June 1, 2021Print | PDF
The pressure on employees and jobseekers to acquire the skills and training required by employers is compounding in a job market filled with uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s Continuing Education department partnered with Communitech to develop non-credit upskilling and reskilling training for employees in Waterloo Region in two of today’s most in-demand skill areas – communications and sales – providing clarity and confidence to employees and employers alike.
“There were so many lessons imparted – all transferrable – that helped me to become more authentic and make my messages clearer.”
Through a combination of three-week sprint learning modules developed by industry practitioners and offered through the Communitech Academy and two six-week immersive courses delivered by Laurier instructors, 40 mid-career employees expanded their skill sets as part of the Framework for Future-Proofing Communities pilot project.
“You can’t predict what the future will hold but you can plan for how you will react to it and how you will adapt,” says Catharine Gerhard, a program participant and market development manager with Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation (Waterloo EDC). “My number one value is growth. I constantly challenge myself and believe that people should have the opportunity to grow. My job was becoming more virtual and I knew I had to up my game.”
Gerhard works with Waterloo EDC to foster growth in the region by attracting investments from companies looking to expand in the local market, understanding the growth needs of local businesses, and connecting foreign and domestic companies to relevant resources. The organization is seen as a progressive leader within economic development circles and Gerhard wants to maintain that reputation, in part by investing in mid-career learning opportunities like the immersive sales and communications courses offered by Laurier.
When designing the six-week communications course, Rosemary McGowan, an associate professor in Business Technology Management and program coordinator for Leadership, focused on the value of effective communication and the cost of ineffective communication.
“I wanted participants to see how each session answered two questions: ‘What’s in it for me’ and ‘What’s in it for my organization,’” says McGowan. “I was also focused on workplace application to give participants skills that they could take back to their desk and use the next day.”
McGowan split the six-weeks into two sections: written and oral communications. Common themes across the sections were identifying and overcoming ineffective and costly communication pitfalls, crafting focused and clear messages, and designing and delivering engaging presentations.
“My job is not the same as it was before, and I can either sit back or engage in new opportunities. It is important for me to grow.”
Participants would meet on Zoom for weekly sessions that emphasized interaction, engagement, and hands-on application. They also completed weekly individual writing assignments and a small group project. These activities exposed participants to new tools and skills and provided an opportunity to use the tools and techniques and receive feedback from peers and McGowan before applying them again.
“This short-term training had real impact,” says McGowan. “The model of learning, applying, gaining feedback, and applying again meant that participants were learning through the program content, learning from each other, and reflecting on their own experience.”
Gerhard says the course added “technique” to her pre-existing enthusiasm for connecting with people and storytelling. She was able to apply her newly honed skills right away, using techniques from the training to moderate a Waterloo business showcase during an international webinar.
“I learned how to make things personal and engaging, how to write script, and how to get my key messages out first,” says Gerhard. “There were so many lessons imparted – all transferrable – that helped me to become more authentic and make my messages clearer.”
The six-week sales component of the Laurier training was led by Greg Tanguay, an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing. Tanguay worked in sales and marketing for nearly 25 years before returning to Laurier in 2012 to complete his PhD, making him experienced as a mature learner and industry practitioner. His desire to merge the practical and academic components of sales for a mid-career cohort of learners resulted in lessons focused on becoming an adaptive seller.
“Adaptability is evergreen in selling,” says Tanguay. “The better you understand the person across from you and the more you speak their language, the more successful you’ll be. We had people across professions who might not have thought of themselves as ‘salespeople’ but a lot of what they do is educate, influence or persuade people for a living. While teaching this course I learned how pervasive the need for these skills are.”
Shannon Margetts needed to adapt her role as a client services coordinator with the City of Waterloo when physical gathering restrictions due to the pandemic meant that the facilities she manages were closed to the public. Margetts has worked with the City of Waterloo in event planning roles for 18 years, connecting national clients like Skate Canada and Gymnastics Canada with Waterloo recreation facilities for national championships, as well as local organizations for community events.
“Not being in school for so many years it was intimidating at first,” says Margetts. “But I have more confidence now.”
While she hadn’t thought of herself as a formal presenter or communicator before, participation in the training showed Margetts how the work she does – and plans to do in the future – can benefit from professional training focused on mid-career skills development.
“Continue your education as much as you can,” says Margetts. “My job is not the same as it was before, and I can either sit back or engage in new opportunities. It is important for me to grow.”
Wilfrid Laurier University was one of the founding partners of the Future of Work and Learning Coalition and co-lead on the Framework for Future-Proofing Communities project, which brought organizations from across industry and academia together to explore the question: How can we future-proof talent and the workplace?
Director (Acting), Continuing Education