In 37 years at NBCC, Heather Hatheway has been witness to a lot of change: staff, technology, academic delivery methods, and, of course, students, have all shifted over nearly four decades. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is NBCC’s commitment to identifying the barriers that keep people out of post-secondary education, and finding ways to remove those barriers.
As Dean of the School of Professional and Part-time Learning (PPL), Heather leads a team that is dedicated to making post-secondary education accessible to all, no matter where they are in the province or in life.
“PPL is reaching that New Brunswicker who doesn’t see themselves as a college student, and showing them the possibilities,” said Heather. “It’s impactful, what you can do when you understand what learners struggle with and you can get them the skills that employers need.
“Education really does change lives. It’s powerful.”
In the last two years, a period of major workforce upheaval, the work of PPL has become more important than ever. Those with jobs in sectors vulnerable to disruption found themselves displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and responded with an unprecedented desire to reskill or upskill for more sustainable employment.
With focused, short-duration programs, curriculum designed in collaboration with industry, and flexible delivery options, PPL provided the opportunities they needed to rejoin the workforce. In the 2021-22 academic year, PPL enrolment grew by nearly 50%, contributing to a new record of overall enrolment – 12,460 students across seven Schools!
While the pandemic played a role in the number of students seeking training opportunities, that’s only one part of the equation. Without the cooperation of industry to identify labour gaps and hire PPL graduates, PPL would not be able to offer the breadth of programming options it currently does. In some cases, industry steps up to provide instructors and even training facilities, and that’s because of the goodwill associated with the NBCC brand.
“That encourages employers to come to the College to seek opportunities,” Heather noted. “They come to us, and it only increases as we raise the profile of what the College can contribute.
“Success breeds success,” she added. “When we deliver well for our industry partners, they come back. Our partners spread the word about our success. That’s community supporting training. Where there’s industry support, that is key.”
Another factor that feeds into PPL’s success is the team working with industry. The College’s Business Development Managers work tirelessly to meet the College’s mandate of providing relevant skills training that meets the province’s labour market needs.
“They’re the right people, in the right role. They’re very competitive with themselves, and they set the bar higher without me having to raise it for them.”
Heather is especially proud of the work her team has done in community-based delivery of programs with First Nations partners across New Brunswick. PPL has built meaningful relationships with these partners to identify the labour market, cultural, and educational needs of First Nations communities, with the result of programming designed with all three top of mind.
“We have been very authentic in our connections to First Nations communities and that has built trust, leading to us being able to provide customized training in the community,” she said. “The customization ensures that we have the most impact we can with the training we’re providing.”
Looking ahead, Heather expects the growth of PPL to continue as today’s workforce becomes increasingly mobile.
“Learners have changed a lot; people aren’t staying in the same job forever,” she said. “They’re returning to get short-term, focused training and competencies. By continuing to listen to what employers and stakeholders need, and being aware of where learners are and what their barriers are, NBCC has an important role to play.”