by Don R. Johnson
University College of the Cariboo
The purpose of a two year diploma program is to prepare graduates
that have knowledge of the skills and tools that are the same
as or similar to those used in industry. In order to do this,
faculty must be aware of the latest trends and technology being
used in the workplace. Keeping abreast with what is needed and
used, can be accomplished in several ways. These include having
advisory committees, reading journals, attending conferences,
experimenting with new computer software, and other professional
development and contacts. However each of these methods of keeping
up-to-date involve very short periods of time, hours or days.
A better and more intense method of experiencing what is happening
in industry is through a working leave.
A working leave for faculty of two year diploma programs
results in a win / win / win situation. The college wins in that
they have a more current experienced faculty delivering their
programs. Industry wins in that they gain an employee or consultant
that brings fresh ideas and innovations to the workplace. The
faculty members wins in that he or she are updated with current
technologies and methodologies in their discipline and have new
experiences to share with their students.
The following discusses how a work experience leave can
be arranged, the cost of such a leave and its benefits.
The problem and a planned solution
By the winter of 1994, I had been working at the University College
of the Cariboo (UCC) for almost nine years and during this period
had only limited exposure to real practical computing through
small consulting jobs. I felt the need to go back into industry
to get hands on experience of what was happening in my discipline
and to obtain new war stories to share in the classroom.
Although no formal work experience leave program existed, I discussed
my concerns with my Dean and received strong support to proceed
with the idea of arranging a working leave for myself. I then
decide on the type of work experience that would be most relevant
and proceeded with the arrangement for a leave.
Negotiating a work experience leave
The first problem that I was faced with was should I negotiate
a leave with the college then find a place to work or should I
find a place to work then arrange for a leave. Since I was only
interested in work experiences that would enhance my knowledge
in specific areas of computing, I decided that I must find employment
At the start I tried arranging a work exchange secondment with
a colleague that had done some prior teaching and now worked in
the Information Systems department of a local firm, however, this
failed. I then wrote letters to three of the largest employers
of Information System workers in our city, outlining the type
of work that I was interested in and a draft plan as to how and
when a leave would occur. Two of the three firms expressed interest
in the plan and made me offers subject to acceptance by the college.
Next I checked the collective agreement between the college and
the Faculty Association and discovered that short term leaves
of up to 4 months (1 semester) were available for professional
development purposes. A request for leave was sent to the leave
committee and was approved for a one semester term at 50% pay.
The other 50% of my salary was to be paid by the company that
I would go to work for.
Cost of the leave
Instructional replacement by a Sessional Instructor $16,000
(4 months @ $4,000 per month)
Less savings due to 50% leave -$10,000
(4 months @ $2,500 per month)
Net costs of leave $6,000
Type of work performed while on leave
The leave was for 4 months to work under contract at Weyerhaeuser
Canada Ltd in Kamloops, BC in their head office Business Information
Systems division. Weyerhaeuser is one of the world's largest suppliers
of pulp, paper and wood products.
The first eight weeks of the work term were spent researching
and documenting an existing system for Weyerhaeuser using a methodology
known as Systems Organization Charts or Hierarchy Charts.
This work was very beneficial to Weyerhaeuser since the systems
documentation had not been updated in some time. It was also valuable
to me in that I gained a better understanding of the lumber sales
The remaining work term was spent developing a new systems of tracking and costing work performed by the staff of the Business Information Systems division. This time tracking and work order system was to be developed utilizing a relational database (Oracle) on a minicomputer (HP 9000) with an interface on microcomputers (PC's) via Client/Server architecture. The Client/Server software used was PowerBuilder. This design and development work with relational databases and Client/Server software was
exactly the experience that I was looking for in that it could
be utilized in two or three courses that I was teaching in our
Computing Information Systems diploma program [CSOM - Computer
Systems & Operations Management].
Problems and short comings
From my perspective, there were no serious problems with this
working leave, half of my salary was paid by the college and half
was paid under contract by Weyerhaeuser. Benefits regarding medical,
dental, etc. were paid for by the college, and the only loss was
a few unearned vacation days while on leave. The rigid work day
of 8:00 till 4:00 took some getting used to after the more flexible
hours of teaching in a college environment.
In the Computing Department of the college some juggling of course
assignments had to be made but these were minimal.
As mentioned earlier this work experience leave was a win / win
/ win situation. The college gained in terms of enhanced skills
obtained by me as an instructor in the Computing Science department.
A new computing course offering for students of the Bachelor of
Natural Resource Sciences (BNRS) degree was to be developed and
taught in the fall of 1995, just four months after my leave. My
work at Weyerhaeuser gave me and the department better insight
into development and teaching a relevant course for the BNRS program.
The work with designing a relational database for time tracking
and work orders was very useful in the Database Systems course
that I teach each fall. I was also able to share information and
skills gained from working with the Client/Server software, PowerBuilder,
in two of my courses. Being away from the college, working on
tasks that were different from what I had done for the past 9
years was very refreshing.
Weyerhaeuser found the documentation that I developed valuable
as an orientation for new employees and co-op students that were
to work with their Order/ Invoice system for lumber sales. The
development work on the time tracking and work order system although
mostly research and development helped the Business Information
department to gain and enhance local experience in working with
the newer systems architecture of Client/Server which is a Weyerhaeuser
The Bigger Picture
This paper has focused mainly on the experience of the author,
but how does it relate to the bigger picture regarding access
to working leaves for any and all Computing Science faculty, especially
those not currently eligible for sabbatical leave.
Teaching in a discipline that is so driven by new and innovative
technological development requires continual upgrading and modification
of materials being presented in lectures and labs. It is paramount
that as computing instructors we be aware of and knowledgeable
in the latest methodologies and technologies used in industry.
The cost of not "keeping up" is that the programs and
courses we teach become out of date and even obsolete. This eventually
affects the reputation of our programs and leads to lower employment
statistics for our graduates, as well as decreased enrollments.
Training students in the latest technologies is necessary if we
in British Columbia wish to prepare a workforce that is ready
to fill the jobs created by the 21st century global
markets in information systems. The universities, colleges and
the government have a responsibility to provide adequate budgets
and leave opportunities for faculty to remain current.
The greatest benefits of education and training in the latest
technology is realized by industry, so those companies that hire
our graduates also bear some responsibility to provide funding
and positions for faculty that wish to take work experience leaves.
It is obvious that working leaves for faculty are valuable, however
what is the acceptable cost for the value gained? Should all faculty
be encouraged to take working leaves and how should the costs
be shared by the college, the company in industry, and the faculty
member? Should agreements be made similar to those of co-op programs
To briefly answer the questions asked in the previous paragraph,
it is the responsibility of faculty, the educational institutes,
the government and industry to ensure that proper education and
training in information technology takes place. Funding therefore
should be provided by both the institutes and industry. Work experience
leave opportunities should be provided for all faculty every 4
or 5 years with no cost to the faculty member. Also, a provincial
wide list of employer's willing to participate in a work leave
program should be established.
From my personal experience, all three parties involved in the work experience leave that I took were satisfied regarding benefits gained versus costs and problems involved.