Sustainability and retooling the skills you already have to match market changes will continue to drive an upsurge in continuing education program enrolments, experts say.

Judith Plessis, executive director of continuing studies at the University of British Columbia, says the current market downturn has pushed holistic business practices and sustainability to the forefront of employers’ minds.

“I think sustainability will drive a lot of business processes going forward. People realize that something’s broken. If you’re one of the people who are in charge, you’ve got to think through about sustainability and what fuelled this recession,” she said.

Skills are more important than ever, but Plessis says technology has forced traditional skill sets to adapt and change in subtle ways. Whereas in the past a project manager might have done fine with “hard” skills learned exclusively in business school, today that same manager needs to have a profound knowledge of social networking, communications technologies and job descriptions well beyond their own.

“To be able to be rehired, it’s not just about upgrading, it’s retooling your skills as well. It’s not so much about the hard skills but also a very creative way of seeing soft changes. You have to understand the whole view of what technology has changed in the world and how it impacts your job,” she said.

Marilynn Booth, director at the University of Toronto School for Continuing Studies, says the popularity of continuing education courses has definitely surged throughout the country this year. Enrolments are up 15 per cent over last year in U of T’s continuing studies programs alone, showing that people are committed to strengthening their careers in this recession.

“When the economy gives people cause for worry, people take their careers into their own hands to position themselves for a stronger career. What we’re seeing is continued growth across the board, particularly in our business and career-oriented courses,” Booth said.

While in good economic times employers often foot the bill for extra studies, Booth says the tough economy has meant many new students are being forced to foot the bill themselves.

Booth says bio-technology, project management and credential-granting courses are seeking the highest increase in enrolments.

“Students are trying to find a pathway to employment and it’s common sense that they’re positioning themselves for greater things as they seek higher unemployment,” Booth said.

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