BCIT changes the game with new applied learning credit

Earlier this month, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) announced that employees of McDonald’s restaurants and Canadians serving in the military can have their on-the-job training recognized as credit toward a degree or diploma.

This is nothing short of a game-changer, in terms of post-secondary educators recognizing transferable skills as a critical component in applied learning.

I spoke with Kevin Wainwright, the program head of the BCIT School of Business, about this unprecedented move in Canadian education, how it operates and its future.

Robert Nettleton: Why did BCIT decide to recognize at-work training programs as credit towards a business degree or diploma?

Kevin Wainwright: There has been a great deal of talk about the looming skills shortage in Canada. I believe that what we really have is a skills alignment and a skills recognition problem. We live in a dynamic, information-based economy; people acquire valuable skills in more settings than just school. We will see more people who have experience and on-the-job training making career changes. Asking these people to go back to square one is a disservice to both them and the economy—in fact it is costly both personally and to the economic system. This type of program fits well with BCIT’s mandate. BCIT is known for having its programs linked to industry and providing career-ready training. This is just an extension of our primary purpose to serve the province of British Columbia.

RN: The Canadian military and McDonald’s restaurants represent two very different industries. What do these two have in common that make them ideal for BCIT?

KW: A point of clarity: these are two separate programs, but there are two themes common to both McDonald’s and the military. First, they have well-structured and documented training systems. This makes it easier to quantify and validate skills from our side. Second, both environments develop teamwork, accountability, time management and problem-solving skills. Additionally, we find that both McDonald’s employees and those with military experience bring a great worth ethic. These are the intangibles that the private sector highly values. They are also the skills necessary to excel in BCIT’s intensive program delivery model.

RN: How do you assess or determine which at-work training courses qualify as credit to BCIT?

KW: First, we had a team from BCIT carefully review and analyze all the training modules at McDonald’s. We then used focus groups combined with knowledge and aptitude tests to validate our findings. We used an “outcomes” approach, which essentially asks the question, “What courses and programs at BCIT would produce a student with the same knowledge and skills found in a McDonald’s manager?”

RN: What makes a prospective student eligible to participate?

KW: Any McDonald’s employee who has completed the Team Leader, Shift Manager, Second Assistant, First Assistant or Store Manager course work is eligible. The higher the level achieved, the more recognition of credits will be awarded.

RN: Are there plans for BCIT to recognize training from other industries or companies in the future? 

KW: Yes. BCIT has always done prior learning assessments. It is usually done on a case-by-case basis. However, for any group or organization that has a standardized training program, we can use a similar approach. We have already begun working with First Responders in a similar way. We have a firefighter program that has been in place since 2012, which was supported by the BC Fire Chiefs’ Association. We are beginning work with paramedics and plan on mapping police training next.

RN: Do you think this decision is something we can look forward to from other technical universities and colleges in Canada?

KW: Most definitely. With respect to the military, we are a founding member of a coalition that includes Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), TriOS College, Fanshawe College, Vanier College and the Marine Institute in Newfoundland. The coalition will share knowledge and recognize each institute’s prior learning assessments for veterans. McDonald’s has asked us to advise colleges in Ontario who have expressed interest in setting up similar programs.

RN: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

KW: This partnership is the first of its kind. I believe this is a direction that we, as a society, need to explore. This is a model that has been available to senior executives in Canada through executive MBA programs for years. What we are doing is making that model available to those in junior or middle management.

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