Group benefits and retirement professionals are so hard to come by these days that one post-secondary institution has collaborated with the industry to launch a new course designed to stream students quickly into the field.

The first of its kind in Canada, Georgian College’s benefits and pensions course will blend online curriculum borrowed from the Certified Employment Benefits Specialist Program (CEBS) at Dalhousie University in Halifax with in-class instruction in a part-time, continuing education environment. It will begin in early September of this year.

“I’m having a tough time bringing anyone new into the business,” says David Blevins, president of Blevins Insurance Group, who was instrumental in the genesis of the course. He explains how a conversation with his friend Brian Tamblyn, president of Barrie, Ont.-based Georgian College, about the dearth of qualified prospects turned into a joint effort in designing a course to address the specific needs of his industry.

“When we’re dealing with HR professionals, the depth of understanding of the benefit program is not as deep as you would think,” he says. “Most people have told me that when they were in school they didn’t spend much time on benefits at all. So I pulled the players together.”

The Blevins Group helped the college’s staff to write the curriculum, which is essentially a benefits and pensions overview. Topics include retirement plans and employee benefits, wellness programs, EAPs, disability management, and government legislation. “You could probably consider it group 101,” says Blevins.

Ruthanne Krant, co-ordinator of Georgian’s human resource management program says that the course is aimed at both the working HR professional and the full-time student who may want to enter this area of the industry.

She explains that the course is offered in conjunction with the International Foundation of Employee Benefits, which offers online programs that lead to CEBS designation, and will highlight the opportunities available to prospective HR professionals. “Our hope is that the individual entry into the HR field will have a better understanding of how broad and multi-faceted benefits and pensions are,” says Krant.

According to Ann O’Neill, Canadian academic director of the CEBS program at Dalhousie University, there is little in today’s educational landscape in terms of curriculum that focuses on group benefits and retirement, let alone the career opportunities in the field. “One of the big issues that we’ve been hearing from industry is that there’s a huge talent shortage in the financial services sector which affects group benefits and group retirement people,” she says.

O’Neill says the unique feature of the Georgian course is the association to industry, something that Canadian schools have lacked in this field until now. “It’s a direct industry link, using material that’s been developed by industry and will stream into the industry career path,” she says. “There are other programs out there that offer benefits courses, but they’re not linked to industry the way this program is.”

CEBS has approached other Ontario colleges to offer a similar course, but currently Georgian is the only institution to do so. O’Neill says that both industry and the education sector will be watching with interest, and will likely follow suit. “They’ve heard the cry about the talent shortage in the financial sector, so I think you’ll see more of the colleges moving in that direction.”

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