Comment: Colleges key drivers in local economic development

Kathryn Laurin, President Camosun College / Times Colonist Op Ed
February 20, 2013

The recent release of the research universities’ report B.C. Labour Market Profile highlighted the significant role of B.C.’s post-secondary system in shaping the prosperity and quality of life for all in our province.

Using government data, the report identified an alarming prediction of a talent and skills shortage that will affect the provincial economy as early as 2016 and carry on well into 2020. Over the next three to seven years, there will be more than one million jobs opening, 78 per cent of which will require a post-secondary education. Of those available jobs, about 43 per cent will require a college education and 35 per cent a university education.

This is surely a wakeup call to us all and a formidable challenge to which post-secondary institutions must respond.

For more than 40 years, colleges have been delivering learning opportunities and pathways that lead directly to jobs: nurses, dental hygienists, pipefitters, technologists, welders and accountants, to name a few. We provide trades training, university transfer, applied degrees, diplomas, adult basic education and language skills (to bridge new Canadians into successful career opportunities) to our learners. Much of this programming is highly applied, providing real-world skills along with a theoretical context for learning.

The viability of this is increasingly attractive to young people who are looking at future opportunities and who regard colleges as providing career pathways.

Enrolments at Camosun are slightly up this year, with a growing percentage of new students coming from other post-secondary programs. We have also made inroads into serving non-traditional or underserved populations in order to support them in a path to future economic and social opportunity, such as educating women in trades, and serving our indigenous population. In fact, nearly 10 per cent of Camosun’s student population is now aboriginal.

The results are impressive. More than 90 per cent of graduates from Camosun College find employment within six months of graduation in the areas in which they were trained. Eighty-seven per cent stay here on Vancouver Island, serving the local economy.

Colleges are community-focused, relevant, nimble and responsive to the needs of learners, business and industry.

And colleges deliver a significant return on investment. Camosun contributes about $816 million in economic impact to the region annually and a return of $14.80 of taxpayer dollars for every $1 invested directly in education. Graduates will fill anticipated needs in commercial construction, oil and gas, ship-building, business, health care and technology. That translates into successful career opportunities and a robust economy that supports families and communities.

Colleges will ensure that British Columbians have access to the pathways and opportunities to acquire the skills needed to mitigate this looming talent shortfall. And we will do it effectively and efficiently to ensure economic sustainability and quality of life for all.

Now, more than ever, it is our time.