Spotlight: How BC’s Colleges are Helping BC Mind the Skills Gap

Between now and 2020 economists predict there will be over 1.1 million job openings in British Columbia. Some of these job vacancies will be due to retirement, others due to growth in our economy. So why is there still unemployment in BC? The latest jobs figures from Statistics Canada show a spike in unemployment in B.C. The rate jumped to 7 per cent in March, up from 6.3 per cent in February. While many factors drive this, our province's biggest challenge is to ensure our citizens have the right advanced skills and education to fill the forecasted 1.1 million job openings. Not just anyone will be able to fill these positions - skilled workers will be needed since 78 per cent of these jobs will require some form of post-secondary education. This discrepency between the demand and supply of skilled labour is called the skills gap and it is one of the biggest challenges our province and country face.

British Columbia needs skilled and educated workers to fuel our economy. BC’s 11 public community colleges produce the job-ready graduates that keep our economy running and they are the frontline trainers for British Columbians in communities all over the province. Because of their close relationships with local industry, our colleges are well suited to bridge the gap between academics and training. The following initiatives demonstrate how colleges prepare students to be productive members of our province’s economy and address the pending skills gap.

Students at College of the Rockies who are training to work in the Kootenays’ thriving mining sector will have access to the latest mining haul truck training simulators. The college recently received more than $2.8 million from the federal and provincial governments and the Columbia Basin Trust to acquire haul truck training simulators to train entry-level workers in the mining sector. A total of five simulators will be purchased and used for training at several of the College’s campuses. Simulation-based training allows students to engage in maneuvers or operational situations that may be dangerous to perform on an actual machine. Read  more

Since the $8 billion ship building contract announcement for BC, Camosun College has seen a resurgence in interest in marine-related trades:  welding, sheet metal, metal fabrication, mechanics, plumbing, etc. To keep up with industry demand, Camosun College, with investment from the provincial government, Western Economic Diversification Canada and local industry partners, will build a new Centre for Trades Education and Innovation to train more trades and technical students to meet future employment demands. The centre will train close to 2,750 skilled trades and technical workers every year making Camosun College the biggest island provider of shipbuilding related workers. Read more.

Northern Lights College is able to offer state-of-the-art training for their Wind Turbine Maintenance program through its Centre for Excellence for Clean Energy Technology (Energy House).  Currently a new Training Tower is under construction and will be used by Wind Turbine program students and other students in certain Workforce Training Safety courses. Access to the tower will allow students to qualify for BZEE Certification – the international standard required by most companies around the world. The Training Tower is designed to replicate conditions faced by wind turbine technicians when repairing, maintaining, installing or otherwise working on a wind turbine system. The result is students who are well prepared to face the challenges and rewards of a career in clean energy technologies. Read more.

The College of New Caledonia’s Career Technical Centre is now offering courses in dental assisting to students who are still in high school. Melissa Goulding and Caitlin McCreadie, both 17 and students at Kelly Road Secondary in Prince George, snapped up the two seats available. By completing their Grade 12 entrance requirements a year earlier in Grade 11, they were able to enroll in the one-year dental assisting program at CNC last September. By June they will graduate with their college certificates, a year ahead of their Grade 12 peers. They will then be eligible to work in BC dental offices and around the world. Additionally students who go on to earn their CDA credentials can advance to careers such as dental hygiene, dental laboratory technology, consulting, teaching and public health or even dentistry. Read more.

The Women in Trades Training program at Okanagan College is breaking barriers with a foundation metal fabrication program designed to help women build both skills and confidence in this expanding field. Metal fabrication is one of the trades where demand for skilled workers is particularly strong right now, especially with the recent shipbuilding contracts awarded in the province. The number one goal of the Women in Trades Training program is to increase the number of female apprentices in the province. Participants in this all-female program gain access to support and encouragement through industry mentors, peer tutoring, essential skills development, resume writing and job search assistance.  Read more.

Selkirk College’s Geographic Information Systems & Renewable Energy Certificate is helping to bridge the divide between academics and training. The college works closely with industry to develop programs that have specific industry applications.  A four-year degree at Selkirk College in GIS focuses on geographic information systems, including GPS applications used heavily by the forestry and mining industries. The GIS courses are also complimented by Selkirk's Geospatial Research Centre (SGRC), which gives students opportunities to use and understand GIS in current real-world situations. The programs work to help industry get the skilled employees they need and students to graduate job-ready and highly skilled for the workplace.

At Vancouver Community College (VCC) learning is a real world experience where students get hands-on training. A $55 million state-of-the-art simulated hospital unit allows students in health programs to work together just as they would on a real hospital floor. Additionally, in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health VCC offers “skills tune up days”. This year will be the third of the project. VCC instructors work with Vancouver Coastal Health Residential services staff to create scenarios and prepare the simulations; then, over a period of 2 days, 20 – 40 RN’s or LPN’s from VCH residential come in to VCC to practice their skills, improve in specific areas etc. This skill ‘tune up’ ultimately translates into safer client care.

Our workforce is undergoing momentous change. To keep pace the province must continue to innovate and reimagine the way we educate our citizens. BC’s colleges are nimble, collaborative and progressive, and are able to quickly adapt to the changing needs of business and industry to produce graduates that exceed labour market expectations. Our colleges will continue to play a vital role in producing the skilled workforce required by our province. But, in order to do so they need a multi-year funding commitment to produce more job-ready college graduates with advanced skills in areas vital to BC’s labour market. Investment will ensure BC’s colleges can prepare the highly skilled workforce needed to fill the skills gap, build strong communities and enhance BC’s competitive advantage.

It’s time to think of the advanced education and job training provided by our colleges as an investment not an expense.

To find out more about how BC’s colleges contribute to the economic health of the province visit our website here.

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