GRAPHIC ABOVE: One of the charts tracking the satisfaction surveying of St. Clair apprentices over the past several years.
The most recent “satisfaction level” surveying of apprenticeship students at St. Clair has proven to be both baffling and inconclusive for a variety of reasons.
Like all of the college’s students, apprentices have been the subject of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) satisfaction surveying over the years. That is a quality-analysis process mandated by the provincial government.
And, like all of the college’s students, apprentices are customarily asked a variety of questions to gauge their opinion of the school’s teaching environment (curriculum relevance, applicability of knowledge, the “learning experience”, preparation for employment), and the quality of on-campus services and facilities.
Historically, St. Clair has performed relatively well in the KPI survey categories among students-in-general – often ranking in the Top Five, province-wide, among Ontario’s two dozen colleges.
But it has had less than stellar results among apprentices. A number of factors have probably contributed to that:
• Apprentices are not “students” per se. They don’t pay tuition, because a combination of special government grants and their on-the-job-training wages pay for their educations in the technology-and-trades fields. And they’re only here for relatively brief time-spans, in eight- or ten-weeks-long training periods. Many of them, also, are here at nights, when some campus offices aren’t even open to offer services to them.
• Historically, this set of KPIs had a terrible participation rate. Whereas students-at-large were surveyed at an almost 100 percent participation rate in class-time during a couple of weeks every February, only about half of apprenticeship enrollees usually filled out the forms. Low participation rates often skew survey results in a negative manner, because grumpy people are more likely to want to express themselves than contented ones.
• Apprentices, for one reason or another, historically give a substantial number of “neutral” responses: that they were neither particularly “satisfied” nor “dissatisfied” with their experience at the college. That might be because they weren’t really treating their experience as an educational one that they were prepared to evaluate; but, rather, they were simply here for skills training (“let’s not think about it, let’s just do it”). Again, a high percentage of “neutral” responses can skew a survey – or, at least, make it somewhat less conclusive than it might otherwise be.
• The chief reason for the historically poor apprenticeship KPI results, it was thought, was one of timing: that because apprentices are often at the college at odd periods of the year, and at somewhat less-active times of the day, they simple don’t enjoy all of the services, amenities and atmosphere of the “St. Clair Experience”. To rectify that, a few years ago, the college did extend the operational hours of a number of campus agencies and services to cater to apprentices, including computer labs and some food services. Just doing that did, in fact, boost KPI results in the subsequent years’ surveys.
Throughout the pandemic era, no provincially mandated KPIs have been conducted among any students, “regular” or apprentices.
On its own, however, the college did survey apprentices between November of 2021 and July of this year.
All of the categorized results depicted satisfaction levels in 2021-22 at higher than the historic average, but all (also) dipped several percentage points from the previous year.
A report to the Board of Governors during its October 25th meeting explained the up-and-down results from 2020-21 to 2021-22:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Clair College was one of the few public colleges that pivoted and rose to the challenge of offering in-person curriculum to registered apprentices, understanding the importance of skilled trades to our community. As (provincial) ministry mandates and protocols evolved, apprenticeship program delivery was interrupted, postponed and rescheduled numerous times. It is reasonable to believe that this uncertainty experienced by our apprentices negatively impacted our 2021-2022 KPI survey results, given the overall experience endured. (Translation: Apprentices were probably very upset about the stops-and-starts of their schedules, even though they weren’t caused by the college.)
KPI survey participation rates reflect only a small percentage of registered apprentices.
(In the future ...) To improve participation to acquire an accurate representation of student experience, course instructors will allot time within class to complete surveys and ensure the importance of KPI surveys are considered. Communication strategies will be implemented to increase awareness of registration and start-up protocols. Although the college’s service departments continually offer a “one-stop” service model during the onset of each semester, the college will ensure services are available specifically to registered apprentices as their semester start dates differ from postsecondary classes.
As well, the college will re-implement Class Representative nominations to ensure registered apprentices have a conduit to express questions and concerns on an ongoing basis. (That is: Apprentices will be tied to the Student Representative Council for advocacy purposes, even though they aren’t actually classified as full-time students.)
Speaking to the Board of Governors, Vice-President Academic Mike Silvaggi added that the previous year of 2020-21 – the first full pandemic year – saw the college striving to provide additional and special supportive help of all sorts to all students, including apprentices. That atmosphere, he argued, may have made the 2020-21 survey the true anomaly; whereas the 2021-22 results are actually more a realistic indicator of apprentice opinion.
OTHER STORIES FROM THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS MEETING
• The midyear financial numbers are looking good: https://news.stclair-src.org/need-know-news/budget-track-according-mid-year-actuals
• Recap of the past year’s marketing efforts: https://news.stclair-src.org/need-know-news/enrolment-and-revenue-depend-marketing-and-recruitment
• Contract/Corporate Training has rebounded: https://news.stclair-src.org/need-know-news/contract-training-rebounds-pandemic
• Running the college is risky business: https://news.stclair-src.org/need-know-news/board-reviews-its-risks
• College prepares for impact of new enrolment-related funding formula: https://news.stclair-src.org/need-know-news/college-prepares-change-funding-formula