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New Flyer CEO has some novel ideas for students

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Post-secondary students should pass tests, do community service, study finances and learn to speak for themselves, business leader Paul Soubry advised university and college presidents Wednesday.

"Every course should have some kind of a test or an exam," declared Soubry, president and CEO of New Flyer Industries.

He wants proof students know their stuff: "Until I see them weld, I won't let them touch that bus," he said.

"Students need to debate... how to get my point across, how to diagnose someone else's point of view," Soubry told the spring meeting of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Soubry was there to talk about what business wants and needs from universities and colleges.

'All universities can't be all things to all people... The most difficult thing is how to teach people to be a leader'

-- New Flyer president and CEO Paul Soubry

It was the only session of the spring meeting open to the media.

Some of what Soubry said was familiar to the presidents, who had no questions when the floor was opened after Soubry's talk.

Business wants multi-dimensional thinkers who can work collaboratively in groups, he noted -- a message universities have heard from business before.

But Soubry had some fresher and more novel ideas.

Even though students pay tuition, society still underwrites the cost of their education, and they need to pay back, he said.

"Universities should make community involvement a mandatory part of every course," he said. It should not be voluntary, he emphasized.

Every course should contain some element of financial and economic literacy, Soubry said.

He's seen very young engineers "do magic stuff" in designing a better bus, but they have no clue what it costs to make that bus, how to price it for the market, or how to sell it, Soubry said.

Look at the job your professors are doing, he urged: "Are they really teaching, or are they just telling?" he asked.

Soubry said universities need to focus on what they and their region do well -- they must avoid being too broad.

"All universities can't be all things to all people," he said. "The most difficult thing is how to teach people to be a leader."

No matter how much technology advances, "We'll still need tradespeople," he said, but what they work with and how they work will change significantly.

"We thought linear -- everything today is multi-dimensional. We need to think differently how we deliver the message," Soubry said.

Soubry said he'd prefer to hire graduates with a C average who have been involved in sports, student politics and other pursuits, than a single-minded person with the highest grades.

"I would rather hire for fit and teach the skills," he said.

Every student should gain real-world experience as an intern or in a co-op program while still a student, Soubry said, and nothing beats going overseas to study or work.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2014 B5

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