Canadian COLLEGES may have started as a community-based educational alternative in the 1960s, but they have truly come into their own as a career-building foundation for many young Canadian environmentalists. It is easy to understand the explosive growth of academic program options at colleges in recent years when considering the qualities that employers are looking for in potential employees: job-ready and career-focused; conversant and comfortable with industry technology; passionate, energetic and commited; and possessing real-world skills that align with operational needs. Colleges provide those skills and training.

In fact, colleges in Canada are uniquely positioned to help students put their passion for the environment to work. From technical training programs to environmental visual communications to community engagement opportunties, new college programs are being deploying and developing to help companies and businesses connect with students and build a pool of highly talented, highly trained and highly motivated job seekers.

Large and small businesses in Canada are changing the way they approach environmental issues. They are doing so because of the obvious benefits that accrue through the savings and efficiencies of sustainability strategies and measures. No business will ever turn up its nose at the opportunity to save more money or generate more profits. It’s in their DNA.

Many businesses also accept the science of human-made climate change and are making decisions that aim to ensure both organizational and societal sustainability as we migrate through uncertain times. They are influenced by the fact that their customers are demanding better, more environmentally responsible products and services. They’re embracing environmentalism to enhance employee engagement, especially as their workforces are increasingly populated by millennials.

Today’s employers need tomorrow’s employees to have a wide-ranging and diverse set of talents and skills to put more forward-thinking environmental ideas into action. And the vast majority of employment opportunties rest outside of the sustainability office, instead existing everywhere throughout the company’s organizational chart. In essence, today’s leading corporations and businesses are seeking a hybrid kind of employee. Much like the hybrid cars and electric vehicles that are powering our transportation future, a hybrid employee holds the potential for radically reshaping how businesses prepare for and address new complexities.

Businesses in Canada – large and small – are changing the way they approach environmental issues.

The hybrid employee has the theoretical grounding to understand complex issues and to adapt to changing market dynamics, while also possessing the most current skills to master today’s technology and drive tomorrow’s innovations. The new hybrid employee will have the hands-on experience and training to match the must-have skills that will power their chosen industry’s core operations, while also being able to contribute when called upon to plan more sustainable investments.

Canadians everywhere are trying to find ways to better balance economic opportunity with environmental protection and sustainability. Most environmental students are drawn to the field because of their interest in protecting and conserving our planet’s clean water, fresh air and wide-open natural spaces.

But how can millennials use their passion for the environment to find meaningful employment opportunities that give them a chance to put their idealism and ideas to work? They might consider becoming one of those sought-after hybrid employees with the help of the many college environmental programs across campuses in Canada.

Fleming College’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences (SENRS), for example, offers active, outdoor and hands-on learning. This includes field trips, field camps, real-world projects, co-op opportunities, internships and work placements that challenge students to put their new skills into practice. This formula has been successful for the school for many years, and it is a major contributor to the fact that SENRS has more grads working in the environmental and natural resources field than any other college in Canada.

“In recent years, the school has expanded its postgraduate program offerings to ensure that college and university graduates can get the benefit of specialized skills and hands-on experience to fill new and emerging fields,” says Linda Skilton, Dean of Fleming College’s School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. “Programs such as Environmental Visual Communication, Advanced Water Systems Operation and Management, Aquaculture and Sustainable Agriculture Co-op are meeting the demands of employers and preparing graduates for successful careers.”

For many students, the college ethos of learning through experience provides them with an invaluable toolkit of must-have skills that can differentiate their candidacy and give them a leg up as they enter the working world. And the broader Canadian environmental community benefits when the power of their potential is unleashed to find greater efficiencies, develop new technologies, products and services that reduce our impacts, and create solutions that address today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

Canadian colleges are training the hybrid employees of tomorrow – and driving sustainable innovation in the process.

David McConnachie is A\J's publisher.

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