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BC’s Top Employer feature: VCC puts heart into the heart of the city

Posted on February 17, 2021

Medial Lab Assistants walking in VCC Building B hallway

Originally published in The Vancouver Sun

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, much of the normal food distribution for impoverished residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside was abruptly disrupted. Over a 12-week period from April to June, staff from neighbouring Vancouver Community College (VCC) stepped into the breach.

Partnering with the City of Vancouver and with provincial government support, VCC’s culinary and food services departments worked tirelessly from campus-based professional kitchens to prepare 72,000 meals for those in need.

“It was a wonderful example of the VCC community living out its values,” says Ajay Patel, VCC president and CEO.

It wasn’t the only one. VCC students and employees raised $55,000 to provide bursaries for students impacted by the pandemic. And departments across VCC joined to collect more than 60,000 items, including masks, sanitizers, gowns, viral swabs, and cleaning supplies for Vancouver Coastal Health.

The community outreach took place even as VCC itself underwent a seismic shift in the way it delivers services to more than 15,000 students. 

Located in the heart of the city, VCC offers hands-on learning in the trades through on-campus facilities such as gourmet restaurants, an auto shop, and salon and spa. Having to switch to mostly online instruction presented some unique challenges. 

How, after all, do you teach someone remotely to repair or paint a car? VCC found a way. It introduced a new virtual reality (VR) program for welding and automotive painting, the first of its kind in Canada.

Working with a software engineering company in India, VCC developed a VR program that allowed students to practise welding and automotive painting at home before being brought back to campus, in a safe and staggered manner, to do the real thing.

“It’s just one of many examples of VCC instructors and support staff being creative and innovative in response to the pandemic,” says Patel. “They deserve all the credit for taking on the immense challenge of pivoting from applied, face-to-face learning to largely virtual instruction.”

Timothy Conklin, a program assistant with CAD and BIM – the VCC department that trains construction industry drafting technicians – says his team was one of the lucky ones; they already did most of their work on computers.

Still, he wasn’t surprised by the ability of colleagues to be flexible and nimble, with the strong support of VCC leaders.

Conklin recalls how, pre-pandemic, VCC supported his initiative to help train faculty and staff about suicide awareness and prevention.

“VCC recognizes everyone has something to contribute,” he says. “They give you the opportunity to innovate and lead.”


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