Northern Lights College (NLC) represents one of eleven colleges in British Columbia. It serves the northern third of the province, a vast and scenic region that is home to approximately 71,000 people. Anchored by its first established campus in Dawson Creek, NLC runs four additional campuses and three access centers across northern British Columbia.
The twenty-first century builds on an economy that is founded on comprehensive knowledge. It is human capital development – the growing intelligence of people – that stimulates economic growth and facilitates a high quality of life. New technology, innovative systems, and demographic changes create rapid shifts in industry demands. These require a highly-skilled workforce to compete and succeed in the global marketplace.
Northern Lights College plays a key role in training and preparing that highly-skilled workforce. Characterized by its strong connections with local communities, businesses, and industry leaders, Northern Lights College (NLC) contributes to the economic development of the province as well as the future prosperity of British Columbia.
Canada’s population explosion in the 1960s prompted the development of colleges and institutions across the country to meet higher education needs of secondary school graduates. In 1974, the government of British Columbia assigned a regional advisory committee to explore community college opportunities in the North, which lead to the establishment of Northern Lights College in 1975.
B.C.’s abundance of natural resources not only shapes the province’s identity, but also represents a considerable source of its economic activity. “For the future [prosperity] of northern B.C., post-secondary education is critical,” says Dr. Bryn Kulmatycki, President and CEO of Northern Lights College.
According to the B.C. Labour Market Outlook, the province should see about a million job openings by 2022, 44% of which will require a college diploma or trade certificate. The northern part of the province, which produces two-thirds of B.C.’s resource exports, projects major employment growth in the mining, oil and gas industries. The report also forecasts the development of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry alone will create up to 100,000 jobs throughout the province.
For decades, community colleges have revolutionized post-secondary education, addressing concerns found within traditional institutions such as cost and career-preparedness. NLC operates under a model that makes higher education attainable and strives to build a skilled and successful population that can support and share in the prosperity of the region.
“It is a priority for the college to reduce the barriers or obstacles in the way of all students having access to post-secondary apprenticeship,” says Susan Hunter, Vice President of community relations and student services. Hunter says that amongst many student services, NLC offers its students financial support provided by a pool of generous funding from its donors. “We have substantial amounts of funding to help students get through school and to support them, so that [debt] isn’t one of the things that is on their mind as a hindrance when they come here.”
Committed to the growth and sustainability of communities and businesses across northern British Columbia, NLC designs programs that guide students towards rewarding careers. By developing programs to correspond with labour market demands and providing hands-on experience in career-related fields, NLC secures employment for its students and strengthens the local workforce for industry.
“Most of our programs have professional advisory committees that meet once or twice a year and discuss where the program’s going and what kind of provincial changes are coming,” says Mark Heartt, Dean of trades and apprenticeships.
NLC offers a wide variety of programs that provide students with immediate employment opportunities and prepare them for further post-secondary education. From academic and vocational programs to trades and apprenticeships, students can earn diplomas, certificates, associate degrees, and university transfer credits. As “B.C.’s Energy College,” NLC serves as a provincial centre of excellence in three key areas of research and training: oil and gas, clean energy technology, and aerospace.
In recent years, NLC has drawn a growing number of women to its highly sought-after trades and apprenticeship programs. In addition to its local demographics, NLC’s diverse campus communities welcome a unique blend of students from Aboriginal to international backgrounds.
Northern Lights is devoted to the inclusion and wellbeing of the region’s First Nations communities and offers specialized curricula, student scholarships, and support services for Aboriginal students. “There are a number of Aboriginal communities in our region and access to post-secondary education is difficult so one of our challenges is to provide a level of service to respond to their needs as well,” Kulmatycki says.
Recently, the college adopted the Northern Building Maintenance Program for local Aboriginal communities. The program entails three separate community-related modules over an eight-week period where students learn everything from building repair to business management. “All three levels combined create an entrepreneurial project […] where training relates directly to the needs of the community,” Heartt says.
“Because of our distance from communities of significant magnitude, we provide support in terms of post-secondary [education] for our high school students who have the opportunity to access post-secondary courses as part of dual credit,” says Kulmatycki.
Through partnerships with School Districts 59, 60, and 81 in north-eastern British Columbia, NLC offers dual credit training for secondary school students, which allows them to earn college credits while in high school. The college also hosts Peace Energy Week, during which high school students from across the province visit and explore the region for a week to learn about the creation and conservation of energy – the real backbone of the region.
As part of its provincial Centre of Training Excellence in Clean Energy Technology in Dawson Creek, NLC built Energy House, which achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification in 2013 – the highest level of achievement. Through its high-tech Energy House and a massive training tower that replicates wind turbine working environments, NLC offers a renowned Wind Turbine Maintenance Technician Program.
“As the country and the rest of the world move more and more towards clean energy, this program is positioned to be very responsive to that,” Kulmatycki says.
Its Oil and Gas Centre of Training Excellence, located at the college’s Fort St. John campus features simulated well site training and offers a variety of programs related to the sector. To help fill the projected demand for workers in the LNG industry, NLC has collaborated with a range of institutions to offer the WING (Working in Natural Gas) Program.
“This is primarily for those who aren’t familiar with working in natural gas, which is going to be an increasingly large sector of British Columbia,” Hunter says. “We really want to be poised and ready to work in the industry.”
The region’s large area contains a small population, which challenges economic development initiatives. Together with education, industry, and government partners, NLC strives to create an environment that builds and retains highly skilled workers. Out of all cities across British Columbia, BCBusiness Magazine ranked Fort St. John as B.C.’s “Best City for Work” in 2016, followed by northern B.C.’s Dawson Creek.
Communities across northern B.C. experience well-balanced lifestyles with access to activities from hiking and mountain climbing to canoeing, and kayaking. Settled between rugged mountains, powerful waterfalls, pristine lakes, and hillside forests, the region’s high quality of life stems from its richness in resources, natural beauty, and endless sunshine.
To strengthen the region’s resource-based economy and enhance the well-being of its communities, Northern Lights College provides students with opportunities to live, learn, and work in the North. “If we train people in the North, the pattern has been that they tend to remain in the North,” says Jennifer Fernandes, Director, communications and marketing. Northern Lights College, she explains, boasts some of the strongest numbers in the province for women in the trades and in fact, one of the College’s marketing slogans is ‘Train in the North – where the jobs are.’
From surveying former apprenticeship students, B.C.’s Ministry of Advanced Education found that 91% of students who train at a public post-secondary institution in northern British Columbia stay in the North and earn a median hourly wage of $31. According to BC Colleges, 90% of college graduates across the province find employment within six months.
Northern Lights College partners with industry and other post-secondary institutions to provide the best training possible. By investing in the skills and success of its students, NLC invests in a healthy and prosperous future.