A Community College: Different Programs, Different Prospects
Laura Servage March, 2018
Education With Prospects for the FutureThere is no doubt that short courses offered by community colleges fulfill important roles, both in terms of individual development and meeting immediate labour market needs. However, the limited prospects for future growth in such occupations highlights many of the problems that arise when work and learning are constructed by policy makers entirely in economic terms — as something divorced from people’s community lives, interests and aspirations. The capabilities approach to education calls for a more expansive understanding of education and work. It is a vision that cannot be achieved through market mechanisms alone. Presently, employability programs — particularly those aligned with so-called “welfare-to-work” schemes — perform a short-term and arguably short-sighted matching function: they develop skills in potential workers and match workers to jobs that need to be filled. The outcome is one with a good likelihood of employing people, but also of keeping them trapped in jobs without opportunities for growth (Keep & James, 2012).
Coordinating Work and LearningInstead of a matching function, such programs need to move toward a coordinating function that builds and relies upon community partnerships. Because of their strong geographical roots and vocational focus, community colleges are ideally suited to perform this function (Wheelahan, 2016). Comparing Ontario’s VET-oriented colleges to Australia’s TAFEs, Wheelahan argues that Ontario’s system is superior because it relies more upon “high trust” relationships among employers, workers’ organizations, and educational institutions. Strong, flexible local partnerships make it more likely that VET can be developed within a capabilities framework rather than the narrow, short-term focus on skills engendered by human capital theory. A similar vision for strong collaboration is articulated in the 2016 report to the Ontario Premier, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow. Interestingly, the panel states that, rather than inquiry toward a “highly skilled workforce,” it would be “more useful for the province to focus on the workforce as a whole.” (p. 10) The distinction drawn here is not elaborated and is thus somewhat unclear. It may be interpreted as aiming for greater inclusion of workers and labour market positions at the lower end of the skills sector in policy visioning and policy development. The model of collaboration promoted in the report is similar to the partnership model that Wheelahan and Moodie have promoted within the capabilities framework. Instead of relying on markets that can buffet disadvantaged workers about in the “low pay no pay cycle,” (Essential Skills Ontario, 2012) social partnerships are intentional efforts among stakeholders to coordinate education, training and paid employment. Ideally such efforts yield vocational streams — overlapping occupations and occupational sectors that draw on like or similar capabilities (Wheelahan, Yu & Buchanan, 2015). The goal of developing vocational streams is to strengthen both horizontal and vertical mobility in ways that benefit workers and employers alike.
Keeping the Full Spectrum in MindThe size and visibility of Ontario’s higher education sector makes it easy to focus on the kinds of pathways that move people diplomas to degrees — from mid-skill credentials to applied or academic degrees with subsequent potential for graduate skills. Indeed, PEW’s present SSHRC project is focused very much in this area. However, it is also important to recognize the kinds of pathways work that needs to happen at the lower end of the skills spectrum. Present PEW initiatives to map pathways for Canada’s engineers and nurses are revealing some of the challenges of developing career ladders and vocational streams that help people with short qualifications to move into academic and applied academic programs. These challenges must be addressed if a fully inclusive model of post-secondary pathways is to become a reality. References Conway, S. (2016). Building the workforce of tomorrow. Report from the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel. Retrieved from https://files.ontario.ca/hsw_rev_engaoda_webfinal_july6.pdf Essential Skills Ontario (2012). From better skills to better work. Toronto ON: Author. Keep, E., & James, S. (2012). A Bermuda triangle of policy? “Bad jobs”, skills policy and incentives to learn at the bottom end of the labour market. Journal of Education Policy, 27(2), 211–230. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2011.595510 Wheelahan, L. (2016). Vocational education in crisis: Why we need a new social settlement. Centre of the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education. OISE, University of Toronto. Wheelahan, L., Buchanan, J., & Yu, S. (2015). Linking qualifications and the labour market through capabilities and vocational streams. Synthesis report. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). Adelaide. Retrieved from https://www.ncver.edu.au/__data/assets/file/0018/9261/linking-quals-and-labour-market.pdf
4th International Pathways Collaborative Symposium
We are inviting researchers to submit an expression of interest to participate in our 4th International Symposium in Bolzano, Italy from 2 – 6pm on Monday 3 September 2018. The key theme for the colloquium will be ‘Theorising pathways through and to education and work’.
Skolnik, M., Wheelahan, L., Moodie, G., Liu, Q., Adam, E., and Simpson, D. (2018). Exploring the potential contribution of college bachelor degree programs
in Ontario to reducing social inequality, Policy Reviews in Higher Education, doi:
Adam, Edmund G. (2017). The forces shaping national response(s) to global educational regulatory initiatives: The case for Germany and Ontario. Interchange, 48(4), 331-350.