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Skills-based education must be our priority

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

Each year hundreds of graduates emerge from our local high schools to pursue some form of post-secondary education. They are generally faced with two choices presenting very different career options.

The first of these choices offer a “skills -based” educational path, as provided by our local NSCC campuses, as opposed to a “knowledge-based” pursuit of learning at one of many available universities.

We mistakenly tend to think of “skills-based” educations as being limited to the “trades”. As valuable as these trade skills are to our community, this is too narrow a view of the range of skills now needed to generate the economic growth we seek.

Think of entrepreneurial skills; advanced technical skills; design, production and marketing skills; financial skills, people management skills; health care skills, creative skills, training and coaching skills…the list goes on.

Whereas, the “knowledge-based” educational path is mainly geared to producing “professionals” such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, scientists, academics, where deep knowledge of various facets of our world is fundamental to their calling.

So, as a community needing to grow economically, should we have a bias towards one or the other of these paths of education?

I personally favour a strong bias towards “skills-based” post-secondary education as provided by our own NSCC campuses if we are serious about economic growth being our top priority.

No offence to my “professional” colleagues, but we should not look to them to play a central role in growing our local economy, but to provide expert “knowledge-based” support to the people with the skills to make that happen.

There are some major advantages that come with this bias. To begin with, the “skills-based” education path can be much less consuming of the scarce time and financial resources of our youth aiming to join the “job-ready” skilled workforce that we will need to create. 

Secondly, there is strong evidence that the percentage of graduates that end up working in their “intended field of study” after graduating is far higher for colleges that focus on “skill-based” education programs. This is not surprising, but it is a critical factor in a community’s planning for a productive workforce to meet its needs.

Also, because of the typically smaller size of colleges such as NSCC, students are more likely to receive individual attention from the faculty, many of whom have real world experience in their areas of expertise outside of the classroom.

I’ve written a lot recently in this journal about our own NSCC for a couple of reasons. First, as a relative newcomer to this community, I was struck by the important role it can and must play in improving our poor economic growth situation, if it received some help in telling its story to students and parents in the community.

I also had a personal interest because of my son Henry’s positive experience with another “skills-based” institute in Toronto just a few years ago…and I was curious to learn if there were similarities with NSCC that were worth noting….and indeed there were many that reinforced in my mind the value of both such places of learning.

From his early teens my son showed a real talent for popular music composition and production. After graduating from St Patrick’s High School in Halifax, he signed up for an intense full year course on music production skills at the Harris Institute in Toronto . The year was made up of three terms, each around four-months duration with just a few days break between each one. No time was wasted here, and he was certainly “job ready” following graduation.

I was impressed that the students there were taught by mostly part-timers who had “day/night jobs” in the music scene and would sometimes take students along with them on assignment – much like the NSCC faculty, having real world experience to offer in their areas of expertise outside of the classroom.

This institute also helped build relationships within the local music scene.... echoing the work experience opportunities offered by our local NSCC. The graduate success rate was extremely high and their consistent zero per cent student loan default rates reflected that.

The contacts my son made there eventually led to his moving to Los Angeles some seven years ago, where he continues his career, always focussed on improving his skills in that very competitive environment.

In the meantime, I have gained a very personal appreciation of the contribution our local “skills-based” college makes to the community. 

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and

worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at

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