School of Continuing Studies celebrates 1,000 per cent growth for 5-year anniversary

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By Matthew McGrath

Tracey Taylor-O'Reilly handing out cake

This month, the York University School of Continuing Studies celebrated its fifth anniversary. Created in 2015 by amalgamating one of North America’s largest English Language Institutes (YUELI) with the former Division of Continuing Education (DCE), York established one of the largest schools of its kind in Canada and officially committed to becoming a national and international leader in this field. Since its launch, the School of Continuing Studies has grown exponentially, with over 1,000 per cent growth in enrolment.

When Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, Assistant Vice-President of Continuing Studies, was brought on to found the school five years ago, she was determined to reimagine what continuing professional education could look like for the 21st century by responding to the needs of students and employers.

“We discarded outdated models and designed a new forward-thinking, student- and employer-centered model for continuing education, creating something truly unique in North America,” says Taylor-O’Reilly. “We made these decisions to differentiate ourselves from other continuing education programs and fill unmet needs. Because we are so deeply attuned to the needs of working adults and employers, we were ideally situated to respond to the challenges of ‘the future of work’ or ‘Industry 4.0’ when it began to emerge a few years ago.”

In fact, last week in Davos, the World Economic Forum released a study along with a bold global call to action, called the Reskilling Revolution. This call to action includes expanding and increasing access to opportunities for lifelong learning to develop human capital and ensure that people have the skills to be employable and productive in face of the Future of Work challenge. These actions need to be taken in order to build a fairer, more inclusive world that will deliver benefits to the economy and society for generations to come.

The School of Continuing Studies emerged during a significant moment in Canadian and global history. Disruptive technologies are creating, changing, and eliminating jobs at a speed not before seen. Jobs are changing as certain functions are becoming automated. So, while employees might remain in their existing role, the role itself may change significantly. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, about 10 per cent to 12 per cent of Canadians could face job loss unless they acquire new formal qualifications. The “future of work” conversation revolves around finding solutions to these current and future challenges that are emerging across Canada. Taylor-O’Reilly attributes the school’s unprecedented growth to its deep commitment to responding to these societal challenges.

Students at the school receive a unique learning experience, helping them to upskill and succeed in this rapidly changing work environment. Programs are accelerated and offered only in a cohort format, meaning there are no one-off courses. Because of this, students complete their continuing education programs faster and at a rate exponentially higher than industry norms. The School’s program design also teaches students to develop a T-shaped skillset, meaning as much importance is placed on “soft” or “human skills,” as job-specific technical skills, reflecting an increasingly important need for employers. To ensure these skills are learned and applied, students engage in case studies, simulations, and real workplace projects throughout the program, allowing them to demonstrate to employers that they have what it takes to excel in new or changing roles.

The school is also the leader in Canada in being the first to market with innovative new programs that address emerging skills gaps, such as Machine Learning, Blockchain, People Analytics, and IT Audit Execution.

Professionals across the country do not always have the same access to emerging university continuing education options as those in the GTA. “At York University, we feel we have a responsibility to address the emerging national skills gap in a way that does not leave large groups of the population behind,” says Taylor O’Reilly. “We’re working to ensure that our cutting-edge educational opportunities are available to Canadians regardless of where they live, their backgrounds, or schedules.”

To this end, the School recently formed a strategic partnership with Mount Royal University in Calgary, AB to offer their innovative Cyber Security program in the Alberta market. The school is committed to expanding partnerships with institutions in industry and education on a national scale to have a larger and more impactful reach on preparing Canadians for the future of work.

In the first five years, York’s School of Continuing Studies has had a major impact on advancing access to relevant programming to fill employment market gaps. Looking forward, York University will continue to invest to be a leader and partner in developing the workforce skills of tomorrow across Canada.