The Lassonde School of Engineering at York University is paving the way when it comes to alternative types of learning, focusing on non-traditional avenues that encourage a company to hire candidates based on their future potential and invest in their learning and development. Something that seems quite innovative in Canada is already well established in other parts of the world.
Jane Goodyer, Dean of Lassonde, has seen this model rise to great success in the U.K. Since launching there in 2015 with 756 learners, it has now grown to more than 22,500 students and is offered by most higher education providers in England.
Prior to joining Lassonde in 2018, Dean Goodyer worked at Massey University in New Zealand where she served as Head of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology. There she played an instrumental role in implementing New Zealand’s first fully work-integrated degree model.
Naturally, when she came to Toronto, she knew exactly what to do to set Lassonde apart. Now, Lassonde’s work-integrated Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Technologies (BASc) degree, a first for Canada, is signing on employer partners and accepting students who will start the program in September 2023.
We sat down with Dean Goodyer to chat about this new program, the benefits of this type of learning option for both employers and learners and how organizations can get involved.
Dean Goodyer, can you give us a brief overview of how the new program will work?
JG: The work-integrated Bachelor of Applied Science in Digital Technologies (BASc) degree program is a uniquely flexible alternative to traditional university study whereby a learner will work in a full-time job for four years with approximately 20 per cent of their work time dedicated to theoretical learning at the Markham Campus, delivered during five-day block periods every six-to-seven weeks. The rest of their work hours will be spent in the workplace where academic learning will be continually applied and integrated as they gain experience and contribute to their employer’s goals. Students will have a choice of three specialism routes, including software developer, cyber security analyst, or data scientist.
Why is this new model necessary?
JG: The need for more work-integrated learning opportunities is critical given ongoing skills shortages, exacerbated by COVID-19. Canadian businesses are struggling to attract and retain high-quality talent who can implement technology solutions that develop, protect and improve products, services and productivity. In fact, an Information and Communications Technology Council report last year estimated that Canada’s employers would need to fill an additional 250,000 technology jobs by 2025. This program responds to the pressing need for more digital technology specialists.
How does the program address employers’ digital technology needs?
JG: Because the program was designed and developed in collaboration with a visionary group of businesses, companies, public sector organizations, and industry associations, the curriculum and learning outcomes deliver the knowledge, skills and professionalism required to excel in the workforce. Senior technology experts from these organizations, our “Trailblazers,” helped inform every aspect of the program to ensure it responds to employers’ needs now and in the future. CIO Strategy Council and TECHNATION Canada were also instrumental in brokering consultation across the sector. The program’s work-integrated delivery enables students to immediately apply what they learn in class to their job, giving employers fresh ideas with a reduced learning curve.
What are the benefits of this alternative way of learning?
JG: There are numerous benefits for both students and employers. Organizations can attract high-quality talent with innovative ideas, the latest knowledge and advanced skills. They can also recruit a more diverse talent base by removing financial barriers for students who earn a salary throughout their four-year degree. Research shows that employers with a more diverse workforce perform better financially than those without one. In addition, this program can be an avenue to upskill existing employees and drive high levels of employee retention while providing the organization with insight and expertise that come from partnering with a leading university.
For students, the greatest benefit is the unique combination of full-time paid work with degree studies, allowing them to earn while they learn. Approximately, 80 per cent of the program is experiential, starting from day one, so students can apply their theoretical learning immediately and continuously on the job throughout their work experience. This combination of work-based and academic experiences will give them a competitive edge upon graduation.
What is the target demographic for the program?
JG: This program is ideal for those who are interested in pursuing a career in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. That could range from recent high school graduates to those who are not currently working or employees in the workforce who want to change or advance their careers. We really encourage applications from candidates who may not currently see themselves represented in STEM fields or who face financial or other barriers towards pursuing a postsecondary education.
Is there an opportunity to bridge the gap if the learner lacks certain skills or experiences?
JG: Yes, in addition to having access to York University’s student services, learners will have both a Personal Workplace Coach and an Academic Coach, as well as a Company Mentor who will support them and help develop their skills in the workplace. We also offer the Lassonde Academy, an online learning platform designed to help students boost their confidence and brush up on key skills before they join our School.
Do you see the program expanding in the future, to include additional degree programs?
JG: Yes, the fully work-integrated degree program is a scalable model, which has the potential to address skills shortages in various sectors. Expanding to other programs will enhance Canada’s ability to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workforce that sets the pace in a rapidly changing, competitive landscape. In the U.K., for example, fully work-integrated degrees are offered in everything from aerospace engineering and financial services to life sciences and business management.
Is this type of learning going to surpass traditional 4-year degree programs?
JG: No, there will always be students who want the full campus experience. Rather, the fully work-integrated program model will complement traditional university programs by offering another approach to learning. It presents a real opportunity to empower disadvantaged groups to become more socially mobile.
If the outcomes for graduates in the U.K. are any indication, it’s a very attractive option. Manchester Metropolitan University, a leading U.K. provider of this type of work-integrated programming, recently reported that 78 per cent of their Digital & Technology Solutions students received a pay raise and 64 per cent received a promotion during their program. In addition, their average salary one year after graduating was 46 per cent (£18,000) higher than the average U.K. computing graduate and 5 per cent (£2,000) higher than graduates from the top five computing courses in the U.K. (including Oxford and Cambridge). Demand for these types of programs will also be driven through employers who leverage them to address skills shortages by finding and growing the talent they need.
Where can interested learners or companies go to get more information?
JG: Check out our website lassonde.yorku.ca/digitaltech to learn more. Employers can also email email@example.com for information on student recruitment, which starts January 2023.
Working with international companies looking to access the incredible talent that our region has to offer, I can see this new initiative being a great success. Talent truly is the number one driver for companies looking to expand, and we must keep up when it comes to alternative forms of education. Reach out if you are interested in learning more about Lassonde’s new integrated learning opportunity.
Ellen Mitchell is the Senior Advisor, Talent Partnerships at Toronto Global. Reach out if you are looking to build or scale a team in the Toronto Region.