B.C. VIEWS: Pressure on for skills training

Province spurs students to pursue trades careers, but more program seats, loan reforms needed

New Brunswick Premier David Alward and B.C. Premier Christy Clark are looking for a solution to a dispute with Ottawa over redirecting skills training money.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward and B.C. Premier Christy Clark are looking for a solution to a dispute with Ottawa over redirecting skills training money.

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 and BCLocalnews.com Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A total of 10 flight exposures have affected the Victoria International Airport in April so far, making it the highest monthly total since the start of the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hits record-breaking number of monthly COVID-19 flight exposures

As of April 21, 10 flight exposures reported for the month

A new round of COVID-19 exposures has been reported at Dunsmuir Middle School, with potential exposure dates on April 7 to 15. (Google Streetview/Screenshot)
New COVID-19 exposures reported at Colwood middle school

People may bave been exposed on April 7 to 15

It’s time to upgrade Metchosin’s connectivity, some residents are saying. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Petition signals desire for Metchosin cellphone coverage

It’s crazy for a Victoria suburb to be a dead-cell zone, petition writer said

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich council supports mayor’s call to reinstate non-police security for mental health patients at hospitals

Saanich police spent nearly 1,200 hours waiting with patients at hospitals in 2020

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read