Georgian College is launching a new course on pensions and benefits this fall—the first of its kind in Canada. Brian Tamblyn, president and chief executive officer, discusses the circumstances surrounding the development of the course and its potential benefits.

How did this course come about?

David Blevins, president of Blevins Insurance Group, approached me about a year ago to see if we could do some programming that would encourage graduates from our college to consider careers in the benefits and pension field. The industry is having a challenging time filling entry-level positions. Georgian College has a three-year business administration diploma with an HR specialization, as well as a post-graduate HR certificate, but in those programs, there hasn’t been a focus on benefits and pensions.

What does it hope to achieve?

Our job is to work with the industry and help meet its needs, and I think the industry is hoping that people who come out of HR management programs will have a better appreciation for benefits and pensions. Not as many people as they would like have a good understanding of how group benefits plans work. Group benefits and pensions are often 20% to 30% of an employer’s payroll, so they’re a big-ticket item.

What does the course cover?

It covers retirement plans and employee benefits, workplace wellness programs, employee and family assistance, work/life balance, disability management, alternative work arrangements, government and legislation, long-term care and [topics such as] smoker versus non-smoker insurance rates. Also, any existing and emerging trends are covered, as they are important to people working in this area.

Does it fill a particular niche?

Absolutely. I think of all the HR specialties, benefits and pensions are as complicated as any—which is probably why a lot of HR people shy away from it. It’s a highly skilled niche.

How involved was the industry in developing the curriculum?

We use an approach with all of our new courses where we tie in with industry professionals [through] program advisory committees. They tell us what needs to be covered so that when students graduate, they can hit the ground running. This is a normal ongoing process for us. As with any other course, the industry had tremendous involvement.

What are the advantages for employees and employers?

As a former HR generalist, I could have explained things better to employees. Graduates of this program should be better at explaining [the] subject matter. Ultimately, that helps the employer in terms of retention. These plans are very expensive, and employees don’t always appreciate the value [they] can offer. What has the response been like? It’s early to say but the inquiries are coming in, and we’re expecting a good response by the time the course starts.

Do you expect other academic institutions to follow suit?

We hope so. Our dean of business has presented this as an opportunity to other colleges, and we’re just waiting to hear back if [they] would like to get involved.

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Are there any related courses in the works at Georgian?

Depending on the response we get to this course, we are considering offering a course that would focus exclusively on retirement planning.

Why has it taken so long for post-secondary institutions to offer this type of course?

Colleges operate on the basis of demand, so if we get a number of students or employers saying they’d like us to develop a certain course, then that’s what we respond to. We’re very industrydriven and, to be honest, I don’t think we’ve ever been asked before. Like many industries, the pension and insurance industry is facing a skill shortage as people retire, and I think there’s pressure within the industry to find a long-term solution to this emerging challenge.

What challenges have you faced in the design and execution of the course?

This particular course meets our diploma programming requirements, plus it blends with another course that was developed by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits. This was the first time they have partnered with an Ontario college, which added an additional element of complexity. Thanks to strong industry support we were able to work very collaboratively in developing this course.

Jody White is associate editor of

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© Copyright 2008 Rogers Publishing Ltd. A shorter version of this article first appeared in the September 2008 edition of BENEFITS CANADA magazine.