Pressure on for skills training

Tom Fletcher looks at post-secondary education, its issues and its funding.

VICTORIA – Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk has offered some advice for students heading for post-secondary education this fall.

In a commentary sent to B.C. newspapers, Virk reminded students that his task “is to ensure post-secondary students obtain the experience and qualifications needed to put a paycheque in their back pocket.”

B.C. is forecast to have one million jobs to fill by 2020, through a combination of retirements and economic growth. More than 40 per cent of them will require trades and technical training, and for students, likely a move north.

“My advice to students is to look at where the jobs are based and tailor their education and training to match,” Virk wrote. “Our population is concentrated in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, but as a resource-based economy, many directly and indirectly related jobs are located elsewhere.”

That’s not the only blunt message for students deciding on a career. While defending his ministry’s spending plans in the recent legislature session, Virk described some of the problems that are entrenched.

Parents, particularly in immigrant communities, push their children towards medicine, law, dentistry or engineering, he noted. Students themselves gravitate toward areas that are familiar to them, such as teaching.

B.C. universities graduated 2,000 new teachers last year. Another 850 arrived from out of province and were licensed to teach in B.C. During the same year, the B.C. school system hired 800 teachers. And many of those jobs were outside metropolitan areas.

It’s been hammered into us by the B.C. government’s endless “jobs plan” advertising, and a similar campaign by Ottawa, that more students need to focus on trades and resource industries. Virk acknowledges that his budget contains another $1 million for advertising, the same as last year, much of it to reinforce the need to fill skilled jobs. But he danced around the question of whether there will be spaces in technical programs.

NDP critics say the waiting list for these kinds of programs at Kwantlen University and B.C. Institute of Technology are running between a year and three years. And they have frequently noted that advanced education spending is budgeted to decline by $42 million over the next three years.

Virk said post-secondary institutions working with industry have produced 456 additional seats in high-demand programs for this year. It’s a start.

In July, Premier Christy Clark joined the chorus of premiers protesting Ottawa’s plan to claw back $300 million in federal training money to provinces, for its new employer-driven Canada Jobs Grant. Clark and New Brunswick Premier David Alward were assigned to find an alternative to this drastic shift and report back in the fall.

As usual, the NDP spent lots of time grilling Virk about student debt and the alleged need to reduce it. Ministry statistics show that about 30 per cent of students take out loans from the federal-provincial program, and the average is $20,000.

One of the latest changes is a program of grants that go toward student debt as a reward for those who complete their chosen program. With 23,000 students collecting $41 million in grants, it might be working. For all the fuss about student debt, students pay only about a third of costs. The rest is on taxpayers, whether it produces any useful education or not.

Virk is under instructions to review the student loan program “to find further improvements to meet students’ needs.” Given the magnitude of the gap between what skills our education system produces and what the economy needs, a larger shift in priorities is needed.

 

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press.

tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Just Posted

Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair logo
Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair cancelled again due to COVID-19 restrictions

The 2022 fall fair is still scheduled to take place in Port Hardy

North Island Gazette
EDITORIAL: What to do about homelessness in Port Hardy

‘people suffering from homelessness deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion’

North Island Eagles logo
North Island Eagles give update on the upcoming 2021-2022 season

The North Island Eagles minor rep hockey teams are getting ready for… Continue reading

Ma Murrays 2021 virtual ceremony screenshot
North Island Gazette wins big at 2021 Ma Murray Newspaper Awards

Zoe Ducklow and Bill McQuarrie both won gold at the online ceremony

Port Hardy council has agreed to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children being found on the grounds of a former residential school. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Council votes to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of mass grave sites being found

Coun. Treena Smith made the motion for the chamber to not host Canada Day celebrations this year

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read