You know that moment when you feel you’ve just made a decision that is going to impact your life in a huge way, but you’re not sure how it’s all going to turn out? That’s how Jason Wieb felt when he first signed up for a course in the spring of 2012 at CDC Vimont, an adult education centre of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board. Wieb, a 34 year old Rosemere resident and father of two, found himself unemployed last year due to a layoff. Having moved to Quebec from Manitoba at age 17, Wieb tried out the CEGEP system as a teen, but found himself not ready to take on school at that point in his life. “I was young and didn’t have much interest in school, and faced with the culture shock of moving to Quebec, I was more into rebuilding my social network,” recalls Wieb.

He worked different jobs over the 16 years that followed, but hadn’t really found his path to a career that felt right or rewarding. After the layoff, Wieb took the opportunity to explore a new career path. “At that time it was kind of like feeling around in the dark,” says Wieb. Because he was missing some courses unique to the Quebec education system, such as French, History, Science and Math, he actually had to start by getting his high school diploma. Within about year, not only did he complete those courses and was awarded his Quebec high school diploma, he also enrolled in higher Math and Chemistry, prerequisites for the CEGEP nursing program he will soon apply to. Wieb always felt that he could do more with his potential, and after consulting the career counsellors and his own intuition, he chose to pursue a career in the health field. “All the pieces just fell into place, and right now I just have this drive and motivation to get to where I’m going,” Wieb confides.

Behind the Scenes

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board’s Adult Education and Vocational Training centres have been making a splash in recent years, as student success in the job market upon completion of a program is towering at 90 per cent. This is due in part to the department’s commitment to offering programs of study that lead to jobs in high demand. What’s more, data-based research by these departments and their government partners has revealed that employer satisfaction and job retention remains just as high after one year on the job.

“The overall mission of our centres is to provide high quality, state-of-the-art training to enable our students to enter the workforce or to continue their educational careers and to be successful,” explains Heather Halman, Director of Adult Education and Vocational Training Services. “The programs we offer, especially in vocational training, are all market-driven. In other words, the idea for our students is that they are going to go from learning to earning right away.”

Working in collaboration with the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) and Emploi Quebec, Halman explains that her team studies what the current employment needs are in the marketplace and then trains the students to meet those needs. It seems to be a recipe for success, as registrations have more than doubled in the past two years, especially with vocational training programs. The newest addition to program offerings, Carpentry, now has a registration waiting list even though the program was launched less than two years ago.

SWLSB’s Adult Education and Vocational Training services are already far-reaching in the three northern regions of Laval, Laurentides and Lanaudière, but the administrative team is working hard behind the scenes to increase program offerings in more remote areas to continue to make services as accessible as possible. With a variety of free, pre-registration services and career counselling, it’s no wonder that adult education and vocational training programs have become the number one resource to fast-track a successful career in the workforce. With over 1500 full and part time students and a team of over 100 teachers, SWLSB’s Adult Education and Vocational Training programs are worth discovering for anyone wanting to improve their career options, acquire general skills or simply quench the thirst for learning new things!

Adult Education Services—Who Can Benefit?

Adult Education programs are fast becoming a stepping stone leading to successful career paths. In the General Education department, a student can complete courses to finish a high school diploma, take prerequisite courses for CEGEP or a vocational training program, take language courses, or even take a Popular Education course (such as Photography or computer software courses). With four possible semesters a year, registration is highly accessible and flexible scheduling is also offered. There are satellite locations and even distance education for certain programs. Anyone at least 16 years of age can register.

Gina Persechino—Adult Education Centre Director for CDC Vimont, CDC Lachute and Joliette Satellite—knows that the standard high school setting in the youth sector is not for everyone. As a former high school administrator, when she first considered making the transition from the youth sector to adult education, she visited some of the school board’s adult education centres. “I ran into some of my former students who had difficulties when they were in high school, and I saw that here, they were doing very well,” explains Persechino. “Instantly, I fell in love [with the adult education system], and since then it’s become a passion of mine to see students trying, turning around their lives…or to see immigrant students get the tools they need to succeed.”

Persechino explains that the personalization of services and courses is what makes the students feel comfortable, supported and valued. In the past five years, more and more students under 20 years old are coming to adult education for a variety of services, not just for high school diploma completion. Some students come to increase their marks by redoing a high school course so that they have a more solid application to a CEGEP or university program. Others take prerequisites for the same reason or to advance to a vocational training program, and still others use the courses to fast-track their career paths. There are also a slew of services offered for immigrant students, whether it be language courses or programs to assess professional competencies. Regardless of a student’s age in adult education (from teens, to 20s, 30s and beyond), one aspect is clear; students are working toward a goal and are supported every step of the way.

Wieb says he has no regrets about his decision to pursue studies as an adult. “I’m very positive about where I’ve been and where I’m going…I can’t imagine what kind of person I’d have been without it. This has been such a crucial turning point in my life,” he says.

Persechino has a clear message for anyone considering adult education studies; “No matter what life dealt you when you were younger, you are now able to choose a path for yourself, work towards that and succeed,” says Persechino. “Our dedicated team rebuilds self-esteem and helps students gain a positive outlook on who they are. We teach them to trust themselves and others. That is the backbone of our success. Try us out!”

Vocational Training—Who Can Benefit and Where Does it Lead?

A Diploma in Vocational Studies (DVS) or an Attestation of Vocational Specialization (AVS) are available at SWLSB’s vocational training centres at CDC Pont-Viau, CDC Repentigny and CDC St-Eustache. There are over a dozen programs of study available in multiple fields, such as Nursing, Hotel Reception, Accounting, Carpentry and Industrial Construction & Maintenance Mechanics to name just a few.

Several of these programs are offered with fast-track opportunities in collaboration with Vanier College and College Montmorency, allowing credits to be recognized toward a Diploma of College Studies (DEC), reducing the time it would take to graduate from a CEGEP program. With modern, state-of-the art facilities available at each CDC, coupled with on the job training, a DVS or AVS program is a sure-fire way to advance career opportunities or to reintegrate the workforce in a new field.

“The biggest payoff is when students come and tell me that we’ve changed their lives,” says Jules Goulet, Vocational Training Centre Director for CDC Pont-Viau, CDC Repentigny and CDC St-Eustache. Over the past three years, the vocational centres have seen student enrollment nearly triple.

As younger students enroll in vocational training programs more than ever before, Goulet says that it’s just as important to teach the trade skills as it is to teach the life skills required to obtain and keep a job. “We have to get students ready to be on the job market as soon as they finish their program,” explains Goulet.

Savuth Khoun, a former Vimont resident, experienced first-hand the employment opportunities available to him once he graduated from the Hotel Reception vocational training program in 2004. During his studies, he was supported by SWLSB’s partner, Emploi Quebec, so that he could focus on his studies full time and really succeed at his internships. “Watching my teachers and listening to what they had to say was amazing!” says Khoun. “My teachers had over 20 years of hotel experience behind them—they were really like mentors…That was a big point of change for me.”

Khoun, now 33, has been working in hotel reception since he graduated, and says he found employment after a very short job search period. His studies completed, Khoun worked at two prestigious Montreal hotels, including a five-star establishment, before landing his current position as valet-concierge at a hotel in the Old-Montreal area. Khoun says he’s proud of what he has been able to accomplish. As a former professional break-dancing/hip-hop dance instructor, Khoun knew he wanted to pursue a field that allowed him to use his social skills and ease working with the public. Once Khoun completed his high school courses in adult education in 2003, he then took an orientation class that helped him match his personality to a vocational program.

“Though it can be hard, the important thing is to think positively and to not give up. No matter what age you are, there is always time for studies,” says Khoun. Khoun had such a positive experience with his Hotel Reception program that he has returned several times over the years to visit his former teachers and give motivational speeches to their students.

Though more and more students are coming directly from the youth sector—a trend supported by MELS in an effort to promote the necessity of qualified tradespeople—Goulet points out that vocational training programs are not just for those who struggled to complete their high school education in the regular setting. Vocational training can be for anyone who is looking to change, modify or step up their career path. “Our students WILL make a good living and have a stimulating career,” says Goulet.

With the multitude of services available to students at each step of the way, it’s surprising how affordable vocational training programs actually are. The range in program fees for students runs from $200 to $500 with programs ranging from 22 to 60 weeks respectively. What’s more, most of these programs are designed for immediate employment upon graduation—a professional career awaiting—taking students right from learning to earning in a very short time.

Getting Started

Anyone looking to improve or create career opportunities can benefit from several pre-registration services. One such service is SARCA (Reception, Referral, Counseling and Support Services), which provides assessments of students’ skills and experience, as well as career exploration and ongoing support. Even for those who don’t have a clear career path, SARCA can help you discover career options you hadn’t thought of before. Potential students also have the possibility to try out a program of their choice with the “Be A Student For A Day” service.

Another service offered is RAC (Recognition of Acquired Competencies). This program allows experienced workers across many fields to receive an assessment of their skills and experience, allowing for a job promotion, securing a permanent job in the field, earning a MELS diploma, etc.

Find out more about Adult Education and Vocational Training at SWLSB by attending the upcoming Open House on February 5th. “It’s so important for us to really individualize the experience for students and to make sure it’s relevant,” says Halman. “Adult Education and Vocational Training offers students skills for life and a career that you can take anywhere in the world.”

About the Author;

Lisa Cipriani is the Director of Centre Pédagogique La Renaissance, a tutoring center in Laval that provides academic services for primary, secondary and adult learners. As an experienced teacher, Lisa has been working in education for almost 15 years.