How Colleges Enhance BC’s Competitive Advantage - Victoria News, April 19, 2013

Article for Victoria News (Black Press), April 19, 2013

I believe skilled and educated workers are BC’s most critical resource. Our 11 public colleges are committed to producing graduates with the advanced skills and education to meet the growing demand of BC’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 pay off 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 (CETL) is designed to support innovation and development, 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.

Today’s students come from varied backgrounds and expect post-secondary education to accommodate their needs. Some students are digitally savvy; others in need of re-training and almost all require flexibility to juggle work and family. 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. This award-winning program demonstrates how a traditionally hands-on course can, with some creativity and innovation, be delivered online.

The success of the E-PPRENTICE Cook Program has led Camosun College and other colleges throughout BC to ask: What other innovative delivery options can be explored to better meet the needs of students and employers? Already more than 50% 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 Corp, development is underway for the online delivery of a Shipbuilding and Repair entry level training program and a Pipe Trades program.

Over 90% of BC college graduates are employed within 6 months of graduation.  Why so many, so fast? Because college graduates have the education and advanced skills necessary to immediately contribute and fill the growing skills gap. 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 $2M. 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 BC’s economy

Over the last 10 years the provincial government has invested substantially in research and graduate programs at BC’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, however 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 effectively respond to the significant economic opportunities in BC. A funding plan to help colleges meet the growing demand for highly skilled graduates to fuel BC’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
President, BC Colleges

BC Colleges is a consortium representing BC’s 11 public, community colleges serving almost 200,000 students annually with campuses in over 60 communities throughout British Columbia. BC’s colleges offer a comprehensive range of programs from university studies and baccalaureate degrees to career, technical and trades education. All of BC’s colleges offer programs that are designed to be accessible, affordable and responsive to the evolving needs of BC communities and industry. For more information, visit our website.