Nontraditional school programs help students discover new careers

Nontraditional programs allow people to pursue their interests in everything from the beverage industry to sports and entertainment

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      Walking a dog looks easy enough. Put on a leash, go around the block, and head back home.

      For animal lover Jane Chiang, taking a dog out for a walk happens on a different level. She’s a professional with a certificate from Langara College’s dog-walker program.

      “I’ve never thought of having this as a profession, but then I’m like, ‘It will be really, really fun,’ ” Chiang told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      A graduate of a 3-D modelling program for animation and games, the 24-year-old is also a freelance artist. One day, she went to check out programs at Langara. She discovered that the college offers a 23.5-hour professional-dog-walker program. It covers canine-handling techniques, pet first aid, animal legislation and bylaws, and how to run a dog-walking business.

      “I love animals, and I thought it would be great to spend time with animals while you work. It’s like the best part of the job: doing what you like,” she said.

      She has a plan. “When I have enough experience, I want to have a doggie daycare,” Chiang said.

      Like Chiang, you may want to explore unusual careers. There are many nontraditional programs that can suit a person’s passion. Who knows? You could find a job that’s fun and rewarding as well. Here are a few examples.


      Don Shortt teaches British Columbia Institute of Technology students the fine art of woodworking. On the side, he’s a guitar-builder for rock stars. He made one for Joe Perry when the Aerosmith player needed a special one. He’s repaired guitars for Bryan Adams, Randy Bachman, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. An instructor in BCIT’s joinery (cabinetmaking) department, Shortt will teach a course on electric-guitar-building starting in the fall. Students will learn how to build a custom electric guitar from scratch, with the course covering basic to advanced woodworking techniques. Although they won’t receive a certificate, students will walk away with their own custom-made guitar to shred.

      Sign-Language Interpretation

      Douglas College offers a two-year diploma program in sign-language interpreting. Demand for interpreters is growing as deaf individuals are increasingly accessing education, career, and community services. Douglas College graduates may be employed in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary school settings, as well as in provincial, federal, or community agencies. They may also work as independent contractors. Students entering the program must know American Sign Language. Interpreters translate what’s being said in English or signed in ASL into the other language. Members of the local deaf community are involved in the program, serving on its advisory committee and acting as language models in class.

      Brewing and Brewery Operations

      Launched last fall, this two-year diploma program is a fermenting ground for future brewmasters. These Kwantlen Polytechnic University graduates also have a future in sales, marketing and public relations, and pub operations. The program trains students to work in craft breweries, brewpubs, and large breweries, and teaches them all they need to know about making beer. The program accepts students with a minimum C+ in Chemistry 12 and Pre-calculus 11 or Foundations of Mathematics 11. The curriculum was developed in consultation with the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild and local brewmasters.

      Tea Sommelier

      Steeped in tradition, tea is the world’s most popular beverage. Rich in antioxidants, tea is hailed for its many health benefits. In Canada, it’s a $1.3-billion industry. Vancouver Community College offers a tea sommelier certification program in collaboration with the Tea Association of Canada. Like a wine expert, a tea sommelier knows everything about tea, including the drink’s history, types, grades, and preparation. Certification requirements include passing a blind taste test. Tea sommeliers can suggest food pairings. They’re knowledgeable about tea ceremonies and can organize tea events. They also learn about ethical duties such as working within a customer’s budget.

      Milker Technician

      B.C. is the third-largest dairy producer in Canada. According to the B.C. Dairy Association, the province is home to about 72,000 dairy cows. That’s a lot of cows to milk. In the online description of its milker technician certificate program, the University of the Fraser Valley can’t stress enough: “Milking high-producing dairy cows is a responsible job!” Designed to prepare students to work on a dairy farm, the program requires putting in hours at the UFV barn or host-farm sites, including milking cows as early as 4 a.m. Students also learn about farm and equipment safety, animal health, and forage-crop production.

      Sport-Event Management

      Sports events bring large groups of people together. Whether it’s corporate, amateur, or professional, putting on a sporting event requires a high degree of organization. Thompson Rivers University trains students in its sport-event-management program for the various requirements of the industry. They learn how to organize and market events, find sponsors, and recruit and motivate volunteers. The two-year program’s courses include financial accounting, tourism principles, sports psychology, hospitality, and fundraising for nonprofits. Events typically involve food, so students also learn about catering and service management. Students must complete at least 500 hours of relevant work in the sport-event industry.

      Mountain-Bike Operations

      From cross-country mountain biking to freeride, downhill, all-mountain, and epic, B.C. has it all. It’s home to a number of the world’s best terrains. Those who’d like to have a career in this field may want to get a certificate in mountain-bike operations at Capilano University. Employment can be found with mountain resorts, municipal and provincial governments, and nonprofits. One can also have a private consulting business. According to Cap, it’s the only program of its kind worldwide. Sustainable park and trail design is a huge focus of the program, and students get to work on actual community projects. A mountain bike is part of the equipment requirements.

      Wine Sales

      Alcohol sales across the country totalled $21.4 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, according to a Statistics Canada report last year. While beer remained the number one drink, selling $9 billion in the period, Canadians were drinking less of it, while the market share of wine grew by almost five percent. Nearly $7 billion worth of wine was sold in the same fiscal year. Okanagan College offers a certificate program for those interested in selling wine. The 147-hour program covers grape-growing and winemaking, legal regulations and industry standards, marketing and sales strategies, winery promotion, and wine-shop management. A Serving It Right certificate is part of the admission requirements.


      Yi Ling Chen has been using essential oils since her university days, and aromatherapy is her go-to for minor problems such as flus and headaches. It also helps her to relax. Now a mom, Chen also uses natural oils with her kids. In June of this year, she expects to become a professional aromatherapist. She’s doing a holistic-aromatherapy certificate program at Langara College. “It’s better for me to get a much more in-depth and more professional understanding and knowledge about aromatherapy because it’s helpful for me,” Chen told the Straight in a phone interview. She wants to help others by opening her own aromatherapy spa.



      Jennifer Gossen

      Apr 30, 2015 at 2:34pm

      Closer to home, Vancouver Community College also offers a Sport and Recreation Management Certificate designed to prepare graduates for positions in a variety of roles including sport or recreation manager, sport or recreation program leader, sport or recreation program coordinator, and sport or recreation event and marketing coordinator. Check out this link for details: or email for details!

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      John F. Dunbar

      Apr 30, 2015 at 11:38pm

      How about subjects to help the world transition into the post global era. A few would be:
      Sheltering with natural, locally available materials (cob, rammed earth, straw bale).
      Permaculture including year-round walipini food production.
      Heating your home and walipini and producing biochar with one process.
      Locally sourced clay for basic pottery.
      Working with horses.
      Fibre, fabric and clothing.
      Small livestock husbandry.
      Blacksmithing and tinsmithing.
      Musical instrument making goes on this list too but you already covered it.
      Yes, we need alternatives for almost everything we are currently doing, thanks for bringing this out in the open.

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