Careers: Interviews
Stu Mackay, Dean, Yukon College, a leader in innovative educational programs and advanced delivery

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P. has an exclusive interview with Stu Mackay, Dean at Yukon College.

Stu MacKayStu Mackay is the Dean of Professional Studies at Yukon College and is responsible for the Departments of Business and Administration (Business, Office Administration, Tourism, Culinary), Health and Human Services (Early Childhood Development, Public Health and Safety, Nursing, Community Support Worker), and Trades and Technology (Computer Studies, Automotive, Carpentry, Electrical, Welding, Pipe Trades).

He joined Yukon College in 1992 after working throughout the eastern and western arctic as a Community Economic Planner, Community Adult Educator and Regional Education Co-ordinator. Stu also worked as a teacher for four years in northern Nigeria and was a military pilot for 12 years. He holds a Bachelor's of Science (Honours Mathematics) and a Master's of Natural Resources Management.

The latest blog on the interview can be found the week of November 26, 2006 in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
http://blogs.technet.com/cdnitmanagers/

Index and links to Questions
Q1   Can you tell us more about your work prior to taking on your current position with Yukon College? Please also talk about your present role there.
Q2   Yukon College is an innovative leader in the use of technology, and distance education. Profile these contributions in more detail? Where do you see this heading into 2007 and beyond?
Q3   You have an interesting circumpolar international alliance. Can you describe this program and the value it provides? How will this evolve in 2007 to 2010?
Q4   You are working with other northern colleges on collaborating in technology education. Can you speak to this program: mission, objectives, and outcomes in 2007-2010?
Q5   Your College recently received CIPS accreditation. What is the value proposition of accreditation? Describe your experiences, and vision with accreditation--for 2007 and beyond?
Q6   What do you see as your mission in 2007 and 2008? What do you hope to accomplish?
Q7   Globalization, community involvement and diversity, inclusion, women in technology, declining enrolments, skills shortage, skills gap, productivity gap, political uncertainty, ICT adoption rates, and more are in the news. Can you share your views on the top challenges facing the educational community in 2007 and beyond? Ultimately, why should government, business, industry, the public, and media be concerned?
Q8   What are your proposed solutions to these challenges? How should public policy be changed, or updated in 2007?
Q9   In surveying the past three years, profile the major events that shaped the ICT educational community?
Q10   Do you see any societal issues that need to receive our attention and focus in 2007 and beyond?

DISCUSSION:

Opening Comment: Stu, thank you for coming in today to share your deep insights with the audience.

A: My pleasure.

Q1: Can you tell us more about your work prior to taking on your current position with Yukon College? Please also talk about your present role there.

A: : Like many people of our generation, I have had the opportunity to experience many careers. I was fortunate enough to receive a Canadian Armed Forces scholarship out of high school and, after completing a BSc (Honors Mathematics), I was employed as a military pilot. The majority of my flying career was in the Search and Rescue role on the east coast of Canada with a year spent with the United Nations peacekeeping unit in Egypt.

I left the military in the early 80's and joined a Canadian development organization called CUSO. The next 4 years was spent in northern Nigeria - 2 years in a remote village teaching math and science and 2 years at a vocational college as a flight instructor. Upon my return to Canada, I enrolled in a Masters program at the Natural Resources Institute at the Univ. of Manitoba. This interdisciplinary program allowed me to focus on a number of topics that were of personal interest to me, (e.g., northern development, evaluation research and transportation economics).

After graduating, I took the job of an Economic Planner for the Hamlet of Eskimo Point (later renamed Arviat) in the Northwest Territories. It became clear that one of the largest barriers to economic growth was the education and training levels in the community. A community training plan was developed along with the economic plan and I remained in the community as Community Adult Educator for the next 4 years implementing the plan. Next came a two year assignment in Inuvik as the Regional Education Coordinator with Arctic College.

I joined Yukon College in 1993 to assist them in developing customized training programs for industry and organizations. In 1997, I took on the role of Dean, Professional Studies. This senior education administration position is responsible for programming in Business and Administration, Health and Human Services and Trades and Technology.

Q2: Yukon College is an innovative leader in the use of technology, and distance education. Profile these contributions in more detail? Where do you see this heading into 2007 and beyond?

A: About 6 years ago, the sitting Yukon government had a vision to connect all Yukoners with broadband access. This initiative provided the College with excellent bandwidth to most of our communities and gave our "early adopters" a wonderful opportunity to challenge our traditional practices of course and program delivery.

From the beginning, our philosophy has been that we need to meet the learners where they at and with the technology that they have available to them. Practically, this meant that we did not invest in one educational technology such as Blackboard or WebCT but we developed tools in many areas ranging from our own Video/DVD and paper based production to interactive video conferencing and web casting.

Although we are able to serve the Yukon well, we did not have the bandwidth to connect to the "south". Two years ago, with the assistance of Canarie, a 10 Mbps link was made to the national optical network for education and research (CA*net4). Now we can expand our services.

This new connectivity comes with some new challenges. No longer is it required for Yukoners to travel to southern destinations to partake in training. The opportunities can be brought to their communities and even to their desktop. This is not an easy task as many of the southern institutions are not established to provide their services via education technologies - especially in the more interactive modalities. I see the College engaging these institutions to develop their capabilities for mutual benefits.

Q3: You have an interesting circumpolar international alliance. Can you describe this program and the value it provides? How will this evolve in 2007 to 2010?

A: Yukon College is a proud founding member of The University of the Arctic. UArctic is a cooperative network of universities, colleges, and other organizations committed to higher education and research in the North. Members share resources, facilities, and expertise to build and offer post-secondary education programs that are relevant and accessible to northern students.

A major component of this collaboration is the Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies Program (BCS). It is a way for students attending University of the Arctic institutions to learn more about the North, with courses held in the classroom, online, in the field and around the world. Using both academic and traditional indigenous knowledge, the Circumpolar Studies Program lets students learn about the lands, peoples and issues of the Circumpolar World. It prepares students for advanced study or professional employment in diverse fields, such as (but not limited to) sustainable resource management, self-government, Arctic engineering, and northern tourism.

Yukon College is able to work with students who wish to pursue Circumpolar Studies to a Bachelor degree. As a 2-year community college, the College does not, at this time, offer the full degree program. However, we are able to assist students with two and, in some cases, up to three years, of course work towards a BCS at another UArctic-member institution.

In the future, I believe Yukon College will pursue the ability to grant its own degrees and develop a specific emphasis or specialization that will allow us to share our expertise in areas such as First Nations Self-Governance, climate change and cold weather technologies.

Q4: You are working with other northern colleges on collaborating in technology education. Can you speak to this program: mission, objectives, and outcomes in 2007-2010?

A: Information Technology and Communications Programs at the many northern colleges have experienced frequent changes in program content and variations in student numbers over the past 5 years. Although there continues to be strong industry labour force growth, each college is challenged by their ability to maintain instructor currency and renewal, meet the emerging specialization needs of the industry, provide adequate capital for infrastructure improvements, and recruit/retain students. Where these issues may be overwhelming for a single institution, the increasing availability of educational technologies can provide an opportunity for greater collaboration and sharing between institutions. For these reasons, we have established a working group with representation from Northern Lights College, College of New Caledonia, Northwest Community College and ourselves, to explore ways we may be able to overcome these challenges.

Over the next few years, we will be sharing and examining our programs and quantifying the education technology capabilities at each institution. Working with our industry partners and accreditation organizations, such as CIPS, it is hoped that this initiative will create greater access to the ICT education and training without the additional expenses associated with moving to a new community. It will also allow the institutions to respond to new emerging needs of the industry by providing a larger pool of expertise and instructional experience and make specialized training more widely available at a reasonable cost. No small order!!

Q5: Your College recently received CIPS accreditation. What is the value proposition of accreditation? Describe your experiences, and vision with accreditation--for 2007 and beyond?

A: One of the more widely held myths in post-secondary education is that the larger the institution, the more valuable the education. Yukon College is small and our students, employers and public need to be assured that the quality of services provided by us is comparable to those delivered at other institutions. Accreditation provides this accountability.

I must admit, the CIPS articulation process is not for the faint of heart. We needed to examine every area of our operation from the qualifications of the instructors and the curriculum to the employment market and advisory groups. It was very thorough and we certainly learned much about our students, community and ourselves as we moved through the process.

As ICT field expands and becomes more specialized, we will be continually challenged to develop new partnerships and expertise so that our students will have the best education and training. This may mean that our students will receive their courses from multiple institutions or from instructors who may never see them "face-to-face". How will accreditation work in these situations? Perhaps CIPS will need to develop a regional or "blanket" accreditation process? Interesting questions.

Q6: What do you see as your mission in 2007 and 2008? What do you hope to accomplish?

A: In the short term, the College is a major partner in the hosting of the 2007 Canada Winter Games. These games will be the biggest event ever staged in Canada north of the 60th parallel. They will run for two weeks from February 23rd to March 10th, 2007. Over 3,600 athletes, coaches and managers will gather in Whitehorse to compete for a total of 1,122 medals in 22 sports. Yukon College is the site of the Athletes' Village and we will be providing the accommodations and food services.

Just how do you provide over 85,000 meals in 2 weeks? Our solution is to partner with other post-secondary institutions and make this event an extraordinary teaching opportunity. A consortium of Culinary Arts Programs from 5 colleges and universities will be producing the meals to feed all the athletes, coaches, and managers. Malaspina University College (Naminao), Northern Lights College (Dawson Creek), Northwest Community College (Terrace), Thompson Rivers University (Kamloops) and Yukon College (Whitehorse) have joined together to take on this task. Students will be involved in other areas as well. For example, our IT students have been tasked with the set-up and configuration the internet cafes. This project will test their abilities to take the "theory" and put it into practice.

On a broader scale, as our connectivity improves, we will be increasingly challenged to develop more courses and services to meet the demand. Learners will want to access their education and training at times that are convenient for them. The College has seen this growth and, in the Yukon, our video conferencing capability is now at its maximum output. As educators, we wish to meet the needs of every learner. Our roles must change from instructors to facilitators who know how to connect the learner to their goal. In a practical sense, this will mean increasing the resources for education technologies and building new partnerships.

Q7: Globalization, community involvement and diversity, inclusion, women in technology, declining enrolments, skills shortage, skills gap, productivity gap, political uncertainty, ICT adoption rates, and more are in the news. Can you share your views on the top challenges facing the educational community in 2007 and beyond? Ultimately, why should government, business, industry, the public, and media be concerned?

A: I was at a conference recently when Dr. Sam Shaw, President of NAIT, was speaking on this topic. He stated that there are only 3 priorities: human resources, human resources and human resources. This may be a simplistic way of describing Canada's need to develop a workforce that is qualified, flexible, adaptable and innovative. As the skill shortages grow, the demographic shifts continue and competition from the emerging global economies increase, we need to engage everyone in an inclusive manner to maintain our innovative and competitive edge thus securing our standard of living. We must renew our investment in people.

Easier said than done. In the north, we are faced with some unique challenges. With a small population dispersed over a vast geography, economies of scale are difficult to achieve. We have the full range of education and training needs experienced by our more populous provincial neighbours, but must be quite strategic in our program and service planning in order to make the most of our resources.

With devolution of federal responsibilities and the implementation of First Nations governments, we are experiencing accelerated requirements for well educated and well-trained local personnel to conduct this work. In many cases, Yukoners need to combine employment with the pursuit of advanced credentials. This requires flexible and accessible course and program delivery. Like the rest of Canada, we are losing a generation of skilled workers as they approach retirement age. In our case, however, the impacts are greater than elsewhere, as our labour force is small, and every individual counts with respect to the viability of our economy. Further, attracting skilled workers to the north, and keeping them here, is frequently problematic.

Literacy levels are still unacceptably low, and a large proportion of our secondary school students either drop out, or complete a credential with less than the minimum academic requirements to enter post-secondary studies. We are faced with a high proportion of prospective students who need to gain essential academic skills to ensure that they can succeed.

Our economy is still developing in breadth, with a relatively small private sector, and large public sector. As new initiatives are undertaken, we must be nimble in developing appropriate, timely, accessible, and high quality training programs. At the same time, there have been increasing labour shortages in key areas of the Yukon economy and unemployment rates have remained low for the past 2 years. This is an excellent opportunity to engage under-representative populations in the economy such as First Nation communities and disadvantaged groups.

Lastly, new relationships among our people are being developed. First Nations and newcomer cultures are learning to work together to build a stronger future. Our programs and services must reflect an ethos of inclusivity and mutual respect. We must create new ways of learning, and incorporate differing traditions of knowledge.

Q8: What are your proposed solutions to these challenges? How should public policy be changed, or updated in 2007?

A: From a College perspective, the first solution is to restore the federal funding to post-secondary education to 1993-94 levels adjusted for inflation and demographics. This would immediately infuse $4.9 billion into the system for necessary expansion, equipment upgrades and student support. This is not a new idea as all the premiers, as well as most national education bodies, have been calling for this initiative for some time. Perhaps its time is nigh.

The national agenda must be based on the principle of inclusivity, providing access to learning opportunities for all Canadians. They must have the opportunity to develop and use their skills and knowledge to the fullest as everyone will be needed. This includes:

  • upgrading the current workforce, including the underemployed and working poor,
  • accelerating the provision of skills training, specifically in areas of significant labour shortages,(e.g., trades, nursing),
  • emerging opportunities stemming from the implementation of Yukon First Nation Land Claim and Self-Government Agreements,
  • facilitating the application of new technologies,
  • facilitating immigrants labour market integration,
  • providing enhanced learning opportunities for people disabilities,
  • targeting the waste productivity of the unemployed, adult learners with low/basic essential skills, older displaced workers who lack the necessary skills to successfully re-enter the job market, and the untapped pool of skilled women in non-traditional roles.

Q9: In surveying the past three years, profile the major events that shaped the ICT educational community?

A: I feel most comfortable answering this question from the "rural and remote" educational community perspective. Over the past 3 years, I believe the following events have shaped our community:

  1. The access to bandwidth is slowly being resolved. Broadband capability is increasing and new technologies, such as the KA-Band, give promise to affordable access to all areas of Canada. The challenge is, what are we going to do with it?
  2. In the Yukon, education technologies have proven their worth. Learner access rates continue to increase and, as mentioned earlier, our systems are reaching the saturation point.
  3. The complexity of the ICT industry has stressed the educational community as the definition and skill sets for entry-level workers has expanded. Three years ago, there were 4 IT occupations described in the National Occupation Codes. Now, there are almost 30.

Q10: Do you see any societal issues that need to receive our attention and focus in 2007 and beyond?

A: As the skills shortage deepens, there will be pressure to increase immigration to resolve the issue. This may be inevitable and desirable. However, there are many underrepresented groups in our society that must be given the opportunity to engage more fully. First Nations, people with disabilities and women have traditionally not been able to gain an equal share of the benefits of our economy. Finding the right mechanisms and supports for this to occur will require our immediate attention.

Closing Comment: Stu, thank you for taking the time to share your accumulated wisdom and deep insights with the audience. We will follow Yukon College as you continue to be an educational leader, not just in the North, but also worldwide.

A: You are most welcome.

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