Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 8, 2015)
Here are some of the reasons why Durham College of Applied Arts and Technology was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2016):
- Durham College offers exceptional family-friendly benefits, providing a full year of paid leave for employees who are new mothers and an option to extend their leave into an unpaid leave of absence
- Employees at Durham College's Oshawa campus can stay in shape by taking advantage of the Campus Recreation and Wellness Centre, featuring five gymnasiums and a 10,000 square-foot "FLEX" fitness centre -- the centre also houses the college's Campus Health Centre, which includes chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture and nutritionist services
- In an effort to improve the diversity of its students and employees, Durham College maintains a diversity working group to help develop and implement related strategies and initiatives
Changing lives through learning at Durham College
Not everyone gets up Monday to Friday and goes to the office thinking anything is possible. But Don Lovisa, president of Durham College, subscribes to that notion - it's one of the things that drives him as well as many of his colleagues. "We see it all the time," says Lovisa. "We're changing lives through learning and helping people get on with their careers."
Lovisa's anything-is-possible mantra applies mainly, but not exclusively to the college's more than 30,000 students, including 12,000 full-time post-secondary and apprenticeship students as well as part-time and continuing education students and online learners. However, there are multiple career paths and possibilities for both the support and administrative staff and the faculty who teach over 140 market-driven programs available in the college's nine schools. Offered at its Oshawa and Whitby campuses and Pickering Learning Site, these include everything from business fundamentals and filmmaking to agricultural technology, baking and pastry arts.
"We have employees with 35 and 40 years of experience but they haven't been sitting in the same positions all those years," says Lovisa. "They've been able to move through the college."
Allison Hector-Alexander can attest to that. She had spent most of her career working with women and children who had survived domestic abuse when she spotted an advertisement for a newly-created position as director of a Women's Centre run by the college's Student Association. She landed the job - this was in 2009 - and has since moved on to become Manager of Durham College's Office of Student Diversity, Inclusion and Transitions.
She reports to the vice-president, Student Affairs and her role is to work with staff and faculty to ensure that the college remains open and welcoming to students regardless of ethnic background, sexual orientation or spiritual and cultural tradition. "There's a real sense of community and family here," she says. "It's what sets us apart. People genuinely care about you."
Along with a culture of collegiality, Hector-Alexander also likes the openness and approachability of the college's senior leadership. "All our leaders are very accessible," she says. "If you have a question or a concern or need guidance they're ready to support you. They've provided me with a lot of mentorship."
Mentoring and professional development occur both formally and informally at the college, says Lovisa. "We look for people who want to take on leadership roles and we offer them opportunities to participate in local, regional, provincial and national events that allow them to hone their skills and connect with others."
Faculty are afforded opportunities to take on roles as associate deans or deans and from there they can move into entry-level, middle or advanced management positions within the college administration. Employees who aspire to teaching positions are eligible for financial assistance to acquire the necessary academic credentials.
"A lot of our support staff would like to become teachers and there are opportunities to move into faculty positions," says Lovisa. "They can begin by teaching part-time and through years of practice and professional development can become members of the faculty."
Lovisa adds that communicating often and openly with employees, as well as listening to their concerns, are critical components in maintaining a committed and contented workforce. And he points to an unusually low turnover as one measure of how that approach is working at Durham College.
"We have a one per cent annual turnover in staff, three per cent if you include retirees," he says. "Being able to hold on to staff means people are happy and that they feel engaged."
This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year's Greater Toronto's Top Employers winners, published December 8, 2015 in The Globe and Mail. This article was prepared with the financial support of the employer, which did not write or edit its contents.