Ryan Whibbs – Time for a “mash up” of industry-relevant skills, theoretical training

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Guest blogger: Ryan Whibbs

A fascinating discussion recently took place on CBC Radio’s The Current. Anna Maria Tremonti hosted Don Tapscott, Chancellor of Trent University; Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum; and David Ticoll, Special Advisor to the Canadian Coalition for Tomorrow’s ICT Skills,  for a discussion  on “the debate between the value of skilled trades versus liberal arts education.”

Toward the end of the program, Tremonti asked Ticoll: “Why is it often framed, still, as an either/or discussion?” Why are degree-level curricula still so far removed from the skills-based curricula featured in apprenticeship-level training? The answer, as Ticoll noted, is as complex as our economy.

Increasing sectors of the economy are seeking applicants who hold, what Ticoll called, “mash-up” skills: some level of critical thinking abilities, analytical skills, communications abilities, knowledge of industry sub-sectors and industry-relevant skills training. In this case, Ticoll was speaking about IT fields: visual design students who have some training in art history, web design, and publishing, or IT lawyers that have some training in computer science/studies.

The discussion stuck with me: is the divide necessary? Does the divide between trade, diploma and degree-level education still serve the economy in the same way that it did decades ago? Could paths be developed to broaden “mash-up” training between non-traditional degree and apprenticeship-level studies? Is it necessary?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be: yes. Many industries are requiring graduates to have “mash-up” training, but it is up to graduates to cobble together the necessary education and training.

In the culinary industry, bachelor-level culinary degrees are beginning to take precedence at the international level. Marriott (Marriott Hotels, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Hotels, and Courtyard by Marriott) offers new, degree-holding graduates management internships across the world in a host of different career fields through their Voyager Program. There are currently no culinary degrees offered in Canada. Marriott will accept journeyperson applicants in the case of Canadian cooks, although our cooks must compete against American culinary degree-holding applicants and Canadian hospitality degree holders.

Current pathways for cooks to gain a degree mostly come in the form of college transfer programs with lengthy completion times. Two-year culinary management graduates at the major Ontario colleges often receive about three courses-worth of university transfer credits; an additional three and a half years of university study would be necessary, making their overall study period five and a half years before being ready to enter Marriott’s management internship program.

Some transfer programs exist with American culinary degree programs, notably the degree program at Johnson & Wales University in Florida but students, again, must complete about three and half additional years of study; this time paying international tuition fees at an American institution.

That is the picture at the diploma level. Things look even worse for cooks who want to obtain a Red Seal and a degree. If a cook earns the most recognizable credential in the field – the Red Seal – and then seeks to obtain a degree in order to access corporate foodservice management positions, they will need to complete three years of apprenticeship and four years of university-level study – seven years in total. A graduate student could complete a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and be two years into their doctorate by the time our Red Seal cook has a degree that will put them on track to access corporate, management-level positions.

What is the answer? One rests in a reassessment of how we view the career aspirations of Ontario’s postsecondary students. Some who are interested in skills training may well be planning on degree-level study in their fields at a later date. Alternatively, degree-earning students may also be planning to gain apprenticeship-style training in their fields that will increase their perceived use to prospective employers. Many sectors of the economy are seeking “mash-up” training, and we would be facilitating Ontario’s postsecondary students by accommodating their interests in these regards.

Some reassessment of traditional models of degree-level vs. apprenticeship-level curricula is necessary; reassessment that takes into account many of the fast-evolving sectors of the economy. That is not to say that degree and apprenticeship-level education should be combined in general, but rather, more “mash up” programs are needed that take advantage of the best and most relevant attributes of both approaches to skills and theoretical training.

By providing more opportunities for Ontario’s postsecondary students to develop broader combinations of skills and theoretical training, we would be eliminating some of the obstacles new graduates meet when entering industries that demand broader entry-level skills than current curricula models provide.

Ryan Whibbs is a PhD candidate in history at York University. Having completed his Red Seal (Cook) in 2002, Ryan continues to cook, write about cooking and the culinary industry, and teach gastronomy in the Cook Apprenticeship Program, Stratford Chefs School.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

One reply on “Ryan Whibbs – Time for a “mash up” of industry-relevant skills, theoretical training”

I heard the CBC interview and I couldn’t agree more- why separate the paths so much when the skills are needed by all students. Perhaps we should look at the K-12 system as well. In Scandinavian countries hands-on craft, design and innovation is included in all grades and teacher education programs. The “mash-up” could begin at many levels.

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