Next year will mark the 50th anniversary for Edmonton-based NorQuest College, the Edmonton region’s community college.The milestone will mark a significant achievement in the college’s history and take place when its future has never been brighter. On the heels of a rebranding campaign, The Canadian Business Journal spoke with President and CEO Dr. Jodi L. Abbott about the college’s dedication to, and strategy for, delivering programs that are relevant to the needs of today’s work force.
“We understand that our students—whether they have just graduated high school, or are 50-years of age and are wishing to upgrade their skill set—want and need to enter the workforce with the skills that employees are looking for,” says Dr. Abbott.
“Our students come to us with goals,” continues Dr. Abbott. “They want to learn the skills and get the education they need to graduate. What we hope for them is that they will contribute to our society in a positive way.”
NorQuest College serves 8,500 students annually throughout Alberta in part-time, full-time, distance learning and regional programs, as well as providing adult education in Edmonton and 23 surrounding communities, including eight First Nations communities. In response to industry, business, and public sector needs, many courses are delivered online, giving increased opportunities for students in rural areas.
With a diverse course listing, NorQuest College has the country’s largest health care aide program and one of the largest practical nursing programs. Its community studies (social work), and business admin programming is also highly regarded as is its foundational programming, which includes academic upgrading and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. The latter program is just one manifestation of the college’s mandate to embrace diversity and honour inclusiveness; NorQuest College’s diverse student population is one of its core strengths, which is reflected by the 87 countries and 100 different languages represented throughout its local and rural campuses.
“With over 55 per cent of our students born outside this country, NorQuest College is leading the way when it comes to embracing Canada’s evolving population, and is committed to an inclusive and student-centred education that helps improve personal lives and meet the needs of our workforce,” says Dr. Abbott.
The last two years have seen NorQuest College go through a rebranding phase. Its new brand goes beyond logos and colour schemes; it also communicates its dedication to its students and the communities in which they live. After all, NorQuest plays a significant role to the financial health of Alberta. The college’s operations and student spending contribute more than $420 million annually to the regional economy.
“We wanted our stewardship community of Edmonton and surrounding area to understand we are evolving and focused on workforce relevance,” says Dr. Abbott. “It was an eight-month process to look at the promises we make to our students, community and industry, and how that translates into our behaviour and offerings.”
The college won a silver medal in June, 2013 in the Best Institutional Branding category of the annual Prix D’Excellence Awards. The awards are presented by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education for excellence in university advancement. NorQuest also received bronze in the Brand and Image Development/Identity Programs and Projects category at the 2013 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) district awards.
NorQuest College has honed its focus on the workforce, and in doing so reviewed its programs to ensure it will give its students the tools required in today’s competitive workforce. To this end, a workforce advisory council with leaders of five major industry sectors (construction, financial services, health and wellness, hospitality and services, and manufacturing) was established. It informs the college of what each sector sees in terms of skill gaps and opportunities and, more broadly, trends occurring in their industries.
“The council helps identify these gaps which we can then attempt to fill in terms of education,” says Dr. Abbott. “They also participate in helping us understand overall employee competencies so we can develop programs around that, too. It has been a wonderful opportunity because we are able to produce and develop a program that is exactly what industry is asking for. Additionally, we gain a unique cross-sector perspective on shifts and gaps in the marketplace.”
NorQuest College also works in partnership with First Nations and Métis communities, the Province of Alberta, Bow Valley College and the private sector to facilitate Aboriginal skill development and employment. The college recognizes that Canada’s Aboriginal population is the fastest-growing segment of our society yet the most under-represented demographic in the workforce. NorQuest College seeks to help transition Aboriginal students from the college to employers, and assist employers in developing more inclusive workplaces by creating linkages between programs and the workplace. Additionally, the college assists Alberta industry with key HR objectives such as cultural diversity in the workplace.
At NorQuest College the ultimate goal is student success. On average upwards of 1,100 students graduate from NorQuest each year, representing 23 areas of study including practical nursing, health care aide, academic upgrading, day home provider, business administration, and social work.
NorQuest College graduates are proud and confident of their education. Each year, 95 per cent of graduates either find employment or move on to further education. “Our students make an incredible difference to the community and contribute significantly to Alberta’s growing economy through meaningful and rewarding careers,” says Dr. Abbott.