A different way of thinking

In my previous blog, I reflected on the skills gap in this country – and on the fact that both students and employers believe college and university graduates are woefully unprepared for the careers they hope to follow.

I wrote about the need for collaboration between industry and education – and suggested that the German model, where training and apprenticeship are part of the fundamental educational program, should be part of the solution.

I was honoured to be recognized last month by The Learning Partnership for the education initiatives we have implemented at Siemens Canada which I will describe below. The Learning Partnership is a national charitable organization dedicated to support, promote and advance publicly funded education in Canada. Please click here to view my remarks from The Learning Partnership Tribute dinner.

In February of this year, I attended the official opening of the new Mechatronics Simulation and Demonstration Centre at Seneca College, the first such facility in Ontario. It’s a collaborative effort of the government of Ontario, Seneca, and Siemens Canada that will offer students an applied learning environment and ultimately, a certification that will help prepare them for success in Canada’s top industries.

During the opening ceremonies, Seneca College President David Agnew said that the new facility exists to train “the highly skilled workforce Ontario needs to take our manufacturing sector to the next level.

I was very honoured when he added, “When you partner with Siemens, you are partnering with the gold standard… an absolute global leader in advanced manufacturing… This is all about getting our students ready for the economy of today and tomorrow.”

Siemens is deeply committed in every way to fostering a new way of training. That’s why we have developed SCETA – Siemens Canada Engineering & Technology Academy. This unique initiative is designed to equip Canadian engineering and engineering technology students with the educational and professional foundation they need to forge successful careers – careers that hopefully will see them become vital members of the Siemens Canada team. We’re working with colleges and universities across Canada toward this objective. We are partnering with Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters on the program, because we agree that these efforts hold benefits for the entire Canadian manufacturing sector.

It’s a win-win-win program. The students participate in an enhanced co-op program at Siemens Canada, and are paid a full-time salary throughout their enrollment with SCETA during their final two years at university or college. Siemens also pays their tuition for those two years. Siemens wins, because we offer full-time positions to select students. The colleges and universities win, because expectations about job-readiness among graduates are now more closely aligned.

It’s working. The second term of SCETA is now underway. This particular cohort is spending four weeks of this term at our Siemens Mechatronics partner school, Sheridan College, in Brampton, Ontario. The students will obtain a Siemens Mechatronics Level 1 Certification, the first group in the country to accomplish this.

The Chamber of Commerce report I cited in my last blog acknowledges that there are some promising, individual efforts where business and industry are collaborating with educational institutions. I believe SCETA is a shining example of this.

But the report says this is not enough. It calls for “a more open approach to sharing information in an understandable and comparable way, a more system-wide approach to address gaps and barriers, policy incentives to encourage more collaboration between employers and educators where it makes sense, and work to build the tools needed to help all this happen.”

I could not agree more. The efforts of a few corporations such as Siemens, and a few educational institutions, will not solve the systemic problem that graduates are coming out of educational institutions, unprepared for the jobs that await them. The Chamber report was considerably harsher in its assessment: it says that the disconnect between education and job requirements is one of the causes of the “skills gap, which is said to be costing Ontario around $24.3 billion each year in lost GDP and British Columbia $6 billion.”

While there may be signs of improvement, in general our system is failing to produce job-ready, properly trained graduates. Well, enough of such failure. It’s being proven that a solution can exist. I am writing to you, my business colleagues, leaders, and educators, to encourage you to be part of the solution that leads to success. Let’s work together, literally and immediately, to build an educational model that produces the team members we need for all of our futures.

Akeela Peeples, The Learning Partnership, Sam Sebastian, Google Canada and Robert Hardt, Siemens Canada
Akela Peeples, The Learning Partnership, Sam Sebastian, Google Canada and Robert Hardt, Siemens Canada

Seneca Mechatronics Demonstration and Simulation Lab 4 Seneca Mechatronics Demonstration and Simulation Lab 6