Ontario colleges focus on employment impact

Published 29/09/2022

International students studying in smaller Ontario colleges find themselves as “bigger fish in a smaller pond” and will find it easier to gain job opportunities in the region due to a less competitive market, stakeholders from the Canadian province have suggested.

During a PIE webinar on the role that Ontario’s institutions are playing in helping the local communities “to thrive”, representatives from the economic development teams at two of the province’s institutions told viewers how their students will “stick out a lot more” when it comes to post-graduation job hunting.

“Going to these large institutions where you’re another number compared to a name on a first name basis on some of these other college campuses, I think a lot of international students like that personal feel,” said Nathaniel Veltkamp, St Clair College’s director of international education.

He went on to say that this “family feel”, where everybody is on a first name basis is something that students appreciate, and could be a “big selling point” when getting students to come to Canada for their studies.

Another panelist, Scott Slaney, who is associate director of global business development at Niagara College, agreed that this personal feel would be key to gaining students’ trust.

“I think a lot of international students like that personal feel”

“We have our various programs getting students out into the community, undertaking volunteer activities. Volunteerism is not necessarily a globally common thing, but it’s very common here in Canada and it really helps to establish a much stronger network.

“When you’re establishing a network in smaller community, that network tends to be more expansive,” Slaney explained.

In terms of getting students to stay in Canada, Slaney also said that the region was uniquely placed to give international students work placements once they’ve graduated, which could help bring them in permanently, due to current labour shortages.

“Ontario is very dependent on migrant workers, and a major component of that are international students. There are various programs that allow them to stay here after graduation to contribute to the labour force to either start businesses or be employed,” Slaney said.

“It actually gives them a leg up once they’ve graduated from Canadian or Ontario institutions,” he added.

St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario, is a good example of this, as geographically it is a prime location for these graduating international students, as its R&I program manager John Lopez explained.

“Companies in North America are situated right on our doorstep. We’re kind of right in the middle of that, as well as the supply chain. Six OEMs are headquartered within 260 kilometres of our area, being so close to the US in Ohio,” said Lopez.

With Detroit also not far away, the opportunities for vocational work placements at automotive factories would also be easy to reach for graduates.

“I think we’re situated in a great position where our students are going to be educated and trained in these areas and in these programs where we’re starting to create new curricula and new programs that lead to these new innovative industries,” Lopez continued.

“Companies in North America are situated right on our doorstep”

Lyndon Ashton, who heads up Niagara College’s R&I division, said that with all the factors, whether it be economic or student support, Ontario colleges need to think “entrepreneurially”.

“[The province’s] colleges evolved around this notion of satisfying workforce development needs. That moves into workforce and talent development, and for us, it also includes economic development, where we have this kind of trifecta of success,” he said.

“We take that to another level when we look at how we strategically direct and then operate our innovation centres and our applied research programming, where there is always a student, always an industry partner and always a subject matter expert or experts involved. And if we ensure that that ethos is there, then we know that we’re filling our economic, our workforce and our talent at all mandates,” Ashton added.

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