Experience is important—and should be recognized

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

By Dr. Larry Rosia, president and CEO

Experience counts.

We’ve all heard that phrase at some point in our lives. At Saskatchewan Polytechnic, it has a significant meaning.

Experience is important. There are a number of ways whereby people can gain knowledge and develop skills—and it is our belief that such effort should be acknowledged. It is one of the reasons we began using a process called PLAR—short for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition—over 20 years ago.

In the 2016-17 academic year, more than 600 Sask Polytech students used PLAR as a way to gain course credit.  Of the 1,500 courses challenged for credit through PLAR, more than 90 per cent resulted in credit received.  PLAR credit is awarded through a process of assessing knowledge and skills gained through informal learning on the job, in volunteer capacities, or by self-study, measured against the learning outcomes of Sask Polytech’s courses.

As well, nearly 1,000 students received transfer credit for previously taken post-secondary learning, resulting in 2,400 credits granted, according to Sask Polytech’s Institutional Research & Analysis Office.

Rhonda Fairburn is a recent graduate of the Office Administration program, who benefitted because of PLAR.

“Most of the positions I was applying for required an Office Education or Office Administration certificate, which I didn’t have at the time,” Fairburn says.  “PLAR helped me upgrade my certificate so I could find a job.”

Working with Sask Polytech’s faculty and staff, Fairburn was able to develop a plan that helped her achieve her career and educational goals.

“It was harder than I thought it would be…I had 16 years of experience doing all the tasks, but being in a learning environment was much different,” she said. “But one-by-one I passed the courses and gained confidence for any challenges that may arise.”

I was reminded of the tremendous difference offerings like PLAR can make in the lives of those pursuing post-secondary educations after reading an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about job churn and Canadian soldiers who have been unable to convert their advanced training into meaningful careers.

Written by Polytechnics Canada CEO, Nobina Robinson (Full disclosure: Sask Polytech is a member of Polytechnics Canada and I serve on its Board as Vice Chair), the article points out that the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) developed a program at its SITE Centre, which conducts prior learning-related research and assessment activities, and converts them into advanced-placement education options.

“At BCIT,” Robinson writes, “the Legion Military Skills Conversion Program accelerates and advances the civilian careers of former and current members of the Canadian Forces.  They do this by mapping learning outcomes rather than course equivalencies, so that those from non-traditional educational backgrounds are given advanced standing in education and training programs.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic, which has met with BCIT officials, is exploring offering a similar program. Like other post-secondary institutions, we are committed to doing all we can to assist our veterans.

Sask Polytech is a provincial and national leader in PLAR and has more than 130 pathways established with other institutions to provide further opportunities for our graduates.

There is no question that PLAR makes a profound difference in the lives of our students—and that there are opportunities for Saskatchewan Polytechnic—and all post-secondary institutions, for that matter—to take advantage of the incredible wealth of experience that exists.

Because experience truly does count.

Published November 2017.