NAIT set to grow from four schools to seven

· The Pulse

The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology is shaking up its academic structure to respond to industry needs as it looks towards 2050, a senior leader said.

The polytechnic institute, opened in 1962, will grow from four schools to seven and has targeted July as a launch date, though details like names for the new schools are still being worked out.

"Our School of Applied Sciences and Technology and the School of Skilled Trades are very big and diverse, and a little bit more difficult to navigate for our external stakeholders as well as our students," Peter Leclaire, NAIT's vice-president academic, told Taproot. "The intent of the reorganization is to create stronger relationships and alignment between our schools and important industry sectors within the Alberta economy."

The last time the school restructured its programs was in 2016. NAIT is currently made up of the two aforementioned schools, plus the JR Shaw School of Business and the School of Health and Life Sciences.

Leclaire said plans are in place for one of the new schools to be focused on construction and building sciences. "We know that's a strong element of the economy," he said. "We want to create a greater alignment with that sector, so that it's easier for potential employers but also students who want to get into that environment."

Another change in the works is to bring information technology and digital media programs "front and centre," Leclaire said. The shift is informed partly by feedback from "industry leaders" (Leclaire would not give specific details) that they need more robust skills in tech.

"We're seeing manufacturing companies coming in that are highly automated, where just about everything is robotics," he said. "Those are emerging skills that are required, that are creating great opportunities for people coming out of school, but also people looking to pivot their careers."

One focus NAIT has for this academic restructuring is micro credentials. For example, IT workers may take non-certificate classes in computer programming, or someone working in oil and gas may take a course related to hydrogen to help them succeed in their jobs.

"Some of the heavy equipment (industry), particularly highway transport, is starting to look at options in terms of the diversification of the type of trucks that they use for hauling, and hydrogen and dual-fuel systems are a part of that," Leclaire said. "We've broadened that conversation."

Leclaire added that the academic changes may grow both NAIT's student body and staff. The institution is already Canada's "largest trades training school," Leclaire said. It employs 2,337 people and has more than 34,000 students and apprentices who are enrolled.

The restructuring is part of NAIT's broader academic plan. And that plan is itself tied to a campus development plan. NAIT hopes to change its campus layout and construct new buildings by 2050.

A person wearing a suit and glasses stands inside a campus building.

Peter Leclaire, NAIT's vice-president academic, said the institution is restructuring from four schools to seven and has targeted July as its launch date. Meanwhile, he and his colleagues are looking ahead to a reimagined campus by 2050. (Supplied)

"One of the key capital priorities for this institution going forward is our Advanced Skills Centre," Leclaire said. "We have some aged infrastructure here at NAIT, legacy buildings that have been around since the beginning of the institution in 1962 … They really don't provide that environment to develop those new skill sets required."

Only "preliminary work" is complete for the Advanced Skills Centre, as the project is in the "advocacy stage," Leclaire said. He added that NAIT is asking the provincial government to fund design and construction.

Taproot reached out to the province to ask about NAIT's request. "All proposals put forward by the post-secondary system are carefully considered," the office of the province's advanced education minister Rajan Sawhney told Taproot, via email. "Approved proposals will be included in Alberta's Budget 2024."

The centre is planned to be 640,000 square feet and house four "precincts": construction, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and energy.

"The Advanced Skills Centre is focused around starting to build that interdisciplinary approach to education where we bring in the construction group, we bring carpenters, and we bring plumbers, HVAC, civil engineering technologists, construction engineering technologists — all of these different disciplines that would be on a project together in one building," Leclaire said.

The new centre won't be part of the current restructuring. The plan is to build it on the parcel of land adjacent to where the decommissioned Blatchford and Westwood bus barns now stand.

Leclaire said the new alignment of schools should launch in July, though there will be more work to complete before then.