While COVID has caused many of us to be physically separated from our colleagues, it is still amazing to see what can happen when people work together virtually. On Vancouver Island, post-secondary institutions have taken innovative approaches to virtual collaboration during the pandemic. There were three separate instances this past fall where the Island’s post-secondary institutions came together and were subsequently able to offer something bigger and better than what was done in previous years, all in an effort to help their students on their journey to employability.
The first significant partnership had Camosun College, North Island College, Royal Roads University and Vancouver Island University joining forces to host their first ever virtual career fair – aptly dubbed Beyond 2020. The event was focused on the future of work, with exhibitors to connect with and presentations happening throughout the day. By working together, the institutions pulled in multiple sponsors, noteworthy guest speakers, over 80 exhibitors and over 1,000 student registrations. Usually, each school would be focused on its own region and concentrate on employer connections in that area. However, with these schools covering the entirety of Vancouver Island, students were able to network with hiring managers and learn about employment opportunities from all over the Island.
Similarly, the largest post-secondary institution on Vancouver Island, the University of Victoria, opted to do some collaborating of its own. It paired up with two larger, highly sought after universities on the mainland – Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia – to provide students with their first virtual fair. West Coast Virtual Fairs took place over two days in November. The event was large, as it catered to a high volume of students from three major institutions. It attracted exhibitors from not only Vancouver Island but also mainland BC and Alberta. While the career fair didn’t have guest speakers, students could connect with employers, volunteer organizations and graduate schools.
Collaborations like these allow students to become aware of opportunities they may not have considered before and help them find a job that’s a good fit, instead of only focusing on what’s available. It can also help them look at the big picture of their career path, leading them to set higher goals for themselves as they aim for companies they want to work with after graduation. The virtual fairs also benefitted employers by helping them learn what types of talent are available to them.
“Collaborations like these allow students to become aware of opportunities they may not have considered before and help them find a job that’s a good fit, instead of only focusing on what’s available.”
The third collaboration was for virtual campus tours with the same key players: Camosun College, North Island College, Vancouver Island University and University of Victoria. The event was open to anyone interested in advancing their career through education programs, including high school students getting ready to graduate and people looking for retraining opportunities. Many people have considered different career paths since COVID has shaken our view of reliable employment. This event was a one-stop shop for people looking to plan their educational and professional pathway. Typically, students in smaller communities choose to stay close to home to save money and start studying at their local college for their first year or two, then transfer to universities in bigger cities to finish their education. Due to most classes going online this past fall, providing virtual campus tours was a great way to reach many people at once and show off what the Island’s institutions have to offer.
Of course, teaming up cross-institutionally can certainly have its challenges: working with new people, co-ordinating different team schedules and trying to understand each institution’s unique needs, all via virtual platforms. However, overall, the collaborations have provided insights into student needs across the island and demonstrated the value of trust-building across institutions. They show that even at a time when enrolments are low, post-secondary institutions are supporting each other rather than competing, and all for the benefit of students. We all want to see students pursue educational and employment opportunities they find meaningful, as well as help employers find the talent they need to contribute to Canada’s economic growth. Imagine what the post-secondary sector could accomplish if we all reached across our institutional and geographic boundaries to work together.
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