Mentoring Alberta’s Future Workforce

How Dr. Ray Block is helping advance NAIT, a crucial component of the province’s success

Years before becoming CFO at the institute, Block was an NAIT student, getting his professional jump-start in the school’s accounting program. Photo by Amy Bizovie

From sustainable building to the culinary arts, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), the largest apprenticeship trainer in Canada, offers approximately 140 programs in a variety of industries. CFO and vice president of administration Dr. Ray Block, who happens to be a former student of the Edmonton-based institution, understands NAIT’s powerful reach. Here, Block breaks down just how crucial NAIT is to the community and the economy of the province.

A $1.5 billion economic impact

A premier polytechnic institution, NAIT has made a significant impact on Alberta’s economy—something clearly seen in the financial returns for the province and for the school’s students. In fact, NAIT’s 2014 Economic Impact Report found that the institute’s effect on the province is greater than $1.5 billion. “For every dollar the provincial government invests in NAIT, our graduates provide an average annual return of 30 percent to our province,” Block says. “For every dollar a student invests in tuition at NAIT, the return on investment to the student over a 40-year career is 29 percent annually. To me, the reward is the awareness that NAIT is essential to the productivity and prosperity of Alberta.”

Unemployment rate nearing 0

Five years after graduation, NAIT graduates have near-zero unemployment. In part, this is because NAIT provides technology-based, applied, and hands-on education that produces graduates entering one of the most in-demand labour markets. “Alberta is leading Canada with population growth and job creation, and NAIT prepares students for meaningful careers by equipping them with the skills necessary to make an immediate impact in their employment,” Block says.

100% student satisfaction

Almost 100 percent of employers who have hired NAIT graduates say they would do it again, which says as much about the institute’s graduates as it does about NAIT itself. Besides preparing students for meaningful careers, NAIT is very intentional about the experience it provides for students, always taking into account their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. “Students will find careers in their chosen field of study, equipped with the skills necessary to make [a meaningful] impact,” Block says.

3 years as a top employer

For three years now, NAIT has been named one of the top employers in Alberta. For Block, the reason is pretty simple: it’s people working together in “the NAIT way,” which means cultivating a culture of values, including respect, collaboration, celebration, support, and accountability. “NAIT staff also has an incredible can-do attitude that assures an ability to effect change,” Block says.

The institute is a great source of pride for staff, and in turn its people are NAIT’s greatest asset. The benefit of having happy employees is clear in terms of productivity and retention, but at NAIT, it’s also crucial for the benefit of the students. For Block, the supporting staff reaching their full potential is integral to providing the highest-quality instruction while also growing the school’s talent.

4 pillars, 4 promises

“NAIT is defined by what we teach, and we provide technology-based education,” Block says. That comes in the form of four educational pillars: business; health; trades; and science, technology, and the environment. These pillars align with the attributes of a polytechnic and with the four promises outlined in NAIT 2021, the guidelines positioning NAIT for its future. The promises, which aim to help students get the best education possible, are: meeting the current and emerging needs for polytechnic education in Alberta; being the right size; having facilities that allow NAIT to meet the polytechnic learning and research needs of the province; and being financially sustainable.

1 major project

One big step in ensuring these promises fruition is the future Centre for Applied Technologies. Planned to be ready for full occupancy in 2016, the centre is NAIT’s current top campus development expansion project and is set to accommodate 5,000 full-time students in advanced-simulation environments. According to Block, it will also support NAIT’s move toward the 2021 vision of a nearly 50 percent increase in health sciences, business, engineering technologies and sustainable building, and environmental management students.

“The reputation of NAIT is second to none, being one of the most relevant and responsive postsecondary institutions in Canada and one of the world’s leading polytechnics,” Block says. “Working here is a great honour and privilege.”