Yekaterina Giyasova never considered herself a top student.
The SAIT business graduate had earned a degree in Thailand before she returned to Calgary to attend the polytechnic school.
She graduated in 2017 from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology with a President’s medal, which recognizes outstanding student achievement.
“It was amazing, I really excelled at SAIT,” said Giyasova.
“I never thought of myself as someone who was particularly smart or anything but at SAIT, because of the attention I got from the instructors for wanting to learn, I really felt included and I just pushed myself harder.”
Giyasova graduated in 2017 with a Business Administration degree with a major in Accounting.
She was valedictorian and credits her success to small class sizes and more “one-on-one with your instructors.”
“I absolutely adored the fact that the instructor knew me by name,” said Giyasova.
“If I had a question, I could raise my hand and they would come over and answer my question in front of the whole class and the whole class could hear me.”
She added her instructors were professionals in their field — previous Certified Public Accountants from audit firms and industry and “they weren’t just academia.”
“They were able to explain things from real-world situations and prepare us for the real world.”
That is one of the major selling points from tech and trades schools as Canadians emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah Watts-Rynard, CEO of Polytechnics Canada, said the schools have positioned students to enter the workforce with hands-on training.
“It’s really a matter of being able to apply what’s being learned in a way that industry would recognize as being experience,” said Watts-Rynard.
“It makes sense to bring in people who understand the equipment, understand the challenges, understand the environment.”
Watts-Rynard said employers often advise on curriculum and have indicated that there’s “incredible value in a smooth school to work transition.”
Eleven polytechnic schools across the country have launched a campaign called Purpose Applied to highlight the hands-on, applied learning and the high-demand jobs students may find after they graduate.
This past summer, Leger was commissioned to ask Canadians their perceptions of tech and trades schools.
Once considered second best to other colleges and universities, the Leger survey showed polytechnic schools are now a top contender.
Of 1,300 parents of children between 13 and 25 years old, half said they are likely to encourage their child to pursue a polytechnic education.
Of the 600 human resources professionals questioned, three-in-five said they are likely to seek out graduates who attended a tech school.
Watts-Rynard stressed as Canada emerges from the pandemic, polytechnic graduates in technology adoption, climate change, and careers focused on an aging population will be increasingly critical.
She said those jobs became even more important over the past couple of years — to keep the lights on and provide front-line care.
“How do you not only teach somebody how to be a nurse,” Watts-Rynard said, “you show them how to do it.”
Having work placement as part of the program was what lured Desmand King to BCIT, British Columbia Institute of Technology.
King, 42, already had a job as a professional driver but the pandemic forced him to make a U-turn in his career.
“This is my opportunity to actually get my foot in the door at a company and get some experience,” said King, “get my name out there.”
King said he took night classes while holding down his day job but decided to take the plunge for full-time schooling. He is currently in his first year of the two-year Digital Design and Development program.
He called the hands-on experience with up-to-date technology invaluable.
“We’re working with industry tools, we’re working with industry software and we’re learning from experts that came from the industry.
“I’ve always been fascinated with tech and computing and I’ve always had this dream to work in the tech field, especially video games. That’s actually my interest.”
King said the field “blew up” over the pandemic as more people stayed home and had time to invest in gaming.
“I’m excited for the prospects when I’m done school.”
Watts-Rynard said polytechnic schools also provide opportunity for upskilling and reskilling to promote life-long learning.
“The world is changing too quickly,” added Watts-Rynard. “Those are engagements that happen best when you’re talking to somebody who is heavily engaged with the challenges industry is facing today.”
After Giyasova graduated she worked as an auditor at KPMG for three and a half years, before switching her current job.
She is now a senior analyst in corporate accounting at Enbridge.
Even if tech schools have had to pivot to online learning, Giyasova said she thinks smaller class sizes still make a huge difference.
“You can still reach out to your teacher after a class even if it’s online, by email and they will still be able to help you.
“They will have 40 students as opposed to two to 300.”