VICTORIA— Following the release of an unprecedented letter signed by the president of the University of the Fraser Valley and 24 other 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 while 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 supporting schools like UFV that are doing their best to ensure B.C. has the skilled workers employers are looking for, the Liberals are putting the squeeze on our universities and colleges.”
Mungall, who is touring several Fraser Valley institutions, including the UFV trades campus today, says the fact that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has declared the growing skills shortage as the number one challenge to the competitiveness of the Canadian economy, should be a wakeup call for the Liberal government.
“We already have students being shut out of the excellent opportunities being offered by institutions like UFV because they simply can’t afford the cost of tuition and living expenses,” said Mungall. “Forcing post-secondary schools to make cuts will only decrease accessibility.”
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 UFV president Mark Evered, states “it is unrealistic to assume that the reductions contemplated by Budget 2012 can be achieved without implications for service levels.”
New Democrat leader Adrian Dix has proposed concrete measures to address the growing skills shortage and make post-secondary training more accessible by offering needs-based grants to students who would otherwise struggle to afford advanced education.
“The bottom line is we need to see that programs like the trades program at UFV which help British Columbians contribute to the workforce are an investment, 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.”