The School of Continuing Studies celebrates its fifth birthday

Photo by Kevin Ku from Pexels
Photo by Kevin Ku from Pexels

This month, the School of Continuing Studies at York University is celebrating its fifth birthday. Publicly launched in 2015, the school amalgamated York University’s English Language Institute (YUELI) with the former Division of Continuing Education, to establish what has become one of the largest schools of its kind in Canada. Since it was founded, the school reports more than 1,000 per cent growth in continuing professional education enrolment, establishing York University as a national leader in the field.

Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly

When York University founded the school five years ago and invited Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, assistant vice-president of continuing studies at York University, to be the founding head, 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“We discarded outdated models and designed a new forward-thinking, student- and employer-centered model for continuing education, creating something truly unique in North America,”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. “Because we are so deeply attuned to the needs of working adults and employers, we were ideally situated to respond rapidly to the challenges of the ‘Future of Work’ or ‘Industry 4.0’ when it began to emerge a few years ago.”

Today, disruptive technologies are creating, changing and eliminating jobs as functions become automated. Earlier this month, the World Economic Forum during its meeting in Davos, released a study along with a global call to action contained in a platform called the Reskilling Revolution. The 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.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, approximately 10 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 immense challenges. Taylor-O’Reilly attributes the growth of the School of Continuing Studies to its commitment to responding rapidly to these social and economic challenges.

The school’s model aligns with York University’s four strategic pillars: access, connectedness, excellence and impact. The school offers professionals a unique learning experience, helping them to upskill and succeed in this rapidly changing work environment. New certificate programs are developed to fill the largest skill gaps in the GTA employment market and are developed with extensive input and collaboration with employers. Certificates are accelerated and offered only in a cohort format, meaning there are no one-off courses and students complete their continuing education certificate programs at a rate higher than industry norms.

Employers increasingly struggle with the need for human skills. The school’s certificate program design develops a “T-shaped” skillset, so as much importance is placed on “soft” or “human skills” as job-specific technical skills. To ensure these skills are learned and applied, students engage in extensive experiential learning throughout the certificate program, ranging from simulations and capstones to work-integrated learning. This allows them to demonstrate to employers that they have what it takes to excel in new or changing roles.

The school has also become a national leader by addressing emerging fields, such as machine learning, blockchain, people analytics and IT audit execution.

“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 more accessible to Canadians regardless of where they live by offering them in other parts of the country and increasingly online.”

The School of Continuing Studies has started offering certificate programs in Calgary, AB and has formed a strategic partnership with Mount Royal University to provide cyber security training in the Alberta market.

In addition to its expansive suite of certificate programs, the School of Continuing Studies supports the University’s internationalization strategy. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) recruited and prepared 42 per cent of York’s incoming international undergraduate students. Based on the findings in the Office of Institutional Planning & Analysis report and outlined in the school’s 2018-19 annual report, YUELI grads outperform their international peers in GPA, retention, and graduation.

In the first five years of its existence, the School of Continuing Studies has advanced access to relevant programming and focused on filling employment market gaps in the GTA and beyond.