Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Professional Skills Development Program: The Case of Concordia University's GradProSkills

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Professional Skills Development Program: The Case of Concordia University's GradProSkills

Article excerpt

Context: Graduate Professional Development Programs at Canadian Universities

With a competitive market and long-documented discrepancies between job offers and the skills of newly minted master's and doctoral degree holders (Charbonneau, 2011; Newhouse, 1999; Tamburri, 2010), graduate students must develop professional skills, in addition to their disciplinary knowledge, to be fully equipped for transitioning to employment markets within the academy and/or the corporate environment (Chillas, 2010; Ducheny, Alletzhauser, Crandell, & Schneider, 1997; Galt, 2012; Poock, 2001). In fact, the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS) published in 2008 a report titled Professional Skills Development for Graduate Students, which emphasized that the obligations of higher education institutions should include "providing graduate students with the best possible preparation for their future roles whether within academic or in other sectors" (p. 4).

A recent comprehensive survey of professional development programs (PDPs) available across Canadian universities, by Marilyn Rose (2012), prepared for CAGS in association with the federally funded Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), analyzed PDPs offered across Canadian universities and recommended best practices for their development in our nation. Results of Rose's (2012) extensive review show that PDPs operate on a graduated scale of categories, with some universities having highly structured organization and high designated budget and personnel (category one), while on the other side of the scale are small universities that are witnessing some PDP activities but with no centralization and operating from small released operational budgets (category four).

Elsewhere, Holaday, Weaver, and Nilson (2007) published an analysis of the elements that create a successful PDP; they assert that finding collaborative partners is one of the most important elements of securing a successful PDP. It has already been well established in prior research across well over two decades that successful PDPs possess institutional support, take into account participant evaluations, and offer training of relevance to their contingents (e.g., Birman, Desimore, Porter, & Garet, 2000; Guskey & Huberman, 1995; Norton, 2001; Richardson, 2000; Wood & Thompson, 1993).

Simon Fraser University's (SFU) Report on Graduate Student Professional Development at SFU: Findings and Recommendations (2013) addresses the need to develop a program evaluation that measures learners' satisfaction with PDPs and the skills gained as a result of participating in a PDP-related event, together with other evaluations targeting organization, delivery mechanisms, and ability to meet intended learning objectives. Such program evaluations can be achieved through post-attendance questionnaires, professional portfolios, informal interviews, as well as focus groups with attendees ( Holaday et ah, 2007; Rose, 2012). Importantly, Rose (2012) exhorts universities to undertake studies to track the relation between success in gaining employment and students' attendance of PDPs.

Concordia University's Graduate and Professional Skills Development Program (GradProSkills)

GradProSkills is a PDP that responds to the market demand of graduate students being well prepared by their respective universities before they exit to the workforce. GradProSkills emphasizes giving graduate students better experience and more varied exposure to skills rather than focused proficiency in their respective specialized programs of study. The overarching aim of GradProSkills is to arm them with a whole array of professional skills before they search for jobs in the labour market.

The GradProSkills initiative consists of non-credit workshops and resources for graduate students. It is designed to complement academic skills by training students in domain skills that they may not learn in their respective classrooms. …

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