In uncertain economic times, continuing education programs can be a pillar of career-building strength, but only if people take the initiative themselves, experts say.


Andrew Cochrane, president of the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE) and dean of the College of Continuing Education at Dalhousie University, says as employers tighten their belts, they are less likely to front money for employees to get advanced training. The onus gets placed on individuals to search out continuing education programs that enhance their skills and fund that training on their own.


“The employer is not paying as much now for training employees as the individual is,” Cochrane said.


Marilynn Booth, director of the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto and former president of CAUCE, says that as a result of less corporate-funded education, schools need to work harder than ever to offer meaningful, effective programs to attract enterprising students.


“The need for continuing education increases as people feel more threatened in their work lives. The onus is on continuing education providers to be on the leading edge and build programs that serve the needs of the future,” Booth said.

Cochrane says enrolments in continuing education programs are up across Canada. That’s because learning institutions of all types generally do well in weakened economies as people try to retrain for new careers.

What is worrying, he says, is that many of the people being laid off in the downturn had just started their careers and were expected to succeed aging baby boomers as they retired, leaving an impending leadership void once those boomers leave the workforce.

Cochrane says many companies are just not training enough young leaders to take over the roost.

“We were in bad shape before with succession planning and we’re going to be worse off in the future,” Cochrane said.

While the Internet has had a profound impact on how education takes place, Cochrane says it hasn’t replaced in-class learning — rather, it has strengthened it. He sees a trend in older students taking continuing education courses online as well as fewer recreational students doing it just for fun.

“When distance education came about, there were people saying, ‘That’s the end of the face-to-face classes.’ Well that’s clearly not the case. Online learning facilitates flexibility but the composition of who’s online is changing as well,” Cochrane said.