Business Society and Culture

Three faces of continuing education: A personal trajectory

For Gerald Kuipers, who will be a four-time U of A grad next June, lifelong learning has helped him find his footing, move up and stay current in a dynamic career.

  • December 02, 2020
  • By Rita Espeschit

There’s no one-size-fits-all model for how to incorporate continuing education into your career plans. Strategies change from person to person and can also evolve over time.

That’s something Gerald Kuipers is very familiar with. When he graduates from the occupational health and safety diploma program in June of 2021, he will have completed four full programs from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension over a span of 20 years.

His story is not only exemplary—it’s also a roadmap to understanding the different roles continuing education can play throughout a career.

Early career: Finding your niche

Kuipers started his professional life with a job he got fresh out of college. 

“It was a good job,” he remembers, “but after a while things started to get stagnant, with little opportunity for growth. I knew I needed to make a change, and dragging my feet wasn’t going to help.” 

It was time to move ahead, and he went on looking for programs that would allow him to continue working while he went to school. That’s when the OHS certificate came into his life.

A big part of what his first job entailed ended up being in the area of occupational health and safety, so getting an education in the area made the most sense. Looking back to that moment in his career, Kuipers reckons it was the right program at the right time. 

“When a person first starts post-secondary school, many times they are getting a broad-based knowledge of a field they’re interested in. For me, it was initially business administration and finance. But once you get some experience, you realize you need to add on more specific knowledge.”

Mid-career: Taking on more responsibility

After graduating with the OHS certificate in 2005, Kuipers kept his mind busy by getting ready to write the exam for a CRSP (Canadian Registered Safety Professional) designation. In 2008, already with the designation under his belt, he got a job offer from one of the companies on his personal list of “top five employers to work for.”

“Twelve years later, and I am still with them,” he said with a smile.

Gerald Kuipers says the continuing education he's gained by taking four programs from the U of A’s Faculty of Extension have benefited him personally as well as professionally. (Photo: Supplied)

But landing the job of his dreams was a beginning rather than an end. “I changed positions with my employer several times,” he said. 

Nearly a decade after Kuipers had finished his first extension program, continuing education once again came to the fore in his life, this time to help him make the transition into a role with more responsibility. 

“The supervisory development citation allowed me to brush up on some of the soft skills that are needed to manage and interact with people.”

Around the same time, he took notice of something that was becoming a crucial aspect within his industry. 

“I realized that the focus on environmental resource management was more and more playing an important role in the way business is conducted. After coming off of a large project that involved OHS but was also heavy on environmental requirements, I was quite aware of what I did not know in the area,” he joked. 

The environmental resource management certificate, which he finished in 2015, filled that gap and provided him with a new set of skills.   

Any time, any career: Keeping up with change

Regardless of where you are in your career path, continuing education is your go-to secret weapon when it comes to keeping up to date with changes in an industry or the job market in general, Kuipers believes. 

“The goalposts keep moving,” he said. “You have to stay as current with education as you can.”

The latest seismic shift in his field came in the form of new educational requirements for the CRSP designation. 

“This is happening globally, so the academic requirements are to at least have a diploma to meet the INSHPO Capability Framework for Health and Safety Professionals,” he explained.

Steered by those changes—and by his steadfast desire to expand his knowledge base—Kuipers enrolled in his fourth extension program, the pro­fes­sion­al diplo­ma in occu­pa­tion­al health and safe­ty.

“Over time, I have come to realize that continuing education is an important part of growing a rewarding career,” he said. “That’s something I focus on personally and also promote with my staff.” 

Kuipers believes the benefits of continuing education go beyond personal career growth: “It also creates value for your employer, your industry and society as a whole.”

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