Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit: Five Year Initiative on Canadian Education

Photo: Conference Board of Canada found at


I attended possibly the best learning experience I have had in recent years!

The 2nd Annual Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit was an extremely well-organized, wonderfully-designed experience for sharing expertise and new knowledge along with research insights and directions for post-secondary education in Canada. For the past decade or so, I have been on a learning curve to grasp as much as I can about the higher education landscape, especially Canada’s, with respect to best practices, innovative approaches and core initiatives geared at significantly enhancing student learning. This summit likely was the best “one-stop shop” for getting the full dose of engagement in this topic of student learning from as many perspectives as can be had…and the conference organizers really knew how to pack it all in two intense days!

The Conference Board of Canada has developed a Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, a major five-year initiative that will address Canada’s advanced skills needs by helping to renew the roles, structure, activities and impact of post-secondary education (PSE) system. The summit was focused on how we can better develop the educated and highly skilled population of graduates required by businesses, economy and society – even though education is a provincial government responsibility – improving students’ education and skills has to be a national priority.

The agenda contained outstanding keynote speakers, opportunities for dialogue and discussions to help formulate a draft strategy for academic reform in post-secondary education for Canada. Summaries of some presentations are accessible on the website. As a member of the Educational and Training in the Digital Age Reference Group of the Centre, there are 12 Reference Groups who gathered during the Summit to further explore their area and discuss related topics. Throughout the whole summit the conversation was rich, the participants fully engaged in discussions and new learning happening everywhere. I have never learned so much about a wide variety of topics in PSE in one gathering before! I learned more about:

  • PSE needs to focus on new ways of thinking and new pedagogies for learning
  • need to focus on leadership, communication, entrepreneurial thinking, ethical reasoning, global contextual analysis and creativity
  • changing education practices: need to learn to learn and need to learn how to unlearn (it is not about having new ideas, but getting rid of old ideas) – Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
  • new pedagogy: focus on tailored needs of individuals rather than teaching
  • new and varied modalities for learning: interactive and collaborative learning
  • technology enhanced active learning classrooms
  • new education model: transfer of knowledge to construction of knowledge, from following instructions to following our passion, learning in the classroom to learning 24/7, used to learn on our own -now learn in teams
  • University of future could be: undergrad studies, grad studies, professional development and training, career change studies and citizenship and life skills
  • Internet video account for 40% of all consumer Internet traffic (2012), Internet video will become 62% in 2016, mobile device growth is going to rise to 73% from 2014-2018
  • New ways to address the skills gap in PSE: foster a culture of innovation and smart risk-taking, restore fiscal balance by improving the way the government works, take new opportunities in global economy, identify champions and strategically invest, build a 21st century workforce (apprenticeship reform, new skills)
  • Workforce integrated learning (WIL) is the terminology to use rather than skills for careers
  • How do we evolve Canadian higher education?: undertake some structural changes (get rid of old models of staffing and funding), closely look at roles of accreditors (as their role increases, university control decreases), consider a pan-credit mobility system (so students can move more effortlessly across whole country), get governments to work with employer groups to build better connections etc.

The Centre is a collaboration of public and private sector stakeholders working together on a national education strategy for PSE. The goal of the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education is to create a Skills and PSE Strategy for Canada in the next two years hoping to stimulate change across the country. Working from a consultation document, the intent is to flesh out the Strategy for presenting at their 4th annual conference in November 2016. A draft strategy will be released next November 2015 at their 3rd annual summit in Edmonton, Alberta. Currently there exists a Consultation Document that was used to frame discussions and activity at the 2nd Annual Summit.

A Skills and PSE Strategy for Canada will ensure that all parts of the PSE system has the capacity to produce graduates with high quality skills and knowledge to contribute to the economic, social, political, cultural and individual well-being in Canada. The Centre is currently undertaking extensive research and consultations to obtain data and details to help inform the development of the strategy. So far three foundation studies (Skills – Where are we today?, Economic Impact on PSE in Canada, Governing PSE and Skills in Canada) have been released with the intent to release 6 more in the next year and develop this Draft Strategy for Discussion next November 2015. The following year six or more research studies will be completed including highlighting exemplary practices from other countries (called International Spotlight Studies – 12-16 case studies from abroad like Germany’s apprenticeship reform, Australia’s credential recognition, US’s technology enhancement for learning, Norway’s accessibility and equity model etc – half of these spotlight studies to be done by May 2015).

Overall this was an outstanding learning experience. Many viewpoints were presented and the organizers were very open to all voices to being heard so that the forthcoming PSE Strategy is well-informed. I will definitely be attending next year’s in Edmonton where the Draft Strategy will be presented. I feel I obtained a very comprehensive learning experience to bring me up to date on what is happening in post-secondary education throughout Canada.