Back To School: Con-Ed Partnerships Helping Workers Develop New Skills

Back to school: Con-Ed partnerships helping workers develop new skills

Newsroom authorby Jon KuiperijJul 31, 2020
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Patrice Thompson waited nearly three decades for the right opportunity to pursue her post-secondary education.

After immigrating to Canada in 1987, Thompson initially stayed home to raise her six children. Finances became the next roadblock, since she was unable to secure government funding to subsidize her studies. And even after Thompson became an Amazon associate in 2011 — with the primary intent of saving up enough money to go back to school — she was intimidated by the thought of working and learning in an environment that dwarfed her native Grenada (the Caribbean island has a population of 112,000 and is less than 350 square kilometres in size, approximately one-tenth the size of the City of Mississauga).

“Where I came from, everyone basically knew everyone,” Thompson says. “So when you come to a big country like Canada, it’s a bit scary because there are so many different directions you can go.”

In 2015, the opportunity that Thompson had patiently waited for finally came along. Amazon announced it was expanding its Career Choice program — which covers up to 95 per cent of tuition and associated fees for courses at accredited schools for Amazon hourly associates pursuing a certificate or diploma in qualified fields of study — to Canada. Not only did Thompson no longer have to worry about financing her dream of attaining a post-secondary education, she’d also have the option of studying with her peers in the familiar surroundings of Amazon’s own facilities. To Thompson, it was an easy decision.

“I jumped up and said, ‘Okay, this is my chance.’… I knew I had to do it. I just had to.” – Patrice Thompson

“When I heard about it, I jumped up and said, ‘Okay, this is my chance. Here it is,’” recalls Thompson, who immediately enrolled in Sheridan’s Transportation and Logistics certificate program. “I didn’t need to talk to my family first. I didn’t think about not being able to do it. I knew I had to do it. I just had to.”

Sheridan popular con-ed choice for Amazon employees

Thompson wasn’t alone. More than 20 of her colleagues also signed up for a Sheridan certificate program when Amazon first brought Career Choice to Canada, and many more have followed a similar path since. In fact, nearly 500 Amazonians have graduated from Sheridan Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS) programs over the past five years as part of the Career Choice initiative, which allows participants to pursue studies in fields that aren’t related to a career at Amazon.

“Our associates want to align with Sheridan for a couple of reasons,” says Amazon Human Resources Business Partner Fatima Bhopali. “One major benefit we notice at Sheridan is that they offer a huge variety of courses, whether it’s business or information technology or health care or skilled trades or transportation. Sheridan’s campuses are also very close to our fulfillment center in Mississauga, making it an ideal choice for anyone living in Mississauga or Brampton.”

“Any time a company approaches us looking to re-skill or up-skill their employees, our answer is yes.” – Nazlin Hirji, Executive Director, Sheridan Continuing Education and Professional Studies

It’s the type of partnership that Sheridan is happy to accommodate — with Amazon or any other company. More than one hundred Region of Peel Public Works employees have graduated from Sheridan’s Water Distribution and Supply Program, a custom-built offering that educated staff about the latest industry and regulatory standards involving water distribution and wastewater collection systems. CAPS has assisted numerous other businesses through the provision of leadership training for supervisors, Adobe and Microsoft skills training for office workers, and 21st-century skills for all types of employees.

“Any time a company approaches us looking to re-skill or up-skill their employees, our answer is yes,” says CAPS Executive Director Nazlin Hirji, noting that her department’s centralized model (working in collaboration with the college’s other faculties) provides one-stop shopping for employers while also making it easier for CAPS to deliver customized programs, badges and micro-credentials. “Logistically, it’s not that challenging for us. If a company wants us to teach classes in their facilities, we just view it as another campus, book the instructor and work it into their schedule. There’s maximum flexibility on our end.”

Increased understanding, confidence and pride

As much as businesses benefit from offering continuing education programs like Career Choice, their employees are typically the biggest winners. “It helped me understand what we do and why,” says Thompson, crediting the support of her colleagues, family and professors for enabling her to go back to school in her late 30s while working full-time. “I’m able to dive deeper into processes and find ways that help my peers, my department and my company. I can now talk to my manager and know the right questions to ask. And it also gave me the confidence to train other process assistants and become a leader within my team.”

Amazon associate Patrice Thompson introduces Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a groundbreaking event in Ottawa.

That professional growth did not go unnoticed. Not long after Thompson completed her Transportation and Logistics certificate, Amazon invited her to introduce Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a company event in Ottawa, a moment Thompson describes as “the best experience of my life.”

“I asked my daughter how she felt about me going back to school, and she said, ‘Mom, we’re proud of you. I tell my friends every day, and it gave me a sense of responsibility that if my mom can do it, I can do it,’” Thompson adds.

“I’m also very proud of the growth I’ve seen in myself. Not long ago, I was a very shy person from a small village with a high school education who didn’t have a lot of confidence. There are many people like me who have immigrated to Canada and are looking for an opportunity. A program like Career Choice is great because it’s an easier way to get into college. All we had to do was show up. I’m so grateful to my employer for their support.”

Pictured at top of page: Patrice Thompson is pictured in Amazon’s fulfillment centre in Bolton. 

Written by Jon Kuiperij, Marketing Copy/Content Writer at Sheridan. Photos courtesy of Amazon.

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