Spotlight: BC’s colleges have a positive effect on the communities they serve.

A recent economic impact study of British Columbia’s eleven public colleges, estimates that the colleges have a $7.8 billion positive effect on the provincial economy generating a large return on the investment made by students, society and taxpayers. This means BC’s colleges and their students are responsible for 4.2 per cent of the province’s total GDP – an amount comparable to entire industry sectors such as finance and insurance and accommodation and food services.

And while $7.8 billion is an impressive number, it’s more impressive to understand how it translates at the individual student and community level. Below are a few examples of how BC’s colleges are finding ways to educate students where they live and provide them with the skills and training employers need so graduates can support their families, contribute to their communities and lead full lives.

COTR MAPGiven the regional nature of the BC college system, BC’s colleges are extremely responsive to local labour market requirements. A great example is College of the RockiesMining Apprenticeship Program (MAP), a partnership with the Elk Valley mining industry. MAP provides opportunities for apprentices to gain work experience and training while addressing trades shortages locally. The program started with a focus on heavy-duty mechanics, but grew to include the electrical trades and in the future welding, and millwright/machinist trades may be added.

According to Darwin Robinson, Employee Relations Superintendent for Elkview Operations, the partnership gives area residents the opportunity to become Red Seal Apprentices – a designation recognized throughout Canada. In the last two years of the program, all certified students have accepted full-time employment with Teck. This speaks to the success of the program and enables the College and Teck to support the training of additional skilled workers to better meet projected workforce needs. The result is students with real skills obtained close to where they live who in turn contribute to their local economy and build stable careers.

It is a well-known fact that there is a rural doctor shortage across Canada. To help solve this, Selkirk College created the Rural Pre-Medicine Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree Program. Within a small cohort of 24, students experience what it means to be a rural health care provider. From MCAT preparation to mindfulness training, Selkirk College has developed an extensively researched curriculum in collaboration and consultation with experts in rural medical education, including the UBC Faculty of Medicine, the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, the Native Education College, the Interior Health Authority, Columbia Basin Trust, local physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care providers.

The creation of the program addresses the urgent need for a pre-med program in a rural location and provides access for students living outside major centres including Aboriginal students. Many of these students are more likely to stay and work in their home communities – a positive step towards solving BC’s rural health care crisis.

Collaboration with other post-secondary institutions allows institutions to provide students with the types of programming they demand no matter where they live in the province. A great example is a partnership between Langara College and the University of Northern BC (UNBC) to see spaces in UNBC’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree program opened at Langara’s Vancouver campus. The mixed delivery model will allow social work students to complete work during the evenings, on weekends, and online close to home.

The UNBC BSW program prepares students for generalist social work practice with individuals, families, groups, and communities. Incorporating critical thinking, including structural, feminist, and anti-racist analyses, the program connects practice to theory and strives to develop critical self-awareness in its students as well as respect for the ideas of others. The BSW program acknowledges the holistic, interdisciplinary, and activist nature of social work and its commitment to social justice. Through this collaboration Langara students will be able to complete the program without leaving the Lower Mainland. This benefits not only their communities, but also allows them to put their new skills to work where they live.

web-chet-ogfo2With eight campuses and access centres, Northern Lights College serves communities in the far northeast of British Columbia. Due to the great distances between campuses, it is often difficult for students in more remote areas to access the programming they need. To combat this problem several programs, designed to meet labour demands in the regional job market, are being offered in Chetwynd, providing local access to programs usually available only at the Dawson Creek or Fort St. John campuses.

The programs include: Professional Office Skills, Welding Level C, Oil and Gas Field Operations, and Workplace Essential Skills. Each of these programs provides entry-level training in its respective area, allowing graduates the opportunity to step right into the workforce. Lee Grove, a student participating in the Oil and Gas Field Operations program offered in Chetwynd for the first time, is receiving the training to become technically knowledgeable for the oil and gas industry. And as part of the program, he will have the opportunity for a workplace practicum with local industry. This type of programming put on by the college is critical for residents in BC’s remote regions to get the skills they need to take up job opportunities, and by doing so become valuable contributors to their local economy.

VCC Culinary ArtsVancouver Community College (VCC) is set in the heart of urban Vancouver and serves a large population of immigrant and ESL learners. For this reason VCC has developed ESL programming specifically suited for learners with little or no English when they begin their studies. This was true for recent graduate, Ray Wei.

Upon arriving in Canada from China – where he worked as a sales executive with Nestlé – Ray embarked on a new journey to learn to speak English as a second language and a new skill: professional baking. After graduating from VCC's full-time ESL baking and pastry arts program, he found work in local hotels and restaurants and about a year later, purchased his own bakery and hired two employees, who not coincidentally are also VCC baking graduates. This type of programming helps integrate immigrants into the local labour market and economy, and by doing so reduces social costs and builds a productive tax base.

Linnea Waechter NWCCIn order to fill the forecasted 1.1 million job openings by 2020, BC must transition more people into the skilled trades – and that means encouraging women and other groups not traditionally represented as tradespeople to consider a career in the trades. Linnea Waechter is one such woman. She attends Northwest Community College (NWCC) where she is studying to become a journeyman electrician. Currently Linnea is working on a job site in Kitimat and will return to Terrace in October to complete her level Electrical Level 3 Apprenticeship.

Becoming a journeyman electrician will open up a lot of doors for Linnea. And, by attending NWCC she was able to study close to home and near her family. Being a woman in trades is not always easy but having the support of family, especially her mother has made the journey smoother. Soon Linnea will make another transition to working full time and will actively participate in the booming labour market in northwestern BC.

Brad Tronson March 2014One of the significant strengths of the BC college system is how closely colleges work with local communities to develop relevant programming. Brad Tronson — a member of the Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) – recently found himself under-employed after an injury. Fortunately, Brad discovered OKIB's pre-employment program, designed and delivered in partnership with OKIB and Okanagan College. The program includes a five-month curriculum that equips students with practical skills and industry-specific certification that will make them more employable.

By the end of the program, Brad was able to choose a career path that inspired him and he registered for the carpentry and joinery program at the Okanagan College Kelowna campus. He recently won a bursary for Aboriginals in Trades and is on track to complete the program in March with plans to pursue a Red Seal certificate in carpentry soon. Not only will Brad be fully employed but he will be able to be an example of success to other members of his community. By working with local communities to develop programs like these, BC’s colleges provide opportunities for students to gain the skills and education required to find meaningful work in their chosen careers within their home region.

These are just a few stories that demonstrate how BC’s colleges make individual impacts on the communities and regions they serve. Every year the colleges serve over 160,000 learners from all walks of life. Some are students directly from high school, others return to upgrade their skills and many others get practical applied experience after completing another post-secondary degree. In Northern BC, where a large percentage of students are Aboriginal learners, many are the first in their families to attend a post-secondary institution. No less important are our urban colleges that serve large populations of immigrant and ESL learners new to Canada as well as adult learners who return for continuing education or skills training.

All students, regardless of their background or where they live, are welcome at any one of BC’s eleven colleges. Every day, our colleges strive to help students transform their lives and prepare them to make a positive contribution to their local community. In this way, BC’s colleges have a significant and positive effect on every student they educate, in every community and region they serve, and ultimately, on the economic and social prosperity of the province.