Apprenticeships a hot topic at 2024 Polytechnic Showcase

Keynote predicts boom in college-run apprenticeship programs
Photo: James Gray
Keynote speaker Ryan Craig talks with an attendee about his book at the Polytechnic Showcase.
Keynote speaker Ryan Craig talks with an attendee about his book at the Polytechnic Showcase.
Keynote speaker Ryan Craig talks with an attendee about his book at the Polytechnic Showcase. Photo credit: James Gray

Job prospects for college grads was a frequent subject, along with housing issues, at this year’s Polytechnic Showcase, with the keynote speaker proposing a long-term solution: Apprenticeships.

The May 15-16 conference was organized by Algonquin administration and Polytechnics Canada, a non-profit association between the 13 colleges. The association is dedicated to “Research & Innovation, Skills & Talent, and Diversity & Inclusion” and “rais[ing] the profile of applied, industry-focused education,” according to its website.

More than 50 professors, administrators and industry professionals toured T-building and the Centre for Construction Excellence, networked and made speeches. Each college gave one presentation. Some were more relevant to students, such as George Brown’s “Addressing Student Housing in Trying Times,” in which staff discussed the many barriers to affordable housing in Toronto, and the college’s advocacy for “increasing the supply and diversity of off-campus homes” and “dedicated funding and expedited approvals for affordable on-campus housing construction.” Other presentations were more industry-focused, such as Fanshawe’s “Exploring the Symbiosis of Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence.”

Emily Burgess of Fanshawe College navigates a crowd at the Showcase’s lunch.
Emily Burgess of Fanshawe College navigates a crowd at the Showcase’s lunch. Photo credit: James Gray

Author and businessman Ryan Craig gave the closing keynote address, in which he emphasized that apprenticeships will have a major rise in North America over the next few years.

“We see jobs that used to be accessible for first-time graduates, now say six months of experience or more [are required to apply],” Craig said in his speech. “Fifty-two per cent of recent college graduates are underemployed …. If you’re underemployed in your first job, you’re more likely to be underemployed in your second job and beyond. Which makes sense, since a career is a pathway.” (By underemployed, Craig explained that he means the person is working a job that does not relate to their college degree.)

Craig suggested that the apprenticeship model – a mixture of work, on-the-job training and classroom learning, with full-time employment at the end if the student is satisfactory – could be especially important for digital skills, which he considers less effectively taught in classrooms. “We’re seeing massive movement around apprenticeship in the U.S.,” Craig said in an interview before his speech. He believes that five to 10 years from now, provincial governments may mandate colleges to create apprenticeship programs in a variety of disciplines.

Promotional materials at the Showcase's lunch.
Promotional materials at the Showcase's lunch. Photo credit: James Gray

In his speech, he also commented that intermediary organizations would need to organize large-scale apprenticeship programs, and that colleges could be an ideal fit for this role. “Apprenticeships flourish because there are what we call intermediaries who do the heavy lifting of setting up and running these programs … The intermediary needs to go knocking on the employer door, offering to set up and run the program and make it seamless or almost turnkey for the employer,” said Craig in an interview with The Future of Education podcast last year.

Craig’s speech was related to his recent book, Apprentice Nation, which he gave out signed copies of at the Showcase.

As the host, Algonquin did not give a presentation. However, Claude Brulé, president of the college, moderated the panels and gave opening and closing remarks. Christopher Hahn, Dean of the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence and the Perth Campus, participated in the panel “Are We Ready? Addressing Canada’s Housing Supply, Talent Shortage and Climate Resilience Challenges.”

“I think [the Showcase is] the right size, and has the right people,” said Colin Jones, of the British Columbia Institute of Technology. “I like being able to connect with people you only see once or twice a year.”

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