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Momentum - Power in partnerships

Mohawk College is amplifying its demonstrated leadership in creating partnerships to take on huge social and economic issues

Mohawk College has long been a leader in building partnerships that optimize the student experience and drive value for partners, but now it is leveraging that track record of success to find local solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

On climate change, post-pandemic economic recovery, poverty reduction, skilled trades shortages, and creating equity, diversity and inclusion, Mohawk is finding ways to amplify its impact by working with other postsecondary institutions, industry, municipalities, and community organizations.

Mohawk has developed partnerships with thousands of stakeholders, says President Ron McKerlie, and over the last several years, the college has been tactical and intentional about broadening and deepening its collaborations.

“Our strategic plan above all else values partnerships. They allow us to do bigger things than what we could achieve on our own.”

Collaboration in action

It’s through partnerships that Mohawk is demonstrating its thought leadership, innovation and ability to act as a catalyst and driver of collective action through Canadian Colleges for a Resilient Recovery and Challenge 2025, says Chief Operating Officer Paul Armstrong.

“This is an evolution in what people think partnership means at the college level. I think the most exciting part for us at Mohawk College is that we are positioning the college and the college sector to play a valuable role in solving huge problems.”

And every day, in a myriad of ways, Mohawk is collaboration in action.

Mohawk faculty and students are working on applied research projects with companies of all sizes, college leaders are serving on crucial community initiatives, and Mohawk is working with industry stakeholders to offer innovative learning experiences to students.

Mohawk’s range of partners includes small grassroots organizations, large global powerhouses and everything in between, says Armstrong.

“Collectively, what can be accomplished goes far beyond what you could ever do on your own. That’s a philosophy we take very seriously and it’s a message that resonates in our community. It’s so worthwhile to make it a priority and invest in it as we do.”

Collaboration allows Mohawk to amplify its scope of impact so it can make a contribution bigger than its size would suggest. That impact goes well beyond the college’s boundaries.

For Alison Horton, Vice President Academic, partnerships are the “lifeblood of our institution.”

What is striking, she says, is that what become broad and deep partnerships often start out in small ways that grow over time as synergies are discovered and developed.

“It may be a small project at first or an employer who sits on a program advisory committee. But from there the relationship continues to grow because we are responsive to their needs.”

“Platinum standard”

Among Mohawk’s foundational partnerships is one with McMaster University, says McKerlie. It has been recognized by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities as the “platinum standard” for what a college and university can achieve together.

The partnership includes joint programs, beginning with the establishment of the combined degree and diploma in nursing 20 years ago. From that has come 12 more integrated programs, including an engineering technology program that results in a university degree, advanced diploma and a certificate in business management.

“These are fabulous programs that have been hugely successful because they combine the best of what we do with the best of what McMaster does,” said McKerlie.

What sets these efforts apart from other college-university pathway programs is that these are fully integrated from day one, says McKerlie.

Mohawk and McMaster jointly own the innovative Institute for Applied Health Sciences and, together with Redeemer University and the City of Hamilton, constitute CityLab, an initiative to apply the combined expertise, energy and resources of each institution’s faculty and students to solve city problems.

The two institutions also work on a range of research collaborations, including autonomous vehicles, energy, and mobile and electronic health.

“That’s the key: We work together, not compete together,” McKerlie said.

“One of the things that makes this partnership so special and the reason it has grown over several decades is that we both know what we are and what we want to be and neither want to be each other. McMaster is a world-class university and we would never compete with them on that because we are a world-class college.”

The depth and breadth of the partnership between the two Hamilton postsecondary institutions is rare, says David Farrar, President of McMaster. He has not seen another same-city university and college co-operate in such meaningful ways.

“In the areas we collaborate in, Mohawk brings a vision in the same way we bring a vision. The important characteristic of both institutions is that our people want to collaborate.”

There are numerous opportunities to expand joint programs in healthcare, advanced manufacturing and technology, says Farrar.

“The joint programs that we’re providing are great for our students, and show how partners can work together to make each other better,” he said.

“Both Mohawk and McMaster are committed to moving the region forward. Individually, we have great capacity in that regard, but together we have massive power.”

Strategic approach

Mohawk’s Future Ready Premium Employer initiative both celebrates the multifaceted, deep and long standing partnerships the college has with a number of organizations, but also attaches an intentional and strategic approach to using those relationships as a template for deepening relationships with others.

“We have such successful partnerships, so we are exploring how we can allow others to benefit in the same way and grow the ranks of our premium partners. That will mean we can best fulfil our role as a pipeline of talent and employment,” said Armstrong.

How Mohawk works with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is an example of how a multi-layered and extensive partnership can transform both sides, says Armstrong.

HHS provides invaluable field and clinical placements, internships, and applied research opportunities for students. The two institutions work together to define future workforce needs and to develop curriculum and learning opportunities that will fully prepare students for future jobs.

“We could not be in health education without our health partners and hospitals know they can’t meet their workforce needs without us. We modify, adapt and learn from each other,” he said.

This approach is entirely different from how colleges have traditionally provided education.

“Education has historically not been demand led.We used to educate people in a bit of a silo and send them out to be hired. That has changed. We are working with partners to set goals, and develop programs and curriculum. We have a full understanding of what employers need and are committed to meeting them.”

“Collective vision”

Another key premium employer partner is ArcelorMittal Dofasco, which has been connected to Mohawk on multiple levels for many years, says Monique Biancucci, Vice President People and Culture at the steel producer.

“We are a strong believer that the relationship, collaboration and collective vision of the future that we share is a win-win for everyone. This ongoing and sustainable collaboration has been a great success.”

And the list of outcomes is long. It includes partnerships on experiential learning and applied research, ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s role on program advisory committees and in specialized curriculum development, and the college’s provision of critical upskilling training that keep employees ahead of the curve.

The advanced manufacturer also works with Mohawk on initiatives to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers to elementary and high school students through workplace tours, mentorship and interactive digital storytelling.

The college has a crucial role in developing the talent that attracts new companies and helps existing companies flourish and grow, says Norm Schleehahn, Director of Economic Development at the City of Hamilton.

“Mohawk is always ready and willing to talk about collaboration and is always there when we call on them.”

He points to McKerlie’s roles chairing both the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Workforce Development and the newly formed Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery as examples of the college leveraging its leadership and resources to benefit Hamilton and area.

“Mohawk is constantly looking out for the interests of the community.”

”Collectively, what can be accomplished goes far beyond what you could ever do on your own. That’s a philosophy we take very seriously and it’s a message that resonates in our community. It’s so worthwhile to make it a priority and invest in it as we do.”
Paul Armstrong, Mohawk College Chief Operating Officer