Until recently, if you were a Whistlerite looking to pursue post-secondary education, you essentially had one of two options: Distance learning or leaving the community. In a transient town powered by seasonal workers, those options aren't always viable. But thanks to the Whistler Learning Centre (WLC), which this month began offering a handful of business and leadership courses locally, Whistlerites can now pursue the next phase of their education right at home.
"The goal is to eliminate the time and travel cost," explained WLC executive director Suki Cheyne.
First launched in 2016, the WLC began by offering one-off courses in tandem with the University of Northern British Columbia and Vancouver Island University, but it wasn't until a partnership was inked with the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) that the school began offering a slate of multi-week courses out of Tamwood International College.
"We are essentially a satellite campus for BCIT, so we're taking existing BCIT courses and delivering them face to face in Whistler," Cheyne said.
The WLC chose six accredited courses for this fall, each with capacity for up to 20 students: organizational behaviour; program management essentials; accounting for the manager; digital marketing; negotiation skills; and project communication and team management.
The part-time courses provide credits that can be transferred into diploma, degree or certificate courses at BCIT, and are delivered either as evening courses over six weeks or over two weekends. A long-term goal is to offer full certificate programs in Whistler in the future.
The offerings were all designed with the local workforce in mind, noted Cheyne, who added that local business people have been tapped to lead some of the courses.
"Not many people can just take two years out from their work or whatever they're doing and dedicate themselves to their studies," she said of the local employee base.
"So the goal is to allow people to chip away at their credits so they can be receiving career development and moving towards their career goals while continuing to stay in Whistler."
Part of that approach is the flexibility the WLC has baked into its delivery model, said Sonia Dhaliwal, program-planning analyst with BCIT.
"Coming to Whistler, when I moved up here, I quickly realized the culture here. It's a lot different than what I was used to in the city," she said.
"One of the things we found is that we had to be flexible. The department I work with within the School of Business, we are flexible in the way we provide our courses. It was a good fit because I was able to work with Suki to figure out exactly what the community needs were and go from there and be able to deliver the courses based on what the community wanted. We didn't make it a one-size-fits all type of program."
To that end, the WLC is waiting to finalize its spring courses until consulting with the student body and the broader community. Based on local input, Cheyne said there is opportunity to expand its offerings both this spring and into the future.
"We have an idea of some of the courses we would like to offer, but what we would like is more feedback from the community, so if there is a subject that someone is interested in, we can start to talk to the community ... and gauge that level of interest," she added.
The WLC also sees its programming as a way to help shore up Whistler's labour shortage by providing employers with a way to develop and hopefully retain staff.
"From my past research and chats that I've had with people, I know that education is a huge retention tool for employers," said Dhaliwal.
"I think when you have courses that are in line with the person's job, or a position that that person is actually trying to get to, that's another retention tool because that person being hired is directly affecting their position today and where they want to move to within the organization."
The big challenge WLC currently faces, Cheyne said, is exposure.
"Raising awareness is probably our biggest challenge. I think we have a great offering and it's trying to make sure that the right people hear about it," she said. "So that's either employers supporting it by making sure that their staff are aware of these professional development opportunities, or the general wider community knowing that they're available."
In the RMOW's 2019 Community Life Satisfaction Survey, only 34 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with formal learning opportunities available in Whistler. To learn more, visit whistlerlearningcentre.com.