When La Cité surveyed the needs of Ottawa employers several years ago, a distinct trend became clear: No longer is it sufficient to send graduates into the workforce armed solely with one specific skill set. Businesses and organizations need their staff to be able to collaborate, adapt to new situations and troubleshoot challenges.
In response, La Cité began experimenting with its curriculum and transforming its programs, becoming the first Ontario college to operate all its programs on a competency-based model.
Regardless of their program, every La Cité graduate is also equipped with four essential competencies: entrepreneurship and initiative, engagement, creativity and bilingualism.
With so much information currently available at the click of a mouse, “knowledge is easily accessible,” says Lynn Casimiro, La Cité’s academic vice-president. While course content remains important, Casimiro says she sees a unique opportunity for La Cité to move beyond the transmission of knowledge from professors to students and better equip graduates for the modern labour market.
The journey to revamp the curriculum began more than three years ago. Shortly after Casimiro joined La Cité in 2016, the college administration surveyed its industry partners and found their curriculum’s primary emphasis on technical skills was leaving certain employer needs unfilled.
In response, Casimiro and her colleagues adopted a competency-based model that emphasized a holistic approach to learning where technical skills and soft skills were more balanced and anchored in workplace reality. Administrators are halfway through the seven-year project, in which every program is being completely redesigned.
Innovation in the classroom
Teaching students more complete workplace skills required a rethink of the classroom experience. La Cité is running a pilot program called Mobilicité in its satellite Toronto campus in which groups of six to eight students are placed in an employers’ office to gain hands-on experience for the duration of their program.
Students also complete online or condensed short duration courses. For example, journalism students could be placed with CBC to learn how to work in a newsroom while taking online courses about the fundamentals of journalism.
At its Ottawa campuses, La Cité is experimenting with a “molecular model” in which students develop their competencies solely through project-based learning. Instead of traditional classroom lectures, students complete real-world projects from industry partners. A pilot program in the graphic arts department will soon begin.
To keep up with market demands, faculty undertake an annual curriculum review and receive feedback from employers about the job market. Using employer data, faculty members create five to eight competencies for each program.
For example, agrifood employers told La Cité that many people entering the industry needed more entrepreneurial skills as well as the ability to develop partnerships. Through the curriculum review, agricultural students are now learning how to enter into partnerships, run a business, manage human resources and upskill to keep up with market changes. In the future, students will work on projects for local businesses in eastern Ontario and have classes at local farms.
“Employers are moving away from hiring people that only have one specific technical skill,” says Casimiro. “It’s about flexibility and adaptability as well as developing critical thinking skills, learning how to solve issues and achieving better results.”
By the numbers
La Cité is the largest francophone applied arts and technology college in Ontario with 18,000 students. Because students learn technical terms in English and French, students are able to work in a bilingual environment. “Our mission is to prepare and graduate Ottawa’s largest bilingual workforce,” says Casimiro. “This is what we believe to be most powerful in today’s economy.”