“We don't want to go back to the old methods”
Yasmin Jivraj (Honorary Bachelor of Technology ’11) got her start in business with a computer sciences degree, building and selling IT- and tech-oriented firms. But her perspective on Alberta today is defined by diversity – an outlook she’ll bring to bear in her new role as the chair of NAIT’s Board of Governors, which began Aug. 15, 2022.
The current co-owner of Dexcent, an industrial automation engineering consulting services company, is also a member of boards for Alberta Blue Cross and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. She’s been part of NAIT’s board since 2016, most recently as vice-chair working with previous chair Ray Pisani (Management ’84). She has also served with boards of various economic development and humanitarian organizations.
“I really like the conversations that I'm in right now,” says Jivraj.
Those conversations allow her a uniquely holistic view on how NAIT will contribute to the growth and future prosperity of the province – as well as to student success. Jivraj joined techlifetoday in a conversation about how the board can help NAIT overcome challenges and realize opportunities ahead.
Techlifetoday: What are your feelings about taking over from Ray Pisani?
Yasmin Jivraj: Ray was a great mentor and provided great leadership during the pandemic and with the budget reduction. And Ray's legacy [includes] bringing in a new president and CEO – Laura Jo Gunter [who joined the institute in August 2020] – and making sure NAIT got the right fit.
What qualities of this board give you confidence?
Our board consists of a balanced team with complementary skill sets. These are leaders with a broad variety of business expertise across many industries in the areas of executive management, strategic planning, government relations, legal, sales and marketing, finance, information technology and human resource management.
These leaders also have good governance practices. It’s a strong team with a diversity of perspectives.
And what about NAIT’s current executive team?
The executive team empowers NAIT’s people and guides us towards our goals. We’re really excited about the transformational strategic plan, The NAIT Effect, which clearly defines our purpose and identity, and that will drive us to the future.
President Gunter has brought experience from previous positions in Alberta and Ontario as a leader at post-secondary institutions, and she is part of both networks. Prior to that, she was also an entrepreneur. Also, we’re going through times when we need to understand all levels of government and their priorities. Being able to navigate that and drive those conversations offers a lot of value.
What do you see as your primary responsibility?
The board’s primary responsibility is setting strategic direction, monitoring implementation, and ensuring effective stewardship of institutional resources.
My primary responsibility, as chair, is to create a culture that allows board members to work together to make the most effective decisions. I hope to encourage strategic thinking, innovation, and action with the focus on the future.
What are you anticipating?
Post-secondary education systems are facing unprecedented changes. As the future of work is being transformed through automation, digitalization and AI, [educators] are required to provide leadership for digital transformation.
The digital transformation is also creating new pathways: namely reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning. So our business is growing.
At NAIT – where we deliver technology-based education across the programs, where education is experiential and hands-on, where we engage industry in curriculum development and delivery, and do applied research to solve real problems – that's the business that's growing.
And what are some of the challenges?
There are so many. We’re in a period of tremendous upheaval. In Canada, post-secondary institutes are facing increased competition for both domestic and international enrolment. And then there is decreased government funding. And complex student needs, and a massive change in the technology landscape. We're being disrupted.
What do you think NAIT’s priority should be right now?
Our priorities are clearly stated in our transformational strategic plan. NAIT needs to continue to teach and train experts, professionals and innovators who shape our economy – across Alberta and beyond.
We also need to grow our enrolment base, including international students. We have to look at new pathways [for] reskilling and upskilling, as I mentioned, as learners and alumni move to life-long learning. We have to look at satisfaction – a completely student-centric model, where students are treated as partners.
Are there new aspects of our relationship to explore with industry?
We’re going to have an even stronger relationship with industry. We are looking to take work-integrated learning to new heights, for example – can more of our students, while they’re learning, be part of industry as well and contribute? This will be a benefit to both.
There are a lot of opportunities for doing more applied research as well. Industry is evolving. Alberta is at a stage where we need to diversify our economy. We’re looking at which areas we’ll excel in. We can be more connected to industry in looking at that.
How does the board hope to help with advancing NAIT’s physical campus in the future?
We see NAIT as a hub for innovation and economic growth, and a transformation of our campus with our expansion onto the adjacent Blatchford land. We hope to see more vibrant outdoors spaces and a campus residence.
What makes NAIT distinct among post-secondary institutes in Alberta, particularly with respect to our contribution to the province’s recovery efforts?
What makes NAIT different is how quickly graduates can contribute to the marketplace. That’s the big advantage of NAIT. As an entrepreneur, I’ve seen firsthand the exceptional talent and the critical innovation that NAIT has produced. We could not have hired enough students from NAIT. They could start working immediately.
These have been a couple of tough years for NAIT. What is your outlook for the polytechnic?
We have so many opportunities. It’s going to be hard work, but we’re able to adapt much quicker. The pandemic changed our velocity of change at a rate we've never seen before. We’d been talking about virtual learning and then we had to adapt to that within a weekend. We are moving much faster, and creating comprehensive, learner-centric experiences that are both hands-on and virtual.
We’ve learned a lot as we move toward recovery and growth. And now we don't want to go back to the old methods. We have seen the possibilities and opportunities. We’re in a very good position and looking forward to our journey.