Writer ∙ Author ∙ Journalist

The Regional Advantage

Maclean's / September 2011

Colleges are helping grads find their dream job—in their own backyard

College-bound students know that the outdated hierarchy of academic versus applied learning has crumbled, says Ken Steele, co-founder of Academica Group Inc., a research-based marketing consultancy focused on higher education.

But what they might not know is that “colleges have a more complex mandate than universities because they balance the academic interests of students with the local workforce projection of their region,” he says.

Fifty per cent of college applicants (about 100,000 students) plan to commute to a local college, says Steele, explaining why these schools invest time and money in advisory panels that analyze the local industrial employment market. So “there’s no real sense that you need to travel,” explains Steele. Which is to say, depending on where you live, your dream job might be in your own backyard. Here are 25 programs that do their regions proud:

West Coast

Northwest Community College (Terrace, B.C.)—Sustainable Tourism
When BC Tourism estimated 84,000 new tourism jobs by 2015, Northwest Community College added Sustainable Tourism to the syllabus for the September 2010 semester. Besides tourism, the program focuses on promotion and protection of the local ecosystem and culture—Terrace is the home to 14 Tsimshiam tribes.

The College of the Rockies (Cranbooke, B.C.)—Birth Doula Studies (online)
Though some provinces still don’t have the legislation, midwifery has been regulated and provincially funded in British Columbia since 1998. As interest in midwives and doulas continues to grow across the province and the country, an online Birth Doula Studies Program is now offered at the College of the Rockies.

Douglas College (New Westminster, B.C.)—Skills Connect for Immigrants
To accommodate increasing immigration to the West Coast, Douglas College introduced the Skills Connect for Immigrants program in 2007. Skilled immigrants learn the “Canadian-style” job search, how to get proper credentials in their field, and English as a second language. B.C.’s immigration rate is second only to Ontario, where George Brown College offers comparable courses for new Canucks.

Okanagan College (Kelowna, B.C.)—Studio Woodworking
Studio Woodworking, a new full-time program emphasizing craftsmanship, is one of few woodworking programs in Canada. Often using the province’s Douglas fir and larch wood, students learn a range of skill sets (from traditional varnishing to modern computer-aided design) and for more than just furniture: instructor Tim Diebert’s expertise includes guitars, yachts and Hollywood movie sets—see his handiwork in Disney’s Earth Star Voyager.

Camosun College (Victoria, B.C.)—Archaeological Field Technician
Stone tools discovered on B.C.’s Beatton River date human habitation to at least 12,000 years ago—lots of time to create a rich bank of archaeological evidence just waiting to be discovered. In compliance with provincial heritage legislation, Camosun College’s Archaeological Field Technician program looks primarily at Aboriginal archaeology through an indigenous perspective, including first Nation elders as guest speakers and an overnight camp on Salt Spring Island.


Yukon College (Whitehorse, Yukon)—First Nations Leading Governance and Public Administration

Given degree-granting status in 2009, Yukon already leads Canada with 14 first Nation self-governments—11 of which have settled their land claims. Tomorrow’s Aboriginal leaders train at Yukon College, where the First Nations Leading Governance & Public Administration program offers classes in economic development, power and influence and, of course, land claims.

Yukon School of Visual Arts (Dawson City, Yukon)—Visual Arts

A newly renewed art initiative merges the Yukon School of Visual Arts with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, or People of the River, who have resided along the Yukon River for millennia. The Visual Arts program, with a mandate to support first Nations arts and practices, is widely accepted across the whole country—it’s accredited at Emily Carr, OCAD, ACAD and more.

Nunavut Arctic College (Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut)—Fur Production and Design
Head due north to Nunavut, where fur isn’t murder, it’s art: Fur Production & Design at Nunavut Arctic College teaches traditional Inuit methods to prepare sealskin fur garments and sell them in a contemporary market. And students are at the top of their game: second-year student Rosie Audlakiak’s form-fitting sealskin vest won first place at the 2010 national Fur Re-Invented competition in Montreal.

Aurora College (Yellowknife, N.W.T.)—Introduction to Underground Mining
Settled in the ’30s after the discovery of gold, Yellowknife eventually shifted from a mining town to a government centre—until the mid-’90s diamond boom caused the Northwest Territories to return to its roots. De Beers’ fourth mine is expected to reach full production by 2012, and the region will be ready: Aurora College’s community-based Introduction to Underground Mining includes a “Ready to work North” course, where students fast-track through in just six weeks.

The Prairies

Medicine Hat College (Medicine Hat, Alta.)—Environmental Reclamation Technician
Graduates of Medicine Hat College’s two-year Environmental Reclamation Technician program are studying the opposite of their counterparts in mining programs: they learn surveying, mapping, assessment and monitoring in order to return disturbed lands—from mining, yes, but also oil drilling, gas extraction, transportation or logging—to their natural habitat and state of vegetation.

Great Plains College (multiple campuses, Saskatchewan)—Industry and Safety Training
Great Plains College’s slogan—“Education with Energy”—is applied literally at their Energy Training Centre, where Industry & Safety Training prepares students for careers in Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industries. It’s also home to the province’s only fall-hazard indoor training facility—the Fall Protection Tower was completed last fall.

The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (Saskatoon, Sask.)—Aircraft Maintenance Engineering
Growing air traffic across the Prairies, and a corresponding demand for maintenance engineers, meant students at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Tech nologies needed a bigger home: in October, they unveiled a new 25,000-sq.-foot facility. Aircraft Maintenance Engineering students are partnered with aerospace and defence companies—Boeing Aerospace, Rockwell Collins and Lockheed Martin—to learn the aircraft skills that keep our skies safe.

Grande Prairie Regional College (Grande Prairie, Alta.)—Palaeontology
Alberta’s Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative—a multiphased project culminating in a world-class dinosaur museum in 2012—includes Grande Prairie Regional College’s palaeontology program. In September 2010, an agreement was reached to enable the coordination and delivery of palaeontology education in northwestern Alberta, a gold mine of unearthed dinosaur bones—not one, but two new dino species have been discovered in the bone bed already.

Grand Prairie Regional College (Grande Prairie, Alta.)—Older Adult Fitness and Wellness
Also at Grande Prairie, in anticipation of shifting demographics caused by aging boomers, a new specialization was introduced in 2009. Older Adult Fitness and Wellness, a personal-training tangent that includes nutrition and pharmacology as well as CPR and first aid, is designed to promote health and fitness for older clients, ranging in ability and mobility from active to frail.

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Edmonton, Alta.)—Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology—a merging of physics, biology and chemistry to manipulate atoms and molecules—is an emerging sector in Canada; Alberta has been a major player since unveiling their investment strategy in 2007. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology launched Canada’s first diploma in Nanotechology last year, a two-year program catering to more than 40 companies in and around Edmonton.


St. Lawrence College (Kingston, Ont.)—Biotechnology
Biotechnology students at St. Lawrence College become lab researchers, disease fighters, forensic scientists—and cheese makers? Yes, since a revival in the Ottawa Valley’s local artisanal cheese industry has created new demand for experts. With the support of the Ontario Cheese Society, St. Lawrence is researching not just taste and texture, but need and market in eastern Ontario.

Niagara College (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.)—Winery, Viticulture and Brewery Studies
Niagara College—Canada’s only commercial teaching winery and the centre of wine education in the Niagara Peninsula—offers lots of options for budding oenophiles: Winery, Viticulture and Brewery Studies students choose from the certificate, diploma or graduate program.

LaSalle College (Montreal, Que.)—International School of Fashion, Arts and Design
For fashionistas looking to showcase their creations in Montreal’s fashion scene, the International School of Fashion, Arts and Design at LaSalle College offers a program in Textile Embellishment. Taken alongside the fashion design degree, the certificate includes classes in cutting-edge fabric technology, including textile creations, ornamentation, treatments and computer techniques.

Sheridan College (Oakville, Ont.)—Animation
Twenty-five years before Toy Story wowed moviegoers, Sheridan College offered Animation, earning a reputation as “the Harvard of animation colleges.” Grads head straight to work with the digital giants—Pixar, Dreamworks and Cookie Jar—keeping Canada fiercely competitive in alternative media and the 3-D digital boom.

Seneca College (King City, Ont.)—Gerontology
Now that baby boomers have hit retirement age, shifting demographics will make for good business for gerontologists. Plenty of alternative retirement communities in the Greater Toronto Area will be hiring graduates of Seneca College’s Gerontology program—transferable toward a degree in social work—who have learned skills in interventions, family communication, bereavement and grief.


St. John’s Marine Institute (St. John’s, Nfld.)—Ocean Mapping
St. John’s Marine Institute offers a joint diploma/degree in Ocean Mapping, teaching the solid technical skills to collect, manage and analyze ocean data from the surface to the seabed. There’s no shortage of material for treasure hunters, either—Libraries and Archives Canada estimate more than 25,000 shipwrecks exist off of Canada’s East Coast.

Holland College (Summerside, P.E.I.)—Wind Turbine Technician
The global market for wind energy—sustainable and fuel-free, with no greenhouse gas emissions—is expanding faster than any other source of electric energy, and P.E.I. is emerging as one of the most progressive renewable energy leaders in North America. Holland College is preparing workers with its Wind Turbine Technician program at its Summerside location, ripe with strong gusts to keep the windmills spinning.

College of the North Atlantic (multiple campuses, Nfld.)—Emergency Management Education
Besides the coast’s obvious natural disasters—hurricanes, snowstorms and flooding caused by the unruly Atlantic—government agencies have been expanding their emergency and contingency plans since 9/11. Graduates of the upcoming Emergency Management Education program at the College of the North Atlantic will be prepared for any number of worst-case scenarios—and not just preparedness and response, but prevention as well.

Nova Scotia Community College (Cumberland, N.S.)—Refrigeration & Air Conditioning: Geothermal
Nova Scotia Community College offers access to some of the world’s deepest abandoned coal mines—mines that have flooded over time—as the ideal setting to study Refrigeration & Air Conditioning: Geothermal. Two geothermal wells have been drilled below the campus, providing a “living” training lab for students to monitor and maintain geothermal energy—a cutting-edge trade aligning with Nova Scotia’s growing renewable energy sector.

Nova Scotia Community College (multiple campuses, N.S.)—Fishing Master Certification
The second-smallest Canadian province exports a whopping $1 billion in fish to 90 countries around the world. To keep up with the demand, Nova Scotia Community College’s School of fisheries offers a fishing Master Certification, teaching everything from boating safety to fish-harvesting technology.