The Honourable Gene Makowsky was appointed Minister of Advanced Education in November 2020, following his re-election as MLA for Regina Gardiner Park in the October 2020 provincial general election. In addition to the province’s two universities and their federated colleges, the Ministry’s portfolio includes Saskatchewan Polytechnic, eight regional colleges, three institutions delivering Indigenous educational programs and services, and private vocational schools.
Makowsky was appointed several months after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the work of the province’s post-secondary institutions and their students. This gave him a unique perspective on how they had adapted to the abrupt changes required to continue their educational mission, while safeguarding the health and safety of students, teachers and support staff. He is impressed by how the institutions responded.
“I think they did a great job of pivoting to a hybrid model of education in a short amount of time,” he says. “That included strictly online learning, and in situations where hands-on lab work was required, the safety of students and instructors was handled in the best manner possible.”
Makowsky grew up in Saskatoon and completed his education there. He enjoyed his K-12 experience and decided that an education degree would satisfy his combined interests in sports and education. The idea of being a teacher and coaching high school athletes really appealed to him. Staying in his hometown and attending the University of Saskatchewan was an easy decision, helped by the interest the U of S Huskies football program showed in him when he was in Grade 12.
Makowsky received his bachelor’s degree in education, with distinction, from the University of Saskatchewan in 1996. However, the idea of being a teacher and coach – at least as a full-time vocation – was put on hold while he enjoyed a 17-year career as an offensive lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (he was a member of the Grey Cup winning team in 2007). He served as a substitute teacher in the off-season, which he says was sometimes challenging, particularly when an early-morning phone call meant he had to fill in on short notice. The upside, he observes, is that he met and worked with great people, and was spared a teacher’s least favourite chore, marking.
Following his retirement from the Roughriders, Makowsky was first elected as an MLA in 2011, and then re-elected in 2016 and 2020. When it comes to advanced education, as in most areas of our lives, he sees the rapid transition to digital communications and tools affecting how post-secondary institutions deliver their programs, as well as how students select what they will study and in what formats. This will likely mean more courses delivered online or using a hybrid format. He adds that there is increasing interest in what is called micro-credentialing, where students advance their professional or academic accreditation by selecting programs or courses that they find most relevant and that allow them to develop skills in specific areas in a relatively short period of time. He expects this approach to upgrading skills will continue to grow.
Against this background of change, Makowsky believes the Ministry’s role is to support institutions with funding to help them through the pandemic recovery period. This is in line with the province’s growth plan for the 2020 to 2030 time period, which includes targets for population and labour force growth. In particular, the Minister notes the progress made in increasing the participation of Indigenous people in the workforce by 19 per cent. He also points to the $23.3 million allocated in the Spring 2021 provincial budget to support the First Nations University of Canada, the Gabriel Dumont Institute and the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.
“Teachers, staff and students have shown resilience and an ability to adapt quickly to changes that no one could have expected,” Makowsky says. “I think those qualities will help our post-secondary sector recover and contribute to our province’s future growth.”