Guest Comment: Skilled workers fuel B.C.’s economy

Skilled and educated workers are B.C.’s most critical resource.

Skilled and educated workers are B.C.’s most critical resource.

Our 11 public colleges are committed to producing graduates with the advanced skills and education to meet the demands of B.C.’s labour market.

Our college system offers innovative, world-class education right here in our own backyard.

This is not easy or without cost but the payoff is worth it. A highly skilled and educated workforce will fuel our economy and enhance our competitive advantage at home and globally.

On Vancouver Island, shipbuilding, technology, tourism and construction companies are experiencing growing and immediate demand for skilled workers. This is where colleges play a key role.

At Camosun College work is underway to ensure that innovative education is not just a strategic buzzword but a reality.

Their new Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning is designed to support innovation, enhance student learning and facilitate partnerships with communities, businesses and industry.

This collaborative component ensures that programs are workplace relevant and that the supply of job-ready workers meets the growing provincial demand.

Post-secondary institutions need to adapt and innovate to meet student needs. An excellent example is Camosun’s innovative new E-PPRENTICE Cook program delivered through a blend of online and workplace components allowing students to obtain their training and certification in a more timely and practical manner than traditional delivery methods.

The success of the E-PPRENTICE program has led Camosun College and other colleges throughout B.C. to ask: What other innovative delivery options can be explored to better meet the needs of students and employers?

Already more than 50 per cent of Camosun’s courses include a technological component and the college is looking at other opportunities. With the recent $8-billion federal shipbuilding contract awarded to West Coast-based Seaspan Marine, development is underway for the online delivery of a shipbuilding and repair entry level training program and a pipe trades program.

In B.C., more than 90 per cent of college graduates are employed within six months of graduation. Why so many, so fast?

Innovative programming means students get the skills they need in a format that works for them and employers get the skilled workers to grow their business.

To ensure this type of innovation in education is possible, our post-secondary institutions need ongoing and predictable funding.

The recent federal budget recognized the need to address the skills gap – our provincial government needs to do the same.

Unfortunately, at a time when we should be building capacity in colleges, many have had to do more with less. Camosun College faces higher demand and yet in 2013-14 will need to overcome a budget deficit of $2 million. Camosun is not alone. The current funding model does not adequately fund the very institutions that are able to supply the job-ready graduates to fuel B.C.’s economy

Over the last 10 years the provincial government has invested substantially in research and graduate programs at B.C.’s research universities including the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia. No doubt this investment has served the educational needs of many British Columbians. But now we need the same level of investment in advanced skills training and education at colleges to address the pending skills gap.

It is my hope that after the provincial election, our provincial government will establish an investment plan to help colleges meet the growing demand for highly skilled graduates to fuel B.C.’s competitive advantage.

Education is not an expense; it is an investment. It is time to make an investment in our most critical resource – a highly skilled and educated workforce.

Jim Reed is the president of B.C. Colleges.