Swapping sociology for socket sets

Premier Christy Clark’s latest employment announcement set the tone for one of the big issues in the 2013 election.

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark’s latest employment announcement set the tone for one of the big issues in the 2013 election.

Flanked by aircraft technician students at BCIT in Burnaby, Clark announced a $75-million program to upgrade aging trade and technical school facilities and hire instructors. And she did it with some pointed criticism of the career path chosen by many of today’s high school students.

Clark introduced a student electrician, the first woman to win the senior technology education award at her high school, who then went on to get a bachelor’s degree in English and sociology. No job, so she went to BCIT.

Her message was clear. The government’s pre-election budget is going to shift priorities to the huge number of skilled trades jobs that are already going begging in the north. More students will get started in high school, instead of being subsidized to wander around and find themselves with an unfocused university degree that still leaves them in need of practical skills.

Shop upgrades were announced for trades training in Prince George, Kelowna and Greater Victoria. There will be new student financial aid, but it will be tied to skill programs the economy needs now.

And with the government’s financial situation, you can bet that sociology, women’s studies and the rest of the dead-end programs dear to the hearts of last year’s Occupy campers will feel the pinch.

The B.C. Liberal skills training push was partly inspired by last year’s “inequality” protest, after Dawson Creek Mayor Mike Bernier waded into the Occupy Vancouver squat to hand out business cards. They need cooks and labourers as well as pipefitters up there these days, and that’s before the B.C. gas patch goes into a huge expansion for Asian exports.

A version of Kevin Falcon’s “welfare air” idea to move unemployed recipients north was included in last week’s announcement by Clark and her jobs czar, Pat Bell.

Called “Job Match,” it’s a $2.9-million pilot program in the Peace region. It will deliver basic education and work boots for people in that region before anyone will be flown up from Nanaimo or Nelson.

Cruising along at nearly 50 per cent in the polls, the NDP have also put a heavy emphasis on post-secondary. But they’re still playing to the urban Occupy crowd, with a promise of a tax on banks to fund student grants. Instead of providing loan relief after successful completion, they’re going to hand out money at the front end, just like they did in my student days.

My experience as a student, a job seeker and a parent is that free money encourages aimless study, and the selection of courses that are appealing rather than safe investments. We already have far too much of that, and I think most students today would be better off with a bigger debt and a well-paying job.

As the new trades plan was being rolled out (and mostly ignored by the Vancouver media), former finance minister Colin Hansen announced he’s retiring.

It was Hansen who started the push for skills training back in 2008, emphasizing that there will be a million new jobs open by 2019, 600,000 of them due to retiring baby boomers. Hansen made a sales trip to snowy Toronto to launch advertising to lure people to B.C.

That effort is being revised with a series of interprovincial and international trips, because even if all 650,000 high school students graduate and go to work in B.C. from now to 2019, it won’t be enough to fill all the jobs on the horizon.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

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