The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) was built on a simple premise: that the best way to prepare students for the workforce is to provide hands-on training, in the classroom and in the field. So by all accounts, the global pandemic should have sent the Institute into a tailspin. But instead, one year later, BCIT has emerged stronger than ever.
How was this possible? Because the Institute took a page from its own playbook: BCIT instructors are industry professionals who don’t just focus on troubleshooting problems in theory, but who specialize in innovating and implementing solutions in practice.
Across its five campuses, the Institute has leveraged the knowledge and experience of its faculty and staff to adapt to new challenges, and continues to provide a learning environment that’s dynamic and engaged to over 50,000 students.
“COVID-19 has profoundly changed our lives, work, and world, and its transformative impacts will resonate for years to come,” says BCIT President Kathy Kinloch. “BCIT is proud to continue to offer learners of all skills and life stages the opportunity to safely access an applied education that is future-proof, flexible, and relevant to employers in today’s and tomorrow’s world.”
Skilled professionals are in demand, and BCIT is poised to deliver
Acting on the Institute’s vision of empowering people, shaping BC, and inspiring global progress, each of BCIT’s acclaimed schools continues to ensure that students are ready to join the workforce in their chosen careers. In most cases, course delivery has shifted online to safeguard our community as the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. But for those disciplines that require on-campus learning, BCIT has risen to the challenge.
“Our programs continue to offer an array of remote, hands-on, experiential, and applied learning that ensure graduates attain the technical and critical skills needed to succeed in today’s complex and rapidly evolving workplace,” says President Kinloch. “I want to extend my personal thanks to the students and parents who have placed their trust in the Institute as we continue to deliver the outstanding education that BCIT is known for.”
Even as courses became entirely virtual, or shifted to a blend of on-campus and remote learning, students still received the same industry-connected education that BCIT is renowned for.
Post-secondary pivots offerings to embrace new ways of learning
Each of BCIT’s six core education sectors have pivoted to ensure they can continue to provide applied learning that goes above and beyond the health and safety guidelines put in place by the Provincial Health Officer, WorkSafe BC, and other government and health organizations.
Applied and Natural Sciences programs at BCIT have always combined in-classroom learning with innovative fieldwork. This past summer, the BCIT Rivers Institute and students in the Ecological Restoration, Forests and Natural Areas, and Fish, Wildlife, and Recreation programs collaborated to revitalize a wetland at the BCIT Burnaby campus. With strict COVID-19 protocols in place, such as self-guided health assessments, hour-by-hour agendas, protective equipment, and proactive hygiene and disinfection practices, students created a veritable wetland by the end of this intensive three-day field course – gaining real-world insight into what they’ll experience on worksites once they graduate.
On the other side of campus, construction was announced on a new 12-story student housing complex that will utilize mass timber – a green building material lauded for its sustainability, efficiency, and affordability. In consultation with the forestry sector and industry leaders, BCIT has already begun the delivery of a Mass Timber Construction microcredential program – a short, online, self-paced credential that ensures graduates have the foundational knowledge to enter this burgeoning industry.
Business and Media programs at BCIT have readily adopted best practices for health and safety. Taking a page from local news stations, the BCIT Broadcast Centre is newly outfitted with UV disinfectant lights, physical-distancing barriers, hand sanitizing stations, hands-free door openers, and an online booking system for workspaces. Thanks to generous donors, the Centre can also look forward to additional renovations and upgrades – only fitting for the programs that train the province’s leading journalists, filmmakers, and radio broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the campus radio station is still up and running, and broadcasts live from more than eight different studios to ensure students are adequately spaced apart. Broadcast Journalism students are also gaining valuable work experience through practicums with industry partners like Global TV, CBC, CKNW, and NEWS1130 – albeit virtually – which will prepare them for careers in the broadcast, journalism, and film industries.
Computing and IT programs have made the impressive pivot to 100% online learning, simulating the work environment of many of the Lower Mainland’s biggest tech companies. The popular fast-track, six-month Front-End Web Developer program is an example of how this has actually benefited students. By providing lectures on Zoom, students can attend in real time and view the recording after the fact.
BCIT Computing students continue to create industry connections virtually by partnering with tech companies like Clio and Fortinet to solve business challenges in industry-sponsored projects. Depending on their program and time of year, students spend between five and 13 weeks collaborating with colleagues and a business client to develop a tech solution – replicating the fast-paced tech landscape.
Engineering students have been pioneering new ways of combining hands-on and remote learning. One cohort from the BCIT Power Engineering program is piloting a sophisticated, cloud-based power plant virtual simulator provided by Kongsberg, an international high-tech systems provider and one of BCIT’s industry partners.
Students have always leveraged simulators in the classroom, which allows them to operate a thermal power plant — at least, hypothetically. This new model has allowed them to troubleshoot procedures nearly identical to one of Kongsberg’s facilities in Sweden, and to do so from their own personal computers.
Health Sciences programs at BCIT span a range of specialties and disciplines, and coming to campus has always been a central part of foundational skills training — largely because BCIT is home to one of the largest simulation labs in Western Canada. However, the school has been developing its award-winning Virtual Pulse platform for the past three years, and this has been accelerated with support from the Digital Technology Supercluster COVID-19 Program.
Today, students are enjoying their highly interactive web-based virtual simulation experience so much that it will likely become a permanent part of the Health Sciences programs. And when training has to be conducted in-person, smaller class sizes, full protective equipment, and digital technology that allows instructors to project demos at a distance help ensure a safe classroom experience. In some instances, equipment has even been shipped to students so that they can practice skills at home.
Learning also extends into healthcare settings with students completing practicums – gaining hands-on experience and professional networks to ensure students are job-ready to support frontline of the BC healthcare system.
Trades and Apprenticeships programs have evolved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as new protocols have led to new efficiencies and opportunities. From Carpentry to Aerospace, Ironworking to Motive Power, trades students have returned in a variety of innovative, safely-distanced, on-campus learning formats. These training settings mimic the environments that students will see in the field when they graduate or return to their industry apprenticeships.
In collaboration with government and industry partners, BCIT continues to support initiatives to help remove barriers for underrepresented populations to enter the trades. For instance, women and Indigenous people are eligible for subsidized tuition for the 12-week Bridge Watch Rating program. Graduates go on to rewarding marine careers working on tugboats, ferries, or deep sea vessels on Canada’s waterways and oceans.
A school that connects students with industry and support services
In addition to the traditional learning sectors, BCIT continues to provide unique learning opportunities for students through their Centre for Applied Education and Innovation. This past summer, Biotechnology and Food Technology students worked within a high-tech lab on investigative applied research related to a product that has been centre stage during the pandemic – hand sanitizer.
BCIT has not only demonstrated adaptability and openness to change during the COVID-19 pandemic, but consistency and resilience in preserving the offerings that matter most to students. Opportunities such as industry projects, internships, co-ops, and practicums with Fortune 500 companies and local businesses enable them to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings, gaining invaluable experience and building professional networks before they graduate.
Curriculums at BCIT continue to be designed with input from Program Advisory Committees. This means that industry insiders from Canada’s biggest companies and organizations meet regularly with instructors and administrators, providing expert insight on BCIT courses to ensure they remain relevant for ever-changing businesses and workforces.
But student success extends beyond classes or industry placements, and BCIT’s support services have therefore pivoted in response to the pandemic. Virtual appointments are now available in everything from program advising, peer tutoring, and counselling, to student health services, recreation services, and financial aid. Students can even take virtual 360-degree campus tours before visiting in person, all helping to ensure BCIT remains supportive and accessible.
While many industries and sectors witnessed a slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, BCIT has built and maintained a forward momentum, and remains committed to providing the skilled workers that the province — and the world — needs to recover, progress, and prosper. Learn more about BCIT and the opportunities it offers.
(This article first published in the Vancouver Sun on March 7, 2021)