Foresight Contributions

Building the Home We Need

Dr. Robert Christopher Nellis, Red Deer Polytechnic

It is no secret that this world, this home we share together, has undergone cataclysmic change over the last 18 months or so. Virtually no aspect of our lives has remained, if not radically disrupted, then at least unexamined. Moreover, these changes initiate ripple effects. We’ve seen first-order effects such as working from home, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. These have led to second-order implications: fewer people on the roads and the rising pervasiveness of communication technologies such as Zoom. Third- and further- order changes ensue: many people losing their livelihoods, and new jobs moving in to take their place. It’s these further-order changes that perhaps most call us to examine our world and the ways we’ve organized it—for example, in addition to awareness of the need for a green recovery, perhaps the most glaring need is to address pervasive social, economic, and political inequality. Many of the jobs lost as a result of the pandemic have been lower paid, for example in retail. Moreover, the question of who performs these jobs reveals, perhaps for some, unacknowledged patterns of inequity—many of these jobs have been performed by racialized individualizes and are often highly gendered.

Indeed, these growing awarenesses serve as signals for possible futures. Additionally, these signals are not discreet, isolated, or siloed. They reveal fluid, emergent, and thoroughly interconnected ecospheres. Patterns of resource extraction, production, supply chain and transportation, retail distribution, and consumer end-use all impact each other in interconnected and interdependent systems. Moreover, these interrelations exhibit a temporal character—they extend beyond the present. What I mean is, what is happening right now connects with both our recent past and the longer reach of history—as well as the future. Jennifer Gidley has written that “futures studies operates as a global academic field, on the assumption that consciousness has increased to embrace multiple future possibilities, and that we are free agents to create worlds of our choices and participate consciously in our own evolution”[1]. The unequal patterns of our world are a result of colonizing history and associated ideas, if not laws, governing race, sex, and gender relations; ways of looking upon the world as raw material, commodity for extraction. What is of interest to foresight is the way these pasts and presents also connect to futures and ideas of them: “The future does not exist in the present but anticipation does. The form the future takes in the present is anticipation”[2]. If we are going to influence these anticipated futures, we need to act in the present, and the action we take needs to be as complex and situated as the world in which it unfolds.

Capacity to contribute in this way is at the heart of the strengths in our TVET practices, approaches, and ideas. Many of our institutions offer and combine work in trades and apprenticeships; continuing education; micro-credentials; digital credentials; academic upgrading; certificates and diplomas serving technology, healthcare, and community needs; fine arts practices; business; nursing; humanities and social sciences; natural sciences; transfer preparation to other institutions, and, in many cases, degree completion in a range of applied fields. As spaces of learning and knowledge generation, our institutions are often the most comprehensive of our communities and countries. In this way, our institutions most reflect, live, and breathe analogously to the very complexity and integrated nature of the world in which they are situated to serve as part of a fluid, attuned, and expansive understanding of our work. We offer skills training for job-ready entry into the workplace, and part of how we do this is in conversation with the needs of that workplace. Industry understands and needs to understand the contexts in which it operates and develops. The Royal Bank of Canada report Humans Wanted studied skills development and employment needs thoroughly situated within their broader social, cultural, and political contexts. These understandings of employment and skills development are anything but narrow. We, industry and our institutions, each bring insights and capacities to the conversation. As colleges and polytechnics, we bring our strengths in teaching and learning, supporting learners, and developing and improving curricula and programs. And we similarly undertake these roles in a rich, complex, and contextually integrated manner. Everything we do as leaders, staff, faculty, and learners supports this work. We lean into the full spectrum of its diverse character, offering so much more than a narrow conception of curriculum delivery. We develop knowledge, insights, and capacities to serve and support our own work but also the broader world in which this takes place. In short, we undertake research and scholarship oriented towards solving real world problems and needs.

Looking to the future, what might this look like, and what are some issues of which to be aware? I suggest a need to continue taking a rich, contextualized, expansive, and integrative approach. Research and scholarship are not one kind of thing. There are many different methods, needs, questions to ask, ways of pursuing responses to those questions, as well as ways to know and evaluate if the answers yielded are effective. As Sir Ken Robinson has suggested, we need to think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. To build an inclusive future, we need work drawing upon insights from the natural sciences, statistical analysis, fine arts, stories, and understanding people’s diverse lives and experiences. The home we need to build for ourselves will require all of our contributions. And we, as colleges and polytechnics, perhaps more so than many other groups within our communities, will continue to bring them.

[1] Gidley, J. (2017). The future: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, p. 4.

[2] Miller, R. (Ed.). (2018). Transforming the future: Anticipation in the 21st century. UNESCO; Routledge, p. 2.