Competitive edge, not competition, key to ICT success

By Sean Perkins

Before he’s even set foot in the classroom each morning, Network and Computer Technology (NCT) instructor William McBride already has his mind set on one thing: the workforce. While other fields rely on competitions and contests to gauge the success of their programs, McBride prioritizes the employability of graduates above all else, claiming it produces better results for workers and the industry.
“Technical education isn’t about games, it’s about finding jobs,” says McBride. “It’s getting students trained to prepare for the workforce.”
His focus on giving NCT grads the skills that will guarantee them work grew out of a long-standing industry connection the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology (MITT) has built with information and communication technology (ICT) frontrunner, Cisco.
A Cisco Regional Networking Academy for the past 15 years, MITT is currently the only functioning Academic Support Center (ASC) that Cisco has in Manitoba, providing support to ten different Academies in schools throughout the province. But despite an impressive list of credentials, McBride calls the facility at MITT a “best-kept secret” in education.
“We’re the real deal,” he proclaims, “not just an ASC in name only. We’ve trained most of the instructors working at the Academies in Manitoba, we recently became the province’s only Authorized Instructor Training Center, and we have the best labs in Western Canada – yet many people don’t know about us because we don’t get involved in competitions; we only worry about getting jobs.”
What he calls the “key to success” for finding jobs for students after ten months of training is the program’s eight-week work practicum and how it is supported by the relationship with Cisco.
“We have to work to secure relevant work practicums every year. It’s not a static thing,” explains McBride. “As the industry changes, skillsets change; so, the partnerships change as well.”
Fortunately for him, the effort needed to find field placements each year is greatly reduced by the program’s ability to offer practical training and experience working with the latest and greatest in Cisco equipment. Because changes to the NCT curriculum are made in response to trends in the ICT industry, there is never a shortage of workplaces looking to upgrade their talent pool – only a need to find them.
This annual exercise in professional networking even provides the NCT program with an additional source of valuable frontline data that helps shape its response to changes in the industry it serves.
An outsider might be intimidated by the dramatic changes taking place in an already dynamic industry, such as the ubiquitous shift towards cloud networking or emerging reports of new large-scale data centres that could usher in a whole new standard for network configuration, but not McBride.
“Whatever may come,” he says, “we’ll be changing with it and training at some point to accommodate it. The essentials of a network will be there. You’ll still need to have a machine that’s running; it has to be configured and it has to be secured.”
Prospective NCT students touring MITT in recent months, had they met McBride, undoubtedly witnessed an impassioned pitch for them to help him change the face of the industry – one woman at a time.
Like many other skilled trades, the ICT field is largely dominated by men. So, with support from industry-wide movements like Girls in ICT, educators like McBride are reaching out to young people to address stereotypes that may discourage young women from pursuing a career in ICT.
His message is that through the Network and Computer Technology program, a career in ICT can be accessible to everybody. And while updates scheduled for 2015 could soon make your physical location irrelevant, for now, all Manitobans searching for a competitive edge in this rapidly changing industry full of opportunity can find it at MITT.

Applied Counselling grad helps at-risk youth avoid labels

By Stacy Cardigan Smith

Casey Ludwick helps at-risk youth find a voice.
“Who’s there for these children when everyone they care about or look up to… is ignoring them or not there?” says Ludwick, a 24-year-old graduate of Red River College (RRC)’s Applied Counselling program. “You can’t tell a child to ‘Just get over it,’ because a child takes what they’re experiencing and accommodates it into how they think and see the world.”
According to Ludwick, the best way to help kids find their voices is to avoid labeling them. “We’re so quick to label children in a certain way due to diagnoses or what we see presenting, and then we set the tone for them. How often do you think a child gets undivided attention to really speak and tell the world who they are without being told who they are first?”
Ludwick works as the girls’ coordinator and youth counsellor at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc., a North End-based domestic violence support centre for children and families. The facility provides opportunities for holistic healing using culturally appropriate teachings.
“It is a safe, positive place where girls who live in the North End can come to have fun, relax, and learn more about themselves and their culture.”
Despite the challenging nature of the work, Ludwick loves her job; she utilizes a strength-based perspective and sees resiliency and positivity in all of her clients, who range in age from nine to 13.
“Rather than seeing these kids (according to the negatives) – they could be involved with criminal activity, they’re lacking basic food and shelter, they’re involved in tons of maladaptive behaviours – you can either focus on that, or you can look at them for their strengths.”
Ludwick has wanted to work with youth since she was a teenager herself; at the age of 13, she stopped an eight-year-old boy from committing suicide.
“It got me personally involved in the life of a child who was unhappy and I couldn’t see that just from looking at him,” she says. “All I saw were wealthy parents that worked hard, a kid that had every single video game system there was. But I didn’t take time to look beyond.”
Prior to enrolling in Applied Counselling through RRC’s School of Continuing Education, Ludwick had little experience with indigenous culture. “I wasn’t ignoring it, I just had no clue. And I feel a lot of people aren’t ignoring it, they just have no clue.”
That changed thanks to one instructor in particular, she says. “Ron Linklater taught me an appreciation for (Aboriginal) culture… the reality of intergenerational trauma, the loss of culture and language, and the ensuing violence and substance abuse. The historical trauma increases vulnerability for the youths that I work with, and you see it every day.”
She believes the first step to building greater cultural understanding is to avoid assumptions. “Don’t pretend you are the expert on someone’s perspective. You have to approach everything like you’re learning for the first time. That’s the only true way to understand somebody or a group’s point of view.”
Completing the Applied Counselling program changed the way Ludwick looks at herself – and the world.
“I looked back on who I was when I first started and I thought to myself, ‘Who was that person?’ I grew and evolved and changed so much,” she says. “It’s not about how the world affects you, it’s about how you react to the world. You can’t control what happens. What you can control is yourself and how you react.”
Ludwick says her classes were extremely well-designed and delivered, noting the program reinforces the importance of empathy. “You may see an inebriated homeless person on the street, a young sex worker lingering in a dark alley, or a youth wearing gang colours and toting a weapon. What you don’t see is what it took to get them to this dark place they are in – what they had to experience to lead them to choosing this life over something else.”
Before arriving at RRC, Ludwick completed a three-year psychology degree at the University of Winnipeg; she felt she needed more training before working as a counsellor.
“I graduated (from university) and I felt like, ‘OK what now?’ There was no highlighted path,” she says. “Then I heard about Applied Counselling and it just seemed like it was the thing that would complete my educational journey for now. I needed the education that Red River offered to actually get my hands dirty, to translate my university knowledge into actual tangible experience.”
Visit for more information on the Applied Counselling program and other programs at RRC.

Favourite hobby cashed in to find career success

Today, Scott Danell is a seasoned professional with 22 years’ experience in the skilled trades. But like a lot of other people, he initially thought a university degree was his calling.
“I came from a white-collar family and I did what was expected of me,” says Danell, who enrolled in university right after completing his high school diploma. After two years of university studies, he realized he wanted to do something else.
“I’ve always enjoyed working on machinery as a hobby, so I decided to turn my hobby into my career.” To make that happen, Danell pursued an apprenticeship as an Automotive Service Technician.
During his years as an apprentice, Danell excelled in his trade. A Skills Canada bronze medal winner, Danell later served as a judge in the competition after acquiring his Red Seal certification.
After working with the same automotive repair company for 15 years, Danell felt the time was right to advance his career a little further by exploring other opportunities. He was soon hired by Canadian National Railway Co. (CN) as a crane inspector. The moment he stepped into his new workplace, he could tell he had made the right decision. “There was a real sense of community and teamwork in the shop.”
Open new doors
Danell was one of the few shop employees with Red Seal certification in a trade. A believer in the benefits of continuous learning, he felt it was important for more of his colleagues to become certified, too. CN responded by offering Danell and his colleagues the chance to take a course to prepare them to challenge the Red Seal exam for the trade of Heavy Duty Equipment Technician.
“Taking a course can open new doors for anyone,” he maintains. “It’s an opportunity to expand your skills set and it’s also an insurance policy.”
After successfully completing the preliminary training, Danell and 12 of his colleagues attended a 13-week technical training program to prepare for the Heavy Duty Equipment Technician challenge exam.
The work was intense and demanding. “We were in the classroom eight hours a day, five days a week,” he says, adding that his employer was extremely accommodating throughout the technical training process.
Danell recognized the demands of the program were taking a toll on some of his colleagues. “The course was a huge learning curve for some of the guys and I wanted us all to do well,” he says. So he began tutoring some of his fellow trainees who were having trouble keeping up.
Eventually, all the hard work paid off. Danell and his 12 other classroom colleagues passed the course and went on to successfully challenge the Red Seal certification exam. “My biggest accomplishment was seeing everyone make it; our greatest success was achieving this as a team.”
In September 2014, Danell’s employer held a graduation ceremony for the successful candidates. His fellow graduates decided to honour Danell’s efforts to help his classmates reach their goals by naming him the class valedictorian.
“I was humbled by accepting this title from my colleagues,” he says. “It was a great experience and I’m excited now to be able to mentor others and pay it forward.”
To learn more about challenging an exam, or to become a certified journeyperson, visit the Apprenticeship Manitoba website at

Addressing the skills gap with a thorough skills audit of your workplace

By Lisa Cefali

I recently attended The Associates’ AGM where the keynote speaker, Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, spoke on the topic of Canada’s business competitiveness. One of the key points that he referenced was the skills gap that many Canadian organizations face today.
Organizations are desperate to meet the needs of today while also understanding what they will need for the future. He went further to say that it is imperative that they have this understanding if they want Canada to be competitive globally.
Often, one can easily see what skillset is currently missing, but it is extremely difficult to even imagine future skills where technologies, processes, and true business applications of those technologies have yet to be developed!
He also warned of the effect of the knowledge drain that will occur when the baby boomers really do retire and take their experience with them. Mr. Beatty went on to add that having business work closely with post-secondary institutions is recommended as it provides insight into the types of skills and programs that should be taught.
At this point, I found myself nodding in agreement with the strategies he was suggesting, as companies do need to look forward and focus on bringing in good talent – and working closely with post-secondary institutions plants the seeds to grow future employees. The question that came to my mind was whether organizations are truly doing all they can to really understand the skillset they currently have – the talent within.
In most companies, some form of a “budgeting process” occurs, is expected, and is committed to. Most companies do this on a yearly basis. Each department is asked to submit a planned budget consisting of day-to-day operations, enhancements, improvements, and new initiatives. The numbers are then vetted and added to or changed.
The people element is taken into account as part of this equation by way of monetary salary increases and the additional human resources that may be needed.
But are we really doing this with the same vigour and diligence on the people side? Is it time we do? Mr. Beatty felt we should!
The skills gap is real and companies need to address it. But where do you start? Consider answering five specific questions as a means of completing a skills audit:
1. What skills do we know we currently have?
2. What skills do we NOT know we currently have?
3. What skills do we know are going to walk out the door with retirees?
4. What skills will we need to address the leaks?
5. What skills do we anticipate we will need for future initiatives?
Organizations often do realize that in order to address the skills gap, they need to go external. However, the real difference now is that organizations need to enlist recruiters who can search out where the talent is and reach out to those individuals – candidates that will address the skills gap the best.
In my interviews with candidates, the number one reason people are interested in even entertaining a new opportunity is their desire to expand their skillset and often to use a skillset that they are not using in their current role. Often they have been categorized a certain way or have been doing a role, and that is the only role the organization feels they are able to do.
As a recruiter, we approach the individual and take inventory of all skills – those in the immediate role and those in their past roles. We see these skills as being fully accessible and transferable.
Skills audit
Organizations can no longer make skills a priority for the Human Resources department only. A skills audit needs to be part of the strategic planning process – just as important as the yearly corporate budget process. If the senior team along with the board can request/demand/insist on an effective and thorough budgeting process of the finance lead or department, there is no reason the skills audit cannot be addressed as well.
Those firms who incorporate the urgency of addressing the skills gap with the first step of a skills audit, are those that will remain competitive and be well prepared for their future direction. Conducting a skills audit, creating a strategic human resource plan, and then implementing said plan will ensure your firm is on the leading edge.
Being aware of what skills lie within, and those that you then need to attain, sends a strong message of commitment to your current employees, and also to those employees you are attempting to attract into your organization.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s close to the end of the year – have you completed your skills audit yet?
Lisa Cefali is the Vice President Executive Search with Legacy Bowes Group where she uses her many years of business experience and assessment of emotional intelligence to uncover organizational insight and those attributes that provide for the best organizational fit for her clients with their strategic planning needs. Please feel free to contact her at for your executive search, recruitment, coaching, and strategic planning needs.

It’s all about character in The Secret World

By Stephan Bazzocchi (photo by Electronic Arts Inc.)

Don’t pack your Halloween stuff away just yet. We have a late entry for all you fans of the macabre.
Recently, The Secret World was on sale on Steam. It’s been a game I have been waiting to scoop up for quite some time. Being someone from Winnipeg, frugality is something that’s in my blood – so when it appeared for 12 bucks, I jumped, and continued to jump once I started playing. Since I have started my character, I’ve foregone playing many of my daily regulars, and focused on what I can only describe as every horror story come to life in one game.
There are some things that this game does right, and others not so much. Firstly, the mission system. This is by far the best quest/mission system in any MMO (massively multiplayer online game) I have seen. Almost every mission has a small cut scene, delving into the lore of the game, giving NPC (non-player character) background – sometimes with a bit of snark, others with a good chunk of paranoia.
The graphics are nothing cutting-edge, but it’s the story that ensures you won’t skip the cut scenes. Each one has NPCs with unique personalities, making even the most mundane escort mission seem important and an integral part of pushing the plot forward. Another point on plot: I have never seen a game that has this much lore in it.
Sure you have EVE and WoW (World of Warcraft) that have their backstories, but this one takes the cake. For example, there is a house that was burned to the ground that is used as the location of several missions, and has 14 pieces of lore you need to find that gives you the very fleshed out story behind the condition of the house, the events surrounding it now, and why it’s relevant to the overall story.
It’s that overall story that drags you into this game world and sets the foundation. The world graphics and ambience bring it to another level.
Then it tries to blur the lines between game world and reality. The premise of The Secret World is that just under the surface to our world, there is a world where evil tries to manifest itself, and several of the key factions in modern conspiracy theories are there to fight or capitalize on it.
With some of the missions, you are doing your research in the real world, using the real Google, and you search real sites, like Amazon, WordPress, or web pages of fictitious companies so you can find out some important clue to help progress the mission to its next stage. Of course they don’t tell you that’s what you need to do. That would make it too easy.
Aside from the extremely in-depth plot points, The Secret World is a semi-open one: you can travel to many of the locations on your own. The skill system is also an open one: you can steer your character in whatever type of offensive/defensive path you wish.
Once you’ve progressed far enough, you can switch skill loadouts on the fly making very purpose-driven setups.
The best part so far, is the game follows the pay-once, play-forever model. No subscription fees. When you look at the developers’ other products, Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, you can assume that this game will be around for quite some time, so if you can catch it on sale, grab it.
Just make sure your reading glasses prescription is pretty up-to-date, because there is a whole lot of reading you’ll be doing.