Employers, Indigenous and Community Partners: Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector

This chapter shares several of the ways in which some B.C. institutions have sought employer and community partners to develop and offer their micro-credentials.

Chapter Audience:

  • administrator icon Administrators
  • program managers icon Program Managers
  • Faculty

VCC’s Partnership with DigiBC.
Part I: VCC’s Perspective

Adrian Lipsett is the dean of continuing studies at Vancouver Community College (VCC). Under his leadership, VCC partnered with DigiBC, a non-profit organization that advances the interests of 250+ creative tech companies in British Columbia. The two organizations co-developed the Award of Achievement in Production for Animation and VFX. This successful partnership is opening doors to how VCC partners with industry. In this interview, Lipsett describes the elements that made this new partnership so productive.

Note:  On February 22, 2023, BCcampus held the event Micro-credentials: Competencies at the Core. In the afternoon portion of this all-day webinar, the first panel discussion invited Claire Sauvé, associate director of continuing studies at Vancouver Community College, Loc Dao, executive director of DigiBC, and Francesca Benedetti to share their experience of collaborating on VCC’s Award of Achievement in Production for Animation and VFX. You can watch a recording of the panel discussion on the event website (link above).


What were the first steps in setting up a partnership with DigiBC?

“When we first connected with DigiBC, it was at the very end of the first call for micro-credential funding from the ministry. At that point it was too late to get something off the ground, but we wanted to ready ourselves for future funding calls. So, the initial funding call forced us to initiate a conversation with DigiBC, and because there was no deadline pressure, that conversation was relaxed, and we were not forcing ideas. It was like a field of dreams; we were just exploring ideas.

“In our initial conversations, we laid down our value proposition. I said: ‘VCC is a training institution; we don’t have exclusive specializations. But we know how to put something together with industry, because VCC has a long history of doing that.’ We started the conversation with them from the perspective of ‘here’s what we can contribute to this partnership. We don’t know what you know – what the employer groups actually need in industry.’

“What I think helped move things along was a willingness to explore things together. There’s vulnerability in that because you admit to the partner that you don’t know the answers. What you say is ‘we could add some value to our community if we work together.’ We suggested a couple of different ideas to get the ball rolling: we could do some tack-ons in Unreal Engine [a specific software package] for people who have gone through a two-year diploma in animation or VFX. And DigiBC was like: ‘maybe….’ And then, because my portfolio includes business courses in continuing education, I brought up the idea of leveraging our existing intellectual property (IP) and creating something with courses in project management. We could take relevant pieces of existing IP and combine it with industry expertise to craft something customized to the need at hand. That got DigiBC’s interest right away.

“You could see both members coming to the table, and it was clear the value that VCC brings, and the value that DigiBC brings. We were open enough to explore any idea that each party brought to the table. I feel like that was a key ingredient that set us off on the right foot.

“We also established a shared value and vision for a product. We were exceptionally clear on this because it guides decisions from both sides. That means establishing things such as, are we trying to do something cheap and quick, or are we trying and doing something of excellent quality? That decision determines how you invest your time and resources to get a product with which everyone is ultimately happy.”

How did the partnership work in practice?

“Well, then comes the next step, which is: are we actually going to work together, or are we just going to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU)? I’ve seen scenarios where the biggest action is simply signing the MOU. That wasn’t what happened here at all. Right from the outset, in every meeting with DigiBC, there was a sincere focus and follow-up on actionable items that kept the ball moving.

“For example, we asked DigiBC to put us in contact with a person who would hire for a role that is particularly challenging to fill in industry. That was a small ask for DigiBC. They were able to put us in contact with a person from Disney. We asked the contact why it is hard to hire for this role, how many jobs are open at any given time, what are the pay grades, etc.? It happened that the contact had just posted a job ad for the target position and they shared the job description. I went back to my team, and we looked over our courses to see if we could use any portion of them as a starting point to meet some of the requirements of the job posting. We then identified our respective action items and met back two weeks later. We had frequent meetings to exchange information and keep the ball moving. A key aspect of the success of this project was just that: regular meetings, achievable outcomes, and someone keeping the partnership focused on the next step, next step, next step….

“We also hired a project manager to manage the project, including the partnership. Their role is to keep everyone on track, from both parties. This means setting up the meetings so that we connect regularly, taking minutes and sharing them, sending out the agenda, making sure we stay on track with the expenditures, and so on.

“We specified from the beginning who would be on the project team. I drew up an organizational chart of the people involved, from VCC and from DigiBC, along with what we expected them to do during the project. This included one contact person for each organization to manage the communications.”

What did DigiBC do in this collaboration? You already spoke about linking you to industry contacts, subject matter experts, and so on. Anything else?

“Fundamentally, they brought a willingness and commitment to create something tangible with us, as well as the creativity, energy, and connections to see that through.

“What we hadn’t predicted was that they’d be so instrumental in marketing. We assumed that they might let their membership know about the program by doing things like sending an email or putting it in their newsletter. They did that, but they also went above and beyond. They reached out to industry reps on multiple occasions, through multiple forums. They also boosted their own posts on social media. Their CEO reposted our posts on Twitter and Instagram. They suggested marketing and promotion ideas that would appeal to their members and then blasted it on their networks. That’s what drove up our enrollment.

“Marketing is not easy for these micro-credentials: you’re putting a new product out in record time. In addition, prospective students know it’s new, so they hesitate to take it. They aren’t sure it’s going to be worth their time and money. I’ve heard from colleagues across the sector that other micro-credentials that didn’t have this level of industry support were not able to recruit students in time. I think any institution would be hard-pressed to market a new course and expect that, amid all the competition for students’ attention, the offering will garner enough enrollment right out of the gate.

“Connecting with DigiBC meaningfully from the beginning enabled them to have buy-in for supporting this offering. They want to bring value to their members, and that was the best marketing tool we had.”

What’s in it for the partner?

“DigiBC has a mandate to support the animation and visual effects industries in B.C. To support their members, they do things like listening to their concerns and then supporting them accordingly. The creative tech industry has certain labour shortages. Working with us helped them address this challenge and, by extension, supported their mandate as an association.

“It’s slightly different for different organizations. With another industry association that did not have the same recruitment and training challenges, they were not so interested in working with us to develop the training beyond working on the outcomes of the program. But, to show value to their members, they negotiated a discount on tuition for their members.

“I think in both cases, the organizations wanted to reinforce their value as an association to their membership through this training opportunity. They just approached it differently.”

Do you pay for the partner’s services?

“The consultation has to come from somewhere, right? Compensating the partner for their time makes sense.

“We put consulting fees in the budget for the development of a new program. When we first did this, we were a bit nervous. It can be a big line item. We framed it as a consulting fee to cover the association’s work consulting with their membership and we signed a general service agreement (GSA). That way, we could work with our partner to specify what this budget line will give us. Even if it’s just four broad points, it at least gives us a common understanding of what that money will support. It’s not just a ‘thank you fee,’ it’s an opportunity to frame our collaboration together.

“In hindsight, it was incredibly helpful because it gave me the freedom to go to them under that framework with confidence. I could go to them and say, ‘as per our agreement, what subject matter expert can you send me?’”

What were some of the unexpected benefits of engaging in this partnership?

“Micro-credentials have multiple purposes. They are a win in and of themselves in that it’s a new development targeted to support a community need. But it’s not only that. There is also the question of ‘what did we learn from this, institutionally, and how can we iterate on this model to open us up to other opportunities?’

“Through this collaboration, we were investigating new models of working with industry. In the past, we might consult industry through a program advisory committee, and we had MOUs, but we didn’t see industry in the classroom.

“We used this micro-credential to create new connections with industry, explored new ways to be meaningful partners, and to meet niche training needs. This one micro-credential that we did – and it is just one project – has helped us start conversations on a broad range of projects we can now pursue because we have the confidence that we can deliver.

“Even if provincial micro-credential funding dissipates, we have proved to the community that we are paying attention to what their needs are and that we are responding in a timely and effective manner. That is the value that we should be bringing as a college. And that, to me, is one of the biggest take-aways from engaging in this partnership.”

Was there anything that surprised you in terms of engaging in this partnership?

“The time. The time needed to cultivate effective partnerships is significant. Working within a busy and active institution means that my attention is regularly pulled in several directions at once. However, for micro-credentials to work, they require informed and regular dialogue so that we are aware of, and appropriately responding to, the community’s needs. In my role as dean, I’ve had to make a conscious shift toward spending more time out of the office. Instead of waiting for people to come to us, I need to get out there and help people understand the value of working with us.”

How did you select DigiBC as the organization to partner with?

“Strategically, working with an industry association is the right thing to do. They represent not one but hundreds of companies. They are far better positioned to understand the needs of these companies than we could ever be. They also have pull with these organizations, which is essential to both the program’s development and promotion. Otherwise, we’d have a limited view of the industry and what it considers important. DigiBC, in particular, has an excellent record of supporting its members and, as we discovered in our very first meeting with them, they brought an openness and eagerness to the conversation that indicated an excellent collaboration ahead.”

Top Tips from VCC’s Experience

  1. Start conversations early-on with a potential partner
    Funding calls come up quickly and there may not be the time to establish the relationships and explore the opportunities for a new micro-credential. Have projects in your back pocket so that you are “shovel-ready” and prepared to write up a proposal quickly.
  2. Create a shared vision together
    Come to the partner with clarity about what you can offer and an openness to explore the environment together.  Each partner should contribute to creating the new program. This will create shared ownership and buy-in.
  3. Create and assign regular, small, focused tasks
    Give members of both organizations regular, focused, achievable (small) tasks that keep the ball moving on the project. This will ensure that both parties meet and exchange information regularly and enhance the feeling that they are part of one team. It will also contribute to the sense of co-ownership in the project.
  4. Build consultancy costs into your budget and develop a service contract
    The industry partner will devote a lot of resources to surveying their membership for input, connecting you with the right subject matter experts, and marketing the finished product. Define these roles and services together so that expectations are clear and put them into a service contract. Providing fees for these services ensures that the industry will be invested in providing these services and it will give you the confidence to ask for them.
  5. Leverage your partner’s marketing channels
    Your partner has credibility and existing connections with your target audience. Use this network to promote the micro-credential to the right audience.

VCC’s Partnership with DigiBC.
Part II: DigiBC’s Perspective

DigiBC is the creative technology industry association for the province, supporting the ongoing growth and success of the animation, visual effects (VFX), video game, and extended reality (XR) sectors across B.C. In 2021, in partnership with the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) and with support from the provincial government, the non-profit published a benchmarking report that provided an overview of the creative tech sector and its workforce. The findings in this report contributed to the development of seven micro-credential programs in partnership with six B.C. post-secondary institutions in 2022. One of those programs is VCC’s Award of Achievement in Production for Animation and VFX. Rachel Kelly supports DigiBC as a program manager and was the main point of contact between DigiBC and VCC.

Note:  On February 22, 2023, BCcampus held the event Micro-credentials: Competencies at the Core. In the afternoon portion of this all-day webinar, the first panel discussion invited Claire Sauvé, associate director of continuing studies at Vancouver Community College, Loc Dao, executive director of DigiBC, and Francesca Benedetti to share their experience of collaborating on VCC’s Award of Achievement in Production for Animation and VFX. You can watch a recording of the panel discussion on the event website (link above).


Why is DigiBC interested in micro-credentials?

“The creative technology industry in our province offers exciting, challenging, and high-paying opportunities for British Columbians, and companies in our sector predict job growth over the next three to five years. To fill those positions, we will need to attract, educate, and hire thousands of people.

“DigiBC’s study, Benchmarking the Creative Technology Ecosystem in British Columbia, provided a series of recommendations to grow the creative tech workforce across the province to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. Adding seats to B.C.’s existing post-secondary creative tech programs is one way to increase the number of skilled creative tech workers, but it is not the only way.

“We also need new avenues for people to gain the skills they need to enter the creative tech workforce – whether quickly reskilling from another industry, augmenting existing credentials from another region or country, or seeking new ways to gain specific, stackable skills on a flexible timeline.

“Micro-credentials, designed in partnership with industry to provide job-ready skills, fit that bill.”

How did the partnership with post-secondary institutions begin?

“Education has been a key pillar for DigiBC for over a decade. Our executive director has made a concerted effort to forge relationships with leaders at post-secondary institutions. This has resulted in strong connections with the B.C. post-secondary institutions that offer programs specifically designed for our sector and those that offer cross-sector applicable (and very in-demand) training, such as computer science or software engineering. The micro-credential program development took those relationships another step forward.”

What do you want or expect out of a post-secondary partner? What makes a good partner?

“Having industry and educators come together to develop and deliver new micro-credentials that will provide industry-relevant, job-ready skills is a challenging task on any timeline – let alone a compressed one of four or five months. In order to succeed, both partners must have shared objectives, clear remits, and very open channels of communications.

“For DigiBC, the partnership with VCC to develop the Production for Animation and VFX micro-credential had all those elements.

“From the very early conversations with Adrian and his team, it was clear that VCC wanted to develop a novel micro-credential program in the spirit it was intended. Our early discussions were driven by the findings in DigiBC’s benchmarking study. What does the industry need? What roles are in-demand? Where could a micro-credential best serve both learners and industry? The team at VCC had already done preliminary research before meeting with us and their analysis helped to “fast forward” our discussions.

“Together, we were able to quickly identify Production for Animation and VFX as a candidate program, providing a viable pathway for people to enter creative tech from other industries or make a career change within the sector. For example, a project manager from a resource-based company in B.C. could gain the fundamental animation and VFX production pipeline knowledge to pivot their existing skills; while people working in art, design, technical, or administrative roles in creative tech could leverage the training to switch career tracks.

“Beyond attention to our industry data and surveys, the VCC team was also proactive about working with experts from across our industry and understood how to do that effectively. We were able to connect the school with five advisers, all of whom have very demanding day jobs, and VCC was able to work with their timelines and schedules to ensure the resulting curriculum reflected real industry needs and experience.

“From the start, VCC came in with a genuine curiosity about the creative technology industry. They were cognizant of what they didn’t know about our industry. Conversely, we were transparent about our relatively superficial understanding of post-secondary processes and challenges to creating and launching a novel micro-credential. This open-mindedness and clear communication from both sides, and a willingness to be honest about what we know and what we don’t know, has defined and strengthened our partnership throughout the process.”

What do you view as your role in the partnership?

“Representing over 250 studios across animation, VFX, video games, and XR, DigiBC has extensive access to industry insights and needs. As a result, we were able to work with VCC to identify in-demand roles in the industry – and determine which roles and capabilities would be suitable for a micro-credential. We were able to support VCC from the application phase through to course delivery, including recruiting subject matter experts to consult on curriculum development and provide instruction.

“In addition, we were able to promote the micro-credential program with our member companies, so they understand the value these programs offer, recognize the micro-credential on applicants’ résumés, and support their own staff in either taking micro-credential training or consulting on program development. This involvement is invaluable, and we continue to encourage it as the course enters its second offering, organizing guest speakers and studio tours to further strengthen the connection between education and industry.”

What were some of the lessons learned from this first round of micro-credentials?

“The three biggest lessons learned for DigiBC are all around the theme of ‘expansion’:

  1. Expanding the message. Understanding how and to whom we market the program. While we were confident in the curriculum and in the industry need, both VCC and DigiBC found it difficult to reach the target audience. At DigiBC, our channels of communication are very much employer focused. For micro-credentials like this one, we needed to extend that reach to people coming from other industries and recent graduates. In future, a mechanism to expand the marketing message beyond the traditional methods used by either partner is something we must consider and build into our micro-credential development plans.
  2. Expanding access. We want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to make a career in creative technology. Tuition subsidies for underrepresented groups, and people who might not otherwise be able to afford this type of training, should form part of the equation when budgeting for and developing micro-credential programs.
  3. Expanding reach. All the programs DigiBC worked on in this first round of micro-credentials were offered in-person in the Lower Mainland and the Greater Victoria areas. In the future, we would like to find avenues to introduce this training across the province – whether in-person, hybrid, or fully remote – so people living in communities outside of Vancouver and Victoria have an equal opportunity to get the training they need to join our industry.”

What advice would you give institutions as they continue to develop micro-credentials in partnership with industry?

“Across our sector, technology is rapidly advancing. We need to ensure that new and current creative tech workers have the skills required to ensure B.C. remains competitive on the global stage, and that they, in turn, can enjoy a long and rewarding career. So, the first advice would be to maintain strong relationships with industry to understand how its technology and needs are changing and to update the training as the industry evolves.

“My second observation is that increased collaboration between post-secondaries to ensure that each institution is developing micro-credentials that capitalize on its strengths (and complement rather than compete with other program development) would benefit industry and learners. We are lucky in B.C. to have access to institutions that offer world-class art, design, software engineering, and other creative tech-specific training. For individuals looking to enter or progress in this sector, and for employers actively seeking skilled workers, the ability to leverage this expertise through a coordinated combination of micro-credentials across multiple institutions would be game-changing.”

Top Tips from DigiBC’s Experience

  1. Be honest and open. Ensure there is true strategic goal alignment between partners. All partners need to come to the table with open minds and a willingness to learn from one another. Micro-credentials are new and there is no one-size-fits-all solution across industries or institutions.
  2. Be purposeful. Think of long-term change when setting goals.
    Approach the partnership knowing your strengths and limitations and those of your partner so you both enter the project with a clear idea of the scale and scope of the commitment required.
  3. Be mindful and flexible. Doing something new requires a commitment to working differently.
    Small non-profit organizations, large for-profit corporations, and post-secondary organizations do not function with the same resources, timelines, and priorities. Be clear about yours and inquire about others’ organizational cultures and expectations so that you can develop strategies to facilitate their involvement in the project.
  4. Be iterative. Start small and build from that.
    Micro-credentials are new. Focus on developing an excellent product in your area of strength. Once developed, consider how you can build on the curriculum, expand access to the program, and increase its reach, perhaps considering how you might bring it to the whole province through flexible delivery.
  5. Ensure relevance to industry. Employers represented by associations are key to success.
    Involve industry through several layers of engagement (from data, to discussions, to in-class involvement, to studio visits) to ensure that the curriculum aligns with industry need, and that employers understand the program’s value and support its development, but also to connect learners early and often with the opportunities available across the industry.

BCIT’s Consultation with Industry

The British Columbia Institute of Technology’s (BCIT) mission is to “partner learners and industry for success through workforce development.” As such, the institution has established contacts and processes to support employer engagement. Laurie Therrien is the manager of corporate training and industry services in the school of construction and the environment at BCIT. She shares how her institution engaged with the industry during the development of the new micro-credential in Introductory Studies in Mass Timber Construction.

Note:  On February 22, 2023, BCcampus held the event Micro-credentials: Competencies at the Core. In the afternoon portion of this all-day webinar, the second panel discussion invited Therrien along with Curtis Hale, design manager at EllisDon Construction Ltd to talk about their perspectives on developing the micro-credential. You can watch a recording of the panel discussion on the event website (link above).


How did the idea for this micro-credential come to be?

“For close to a year, we had been exploring labour shortages within the mass timber industry. British Columbia has a great interest in moving mass timber forward because of the province’s deep commitment to sustainable building practices. So that’s what we were exploring: Is there something that BCIT could do to help the mass timber industry? We were trying to find out if there were any pressing educational needs.

“What we discovered is that across the spectrum of the construction industry – and by that I mean everybody from tradespeople, to digital modelers, to estimators, to architects, and engineers – there were people who didn’t know anything about mass timber. These people have knowledge in their field of expertise, but it would be helpful if we could create something that would give everybody some common, foundational knowledge of what mass timber is.

“This educational need was very much aligned with a micro-credential. Then the funding call for micro-credentials came out, so we had two things collide. That’s how the micro-credential came to be.”

How did you engage industry in the development of this micro-credential?

“In our exploratory study, we had identified about half a dozen pressing training needs. That’s too many to cover in a micro-credential. We needed to refine them. That’s when we drew upon our industry partners.

“BCIT has a very organized way of doing that. We called together a focus group from the mass timber industry. That’s a handful of people from the sector that we are hoping to serve. We asked them to rank the pressing needs. What’s most pressing? They said that there are a lot of misconceptions about mass timber in the field of construction. Correcting that was the priority.

“We then collected the focus group’s thoughts about what ought to be topics to concentrate on. The focus group came up with a list: myths around moisture management, acoustics, estimation, and fire protection, etc.

“We assembled the list of topics and then emailed a survey to a larger swatch of industry. We used our industry contacts, and we asked them to validate the list of topics identified by the focus group. They ranked the topics, and we narrowed our list from 15 to five topics.

“Then, we assembled a course development team. We recruited subject matter experts. These are people who are leaders in the field, and they helped to develop the course materials. My job is to find them. I look within BCIT but also externally. Because mass timber is a new area for us, I hired mostly people from the industry.

“Finally, we recruited the pilot participants from industry. Because of the funding support we received, the pilot learners took the course free of tuition, but in exchange, the employers and the learners understood that we wanted feedback on the pilot. We put over 200 people through and we got feedback at every step of the way. There were two different groups of learners in the pilot: one with experience working in mass timber and one with no exposure to it. We asked them different questions. For those who already had experience with mass timber, we asked them, ‘Is this the kind of information you wished you had when you started working in this job?’ To the people new to mass timber, we asked, ‘How useful is this for you in your job?’ We looked at the two sets of feedback independently.”

BCIT has a system in place for working with employers. What would you recommend for institutions that do not have these systems in place?

“BCIT does have a lot of industry connections. But these do not happen on their own. My role at BCIT is to make new industry connections. We didn’t have expertise in mass timber. We didn’t have those connections at the start.

“What BCIT has is the ‘brand name’ recognition. If I reach out to industry, even if they don’t know me, they’ve heard of BCIT, and they are usually interested enough to return my calls. That helps.”

Do you compensate industry partners for their time?

“No. Not in terms of going to industry and doing focus groups and surveys. Most often a

cup of coffee is the pay for that. They are savvy enough to know that in general, it is an investment for the long term. They will eventually have a training in place that they can send their people to.

“Here the micro-credential is industry-driven. It serves the needs of that industry, so we do not pay for their time. But if we designed a micro-credential that was geared towards the learner rather than industry, and it served some foundational learning, then perhaps paying for industry consultation would make sense because they would not have as much of a vested interest.”

What was the response to the micro-credential?

“We had to hold the tide back, in some respects. We would have employers with whom we consulted on the program call us up and say they would send us 35 people for the pilot. In a way, this was one of those junctures where industry, education, and governments all aligned at the same time. Industry needed help to fill a gap, the province was interested in promoting mass timber, and we could leverage the budding micro-credential concepts. It was fortuitous timing.”

How will you, and industry, measure the success of this micro-credential?

“It’s a funny time, right now, with many people retiring or changing sectors. Industry has never had to duck and weave so hard in order to try to keep or train or attract their skilled workforce. The purpose of this micro-credential is to help people determine whether they want to leverage their existing expertise into a new domain [mass timber]. So, a measure of success for this micro-credential, in the long term, will be whether more people are coming into the sector and working in mass timber.”

To what do you attribute your success?

“The micro-credential is such an elegant little program. It’s more than a course, but less than a credential. At BCIT, the smallest credential we have is 15 credits, which is small, but for a professional development-type training for a company, it’s sizable. So, training that is more than a course, and less than a program, is just right for industry. And people come out with a badge that is very descriptive of what they have learned.

It really is a neat little concept that I think just found its time. When I first heard about it, I was like, ‘Micro-credentials?’ And now I’m like, ‘What a no-brainer! Why haven’t we been doing that all along?’ I’m a big fan. I’m working on two other micro-credentials right now.”

Top Tips from BCIT’s Experience

  1. Develop a network
    Develop meaningful connections with employers. These will need to be fostered and that will take resources. Make clear when initiating a contact that you are not asking or selling anything, but rather approaching them in the spirit of authentic partnership with the potential to solve a problem in their industry.
  2. Discuss training needs with a group of employers
    Once you have identified a transitioning industry, consult with a subset of employers about their pain points. Forming a small focus or advisory group can help to bring voices from diverse employers into the conversation. Ask the group to identify skills that are difficult to recruit and what would need to be taught to alleviate this challenge.
  3. Validate information
    Once a handful of advisers have identified training needs in their industry, check whether this reflects the needs of a broader set of employers. Online surveys can be a useful tool to engage a larger group and build confidence in the data.
  4. Pilot the program
    If a micro-credential is designed to alleviate the shortage of skills in an industry, invite employers to register their workforce in the pilot program. Consider providing a tuition subsidy in exchange for providing feedback on whether the program addresses the industry’s needs.
  5. Measure the program’s success from an industry perspective
    Consider how industry will assess the success of the training program, which may not only be the immediate skills that learners pick up. Employers may have a longer-term goal of transitioning their workforce. How can you design an evaluation plan for the program that measures this indicator of success?

Collaborating with a Non-Profit Organization to Benefit the Community

Michael Yue is the director of the partnership development office at Vancouver Community College (VCC). In 2018, his team obtained a grant from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to develop and offer a new type of program to improve the settlement outcomes of newcomer women. Called Make It!, the program was offered in partnership with DIVERSEcity, a local non-profit organization.

This partnership model has been successfully replicated at two other institutions in different regions of the province. One of them is in Victoria. Nannette Plant is manager of government contracts and special projects in professional studies and industry training at Camosun College. She shares her institution’s experience in replicating the program, adjusting it to the region, and developing a free program guide to help more institutions replicate this model across the country.


What was the inception of the partnership for this program?

Yue: “In 2018, we responded to a funding opportunity from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The project, while focusing on entrepreneurship for immigrant women makers, was meant to support settlement – testing to what extent conducting maker-based business operations could accelerate immigrant integration into Canadian society.

“We envisioned a program for newcomer women who had limited opportunities for income and little to no professional networks in Canada, but had an interest in business. We wanted to support the development of basic skills, but also give women a hands-on experience through an incubator-like environment where women worked in groups to launch a company. They could use their skills to create handmade artisanal products, with the goal of selling them at local farmers’ and artisans’ markets. This real-world experience would boost women’s confidence while they learned by doing. Most of the entrepreneurship programs for immigrants focus on solo entrepreneurship, and we reasoned that by supporting a group of women who formed a cooperative business, the program would accelerate their language learning skills, and would do so in a supportive environment.

“We reached out to an immigrant service organization that works with this population, has expert knowledge of how to support them in integrating into the workforce and into Canadian society (through settlement services such as language and employment), and with whom we had a prior working relationship. The DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society’s mission aligned with our goals and vision, so we greenlit a partnership. After agreeing on the basic structure of the program, VCC led the charge on the funding application, and we were successful. This is how the Make It! Social Entrepreneurship for Newcomer Women program was born.”

How did VCC collaborate with DIVERSEcity to offer the programming?

Yue: “The program leverages the strengths of a public post-secondary institution, which has access to professional facilities, equipment, and instruction, and the strengths of a local immigrant-serving organization, which has expertise in immigrant settlement, integration, and business training and development.

“Participants spent the first 10 weeks of the program with VCC instructors to bolster their language skills, for example, by practicing how to interact with prospective buyers at a market. They also learned basic business knowledge, which they then applied to the companies they were forming. They did market research, came up with a product to offer, a company name, brand and positioning, and a social media marketing strategy. VCC has professional maker facilities and expertise that are used to offer vocational programs (e.g., a sewing laboratory for the Fashion Arts & Design program and a professional kitchen for the Culinary Arts program). Facilities and instructors were made available to the women to create their products. The women formed two companies, one that focused on sewing skills and another that cooked up foods.

“After that, participants spent six months in an incubator environment, receiving guided business development advice, continuing to develop their business and maker skills, and they also received support for employment searches. DIVERSEcity supplied a business advisor to support the women (in addition to the VCC instructors who continued to work with participants). During this period, in addition to frequent meetings to advance the business, women attended workshops (e.g., from WorkBC), networking events, and worked with the immigration society’s counsellors and settlement workers to look for employment.”

What’s been the outcome from this program?

Yue: “From the beginning, there was high interest in this program and it exceeded its initial target of 10 participants per cohort. The program also had high client retention. All participants completed the 10-week training program and moved into the guided business development process where they applied their learning to real-life business activities. By working as a team, the women were able to support each other and pool together their limited time and resources. Through making sales, the women reported a strong sense of accomplishment, acceptance, and recognition of their efforts. All participants also reported greater ease in using English and making decisions about life in Canada because of their enhanced knowledge about their local community gained through local fairs, events, and markets.

“Two business collectives were formed as a result of the program, Mama’s Hands (cooking) and Sewmates Craft (sewing). Sewmates Craft sold over 2,700 cloth masks as part of the Intercultural Women’s Maker Society Cloth Facemask Initiative between April and July 2020.

“After the funding was over, my colleagues and I created a new non-profit organization called Intercultural Women’s Maker Society (IWMS), which was registered under the B.C. Societies Act. This new organization provides a support platform for the two groups of women from the pilot program (and potentially other women makers) to further incubate their businesses before going fully independent. IWMS is now in its third year of operation thanks to the commitment of a group of passionate and socially minded colleagues (including those who were involved in the Make It! project).”

Could this model be replicated elsewhere by other institutions?

Yue: “Yes! The program model was also piloted in the Okanagan. Vancouver and Kelowna are quite distinct, and we wanted to see how the model would work for different socio-economic and geographical contexts. It was led by Okanagan College in partnership with the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services. This offering showed that the model was transferable to other contexts.

“After the Make It! funding ran out, Camosun College in Victoria reached out to us.

How is Camosun adapting the program to their region?

Plant: “We had heard about the program and wanted to try it in Victoria. VCC shared the program documents with us so that we could use the program as the basis for our training. We identified and reached out to community organizations in our region such as the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets. We applied for and received funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for ‘Markets as Incubators for Language, Cultural and Work Skills Development of Recent Immigrant & Refugee Women,’ commonly referred to as the ‘Maker to Market Program’ for 2020-2025.

“For each of the four cohorts in our program, learners will create a collaborative food business and sell their products at local farmers’ markets and seasonal craft fairs. Through the creation of their low-risk food business, learners improve their language and business skills and create community connections. They also gain insight into small scale food processing and the complicated rules, regulations and food safety issues involved in starting a food business in Canada.

“The program also allows the women to bring their wealth of education, experiences and expertise to the program and share it with their classmates, instructors, and communities. It is amazing to see how the women’s spoken language skills and self-confidence grow as they interact with community members and customers.  As owners of their business, students can continue their business after the program, either on their own or under the mentorship of the Intercultural Women Makers Society (IWMS).

“In the final year of the IRCC grant (i.e., in 2025), we will develop a free program guide to help post-secondary and non-profit groups set up similar programs based in their settings. You can think of it as an open educational resource (OER) for the sector, so that others can adopt or adapt the program to their specific needs and situation.  All an interested organization would need is to obtain the funding they need (either financial or contributions in-kind) and adapt the program guide to their specific circumstances.  While developed specifically for its targeted audience of immigrant and refugee women, the program can be modified for other groups who want to learn how to start a small market business. The Make It! Program was just the beginning – it’s spawned similar programs at two other institutions and will soon spread throughout the country.”


Pathways to Prosperity: Canada, an alliance of university, community, and government partners, has developed a web page to share settlement and integrating practices that work. The Make It! Social Entrepreneurship for Newcomer Women program is featured on this site. It includes an 18-minute video with members of the VCC and DIVERSEcity team, as well as a program brief that describes the program.

Pathways to Prosperity: Canada (2023). Sharing settlement and integration practices that work. http://p2pcanada.ca/sharing-settlement-and-integration-practices-that-work/

UBCO’s Use of Employers to Review Curriculum

Megan Lochhead is the manager of curriculum and academic programs in the Irving K. Barber faculty of science at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus (UBCO). To improve new micro-credentials at her institution, she and her team enlisted the aid of industry experts (aka “technical experts”), who provided feedback on the pilot offering of the course. She describes the process, imparts her insights, and shares the tool designed by the department of earth, environment, and geographical sciences (EEGS) to gather this information (Appendix I).


How did you recruit the technical experts?

“We shared the opportunity with our network of employers. We were looking for experts to review our program, and in exchange for their time, they would receive free enrolment in the program for a junior employee. Seven experts volunteered.”

What were the technical experts asked to do?

“The course was divided into eight modules and each reviewer was asked to review at least one module. The feedback was more in-depth than the learner ratings of course content and instruction that we typically ask learners to complete at the end of every course. We used a form to guide their review.” [This form is shared in Appendix I: UBCO’s Technical Review Team Feedback Form]

What did you do with the feedback?

“We used the feedback to improve our course. Micro-credentials are new for us. It’s a new demographic, it’s a new modality. Industry engagement is relatively new. It’s been a huge learning curve because micro-credentials are different to what we typically do at UBCO.”

What were some of the lessons learned from this experience?

“Make sure that you are very clear to the reviewers what the commitments are. In our case, the review commitment was approximately three hours of time. You should have the templates created ahead of contacting them so that they know exactly what their commitment will involve.”

Top Tips from UBCO

  1. Know what you are asking for. Be clear about the time commitment and required tasks when you contact subject matter experts to ask for their assistance in reviewing a curriculum.
  2. Provide a template. This ensures that you collect information on aspects of your program that you care about. It also ensures that the feedback is consistent across modules and reviewers.
  3. Follow up. Once a reviewer has been assigned a task, check to make sure they are comfortable with what they have been asked to do. It gives them an opportunity to clarify any question they might have. It also serves as a reminder to do the work.

Appendix I: UBCO’s Technical Review Team Feedback Form

UBCO created this form to collect feedback from content experts who reviewed new courses. Each reviewer was asked to choose one of the course’s eight modules and comment upon its quality. To guide the process, they used the following form. It is divided into four sections:

  1. Summarized feedback on key course components;
  2. Prompts to inspire feedback in Part 1;
  3. Example of summarized feedback on key course components;
  4. In-depth feedback on each course component.
Part 1. Summarized feedback on key course components

Module Title:                                                               

Reviewer Name:                                                          

Section of the Module Written Material Videos Reflections and Assessments Resources Comments and Questions
Course Content (in the LMS) Lectures Interviews Exercises Quizzes Additional Resources, External Links Note any comment or question here
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3

Note: For some sections, certain components won’t exist (i.e., not all sections contain a lecture or an exercise). Some modules have fewer sections than others. Please leave these blank or write ‘n/a’ if this is the case.

Part 2. Prompts to inspire feedback in Part 1

Please note that these prompts are suggestions. You do not have to use these.

Interest and Enjoyment What you liked, or didn’t like, about that section.
Quality The rigour, value, and professionalism of the content or delivery.
Time Whether the time it took to read, watch, or complete was reasonable.
Amount of Information Too much? Too little?
Note if anything is missing and needs to be added.
Are there materials you feel are not essential? Make note of anything that could be reduced or removed.
Relevance The relevance to the needs of industry.
Does this address gaps or needs you see in your profession?
Strengths What stands out as particularly valuable?
Does the content provide easy-to-implement strategies that can improve performance?
Instructions and Explanation Was the subject matter communicated effectively?
Did the instructions clearly explain what was expected?
Part 3. Example of summarized feedback on key course components

Module Title: Technical Reporting

Reviewer Name: Jane Doe

Section of the Module Written Material Videos Reflections and Assessments Resources Comments and Questions
Course Content (in the LMS) Lectures Interviews Exercises Quizzes Additional Resources, External Links Note any comment or question here
Overview Easy to navigate once you learn how to do it. Good length. Professional. Clear audio. Would like to see an interview on x topic. n/a Good to have multiple attempts. n/a Too short overall.
Section 1 The information is useful but could be broken into smaller pieces. Material was very relevant to the needs of industry. Interviewing someone early in their career would be an interesting perspective. This section could benefit from having a reflective exercise. n/a Valuable but distracting. Put at the end of the module. Too long overall.
Section 2 Would like to see more information on x. The lecture could use some annotation. Interview was interesting. Could be longer. Exercise is not as impactful as it could be. Too short. Resources were relevant and useful. This section is the most impactful section in the module.
Part 4. In-depth feedback on each course component
Written Material
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Course Content
(in the LMS)
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Reflection and Assessments
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Final Assignment/Assessment
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Additional Resources and External Links
Course Navigation
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Home Page
Start Here (Orientation)
“Assess” Module
Checklist and Next Steps
Claiming a Badge
Overall Impression
Please share general comments on your overall impression of this component.
Recommendations for Improvement
What could be done to improve the content, navigation, or experience?
Reflecting on the Module as a Whole
Feedback Requested Overall Impression and Recommendations
Time to complete the whole module (estimated at 5-6 hours). Is it reasonable, too long, too short?
Amount of information
(i.e., reasonable, too much, too little)?
Gaps? Deficiencies?
(i.e., Does the module seem complete? What is missing?)
(Written assignment at the end of the module)
Course Navigation
(i.e., your experience navigating in LMS)
Quality of Instruction
Value for Tuition
(Is the micro-credential priced right?)
Additional Comments
Please share any additional feedback or suggestions on how we could improve this program.
Are you willing to participate in a follow-up survey in six months?


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BCcampus Micro-credential Toolkit for B.C. Copyright © by Annie Prud'homme-Généreux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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