offerings was steady. “The quality and value of programming offered virtually is our top priority which is why we only converted programs that deliver the same quality and value,” says Noreen Mahoney, director, Executive Education. “The content and value of these programs has not changed, just the way they are delivered. They are different, not diminished.”

Among the continuing education programs converted to virtual delivery is the Digital and Social Media Program, now offered in an online delivery format including recorded modules and live sessions that participants complete at their own pace over an 8-week period. The Certified Coach Training program has been offered twice through virtual delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Speaking as a Leader program was also offered virtual delivery with adaptations to offer participants the opportunity to implement their learning as they progressed through the programming.

“All of our virtual and online programming has received extremely positive feedback with many individuals enjoying the flexibility and adaptations made to learn virtually,” says Mahoney. The school learned quickly that offering virtual and online continuing education opened their market to people located in rural Saskatchewan or outside our province normally unreachable with in-person training.

“Program demand has remained high during the pandemic as participants are still looking to acquire new skillsets and learnings that will be required post-pandemic,” says Ashley Drozda, manager, Executive Education. The school’s leadership programs are the most popular, even through COVID-19. Leadership is always a high priority for organizations, and continuing education develops the skills required to excel in leadership roles. Edwards also sees demand for its Project and Process Management and Communications programs—providing skills that are necessary in today’s modern workforce.

“There is no better time than right now to start continuing education for your career,” says Drozda. “Your dream position is not going to wait for you to develop these skills, so be proactive and develop the skills needed to succeed.

Hill and Levene Schools of Business, University of Regina

Hill and Levene Schools of Business offer a suite of programs and certificates for those who are looking to take their careers in a new direction or looking for a promotion.

“For individuals who are thinking about moving into a management role, our certificate in Leadership and our graduate degrees such as the Executive MBA, MBA, and Masters of Administration in Leadership offer the leadership and management skills needed for an ambitious professional to stand out and succeed ,” says Lynn Barber, manager of Recruitment, Marketing and Communication for the Hill and Levene Schools. “For those who are looking to strengthen their technical knowledge in such areas as labour relations, project management, human resources or finance and accounting, we have graduate certificates in Project Management, Human Resources Management, and Labour Relations. The MBA is always the right choice for someone looking to round out and develop their business knowledge and skills. We also have a specialized Master of Human Resource Management degree.”

Recently, the Hill School of Business launched its newest offering, a Certificate in Ideation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE). This is an ideal choice for individuals who have a background in engineering, arts, music, computer science, even business, and are curious or ready to start their own business. This certificate will help budding entrepreneurs develop the confidence they need to experiment with ideas and even launch their business. The Levene Graduate School of Business offers Master-level certifications for professionals looking to access Master-level education without the full commitment of a graduate degree. “Obtaining a Master Certificate (M. Cert) is an excellent way to earn credit toward a Master degree without committing to a full Master program and all Levene Master Certificates ladder into our Levene graduate degree programs,” says Barber. The graduate programs are also aligned with the Certified Management Consultants (CMC) Canada designation, so students complete their degree just steps away from another designation.”

Like many schools, COVID-19 altered how Hill and Levene offered courses and programs. “Our classes are being altered for remote delivery and we are developing ways to maintain the connection to our students via virtual events and maintaining access to the business community inside and outside our classrooms,” says Barber. The Levene School has a state-of-the-art live streaming room so students can access their classes from anywhere in the world.

Whether you’re considering furthering your education to move up the corporate ladder or into something new, Barber says there has never been a better time to make a move. “The of employment horizon has become uncertain for many and advancing your education now is an investment to a more secure future. This is how you can differentiate yourself in the market,” says Barber. “Furthering your education in business is valuable regardless of your field—it will open new doors for you.”

Hill and Levene staff are available to discuss the options available, and help students chart their path to career advancement. “Call or email to find out how you can take the leap to the next stage of your career.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Saskatchewan Polytechnic has two decades of experience in continuing and distance learning, with many programs designed for students already in the workforce. In fact, Dalton Mervold, program head of Trades Innovation and Leadership, is a recognized expert in online learning design. Mervold and his team develop online courses for the Joseph A. Remai School of Construction and the School of Transportation. Students interested in these fields are often busy and need the flexibility online learning offers. This style of learning also allows people to study when it works best for them. “We design a schedule and content so we have some hard deadlines, but lots of opportunity for self-assessment,” says Mervold. “That way, students will have time to understand the materials, more than they might get in a classroom for six hours. Plus, some people don’t learn the best between eight in the morning and three in the afternoon. They’ll choose when the best time to learn, which is really nice because they can adapt their schedule to their learning needs.” In addition, instructors can see where students may need more help, using the school’s online learning system. “We can go look at a student’s progress at any time and see if they are stuck and reach out to find out what they may need assistance with,” says Mervold.

Sask Polytech made the pivot to online learning in March when COVID-19 hit the province. While many Sask Polytech programs worked quickly to shift to online delivery due to the pandemic, the Leadership Skills program never skipped a beat. Designed to be highly interactive and completely online, the program is a series of six courses providing knowledge in the areas of leadership, management, supervision, coaching and mentoring. During the first two months of the pandemic, Mervold saw his team triple to meet the demand. “We’ve actually had to open extra semesters of programming because of the high demand for the training that we offer,” says Mervold. As business slowed in some sectors, he saw employers and employees turn their downtime into a time for learning and development.

Sask Polytech’s close connections to industry also ensures that not only are these flexible learners are getting the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, but that the business community is getting the skilled labour they need. Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO sees the benefits to everyone in Sask Polytech’s online education offerings. “Our instructors come from industry. They have the skills that we’re training our students to have when they graduate. Our instructors know what industry needs,” says Rosia. “Plus, our industry connection through program advisory committees provide input into the skills required to meet industry’s needs. That close connection and partnership with industry allows us to be on the front face of change.” He also sees continuing education as a key to success for people already in the workplace. “The majority of our students are adult learners. They have jobs, they have families, they have commitments, and they can’t afford to come back to school for four years. They need to find a quick way to re-skill and retool themselves,” says Rosia. “We’re now offering, and designing more, courses to help people do that.”

Dr. Has Malik, provost and vice-president, Academic, echoes Rosia’s sentiments and adds his own thoughts. “We’re working on microcredentials that will give the flexibility these learners need,” says Malik. Sask Polytech is developing courses that students can ‘stack’ for credit, taken on a schedule that works for them. Also, the institution works with companies and organizations to provide training to skill existing workers. “We partner with industry to take advantages of government job grants to defray training costs. Businesses and organizations get the skills they need, and employees get short term learning opportunities and professional development,” says Malik. “There are multiple ways we serve the needs of working professionals who are looking either to advance their careers, retool their skill sets and move into a different area. And, even some of our diploma programs are offered in short bundles, too.”