VICTORIA— Following the release of an unprecedented letter signed by 25 B.C. university and college presidents, New Democrats are calling on the Liberal government to explain how they propose to address a growing skills shortage in the B.C. workforce when they are putting the squeeze on post-secondary institutions.
“Right now in B.C. we have people without jobs and jobs without people,” said New Democrat advanced education critic Michelle Mungall. “Over 80 per cent of job openings over the next decade will require some level of post-secondary education or training – but instead of taking steps to ensure B.C. has the skilled workers employers need, the Liberals are putting the squeeze on our universities and colleges.”
Although the Liberal advanced education minister has repeatedly claimed that cuts to post-secondary institutions would not translate into service cuts for students, the letter, signed by 25 B.C. university and college presidents, states “it is unrealistic to assume that the reductions contemplated by Budget 2012 can be achieved without implications for service levels.”
“Many educational institutions will be looking to find extra revenue to deal with the impact of Budget 2012 on their bottom line. This could hurt students who are are already struggling,” said Mungall. “Potential cuts to services like counseling can only further marginalize students who are on the verge of being priced out of post-secondary training.”
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has declared the growing skills shortage as the number one challenge to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy, saying “A growing shortage of highly skilled labour is becoming desperate, threatening our ability to keep up in a global, knowledge-based economy.” Mungall notes that in addition to the challenges identified by university and colleges presidents, funding for apprenticeship training will be cut by 12 per cent between now and 2015, further undermining access to critical skills training
New Democrat leader Adrian Dix has proposed concrete measures to address the growing skills shortage and make post-secondary training more accessible with needs-based grants to students who would otherwise struggle to afford higher education.
“The bottom line is we need to recognize that providing opportunities for education and training is an investment in our workforce and our economy, not a cost,” said Mungall. “We need a highly trained workforce with advanced skills if we want to prosper in an increasingly global, knowledge-based economy.”