2016 Year in Review: Post-secondary institutions need to work more closely with industry

Our year at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has been one of progress and challenge, expanding opportunities and lessons learned.

Excellence in applied education can be a moving target today. The local and global employment landscape is rapidly evolving in response to disruptive changes in technology significantly altering our economy, regulatory environment, workplace and everyday lives.

What’s changing?

It’s estimated that in 10 years 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist. In turn, today’s graduates may need to pursue five or six careers on average during their working life. CEOs across the country tell me their No. 1 issue is finding career-ready staff.

As a result of this exponential shift, a key insight is that post-secondary institutions must work alongside industry to ensure our programs stay relevant and deliver the skills, perspective and critical thinking our graduates need to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s work world.

Our students’ relevance will be even further strengthened through increased work-integrated learning opportunities. When students learn and contribute in the workplace as part of their education, it hones their skills and encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, while empowering industry partners to directly impact educational programs and assess potential future employees.

The educational excellence students enjoy here is increasingly in demand globally. In 2016 alone, BCIT strategically engaged in new international partnerships with post-secondary institutions and private-sector companies, and we will continue to partner globally in 2017. These partnerships spur new economic activity for B.C. industry and give B.C. students an important global perspective.

Even as we engage across borders, we are first and foremost committed to our provincial mandate to serve industry, economy and students here at home across key sectors.

On that note, we support our industry partners in achieving their sustainability goals by embedding the principles of conservation, stewardship and innovation in our teaching and applied research models. Our Burnaby campus is powered by a smart-grid system that is validating innovative new technologies and provides a model to sustainably power remote communities.

While we’ve made strong progress, some challenges persist.

The year began with a spotlight on campus and student safety, a key priority for all B.C. post-secondary institutions. BCIT introduced B.C.’s first post-secondary sexual assault policy in late 2015 and is now aligning it with new requirements for similar policies across all post-secondary institutions. We bolstered already robust training, tools and systems to ensure a safe and respectful environment that supports our 50,000 students’ educational success across our five campuses.

Indigenous students remain significantly under-represented and underserved in B.C.’s post-secondary system. We all need to improve our outreach and programs for these students so B.C. becomes a leader in this area, as we lead in others.

And, while BCIT is well known, it’s not well understood that we serve all sectors. We offer a wide array of exceptional programs, including trades training, energy, environment, health, high tech and business.

With this diverse focus, BCIT contributed more than $750 million to B.C.’s economy over the past year. We can do even more, and I’ve made it our mission to expand our reach and impact.

Organizations are only as vibrant as their people, and I believe BCIT has the most passionate faculty who are dedicated to our student success, year in and year out. We have strong and growing industry partnerships, and we have 160,000 alumni enjoying 96% employment in their career of choice.

Dominic Barton, 2016 BCIT honorary doctorate recipient, summarized it best when he said, “The world needs more BCIT.”

I am confident that, with our continued focus on the future, BCIT will play an increasingly significant role in 2017 and for decades to come.

Kathy Kinloch is president of the  British Columbia Institute of Technology.