B.C. Liberal government refusal to offer student loans for haul truck program is another skills training failure

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CRANBROOK— The B.C. Liberal government needs to reform the student loan program so it can be accessed by students doing industry-focused skills training programs like the mining haul truck operator program at the College of the Rockies, says skills training critic Doug Routley.

“Today the Minister of Advanced Education is celebrating a program that his ministry refuses to approve for student loans,” said Routley. “If a young person in Cranbrook wants to go to a university in the lower mainland to study the humanities, the B.C. student loan program will help them do that – but if that same student wants to take the mining haul truck operator program at the College of the Rockies they are not eligible for loans even though these skills are in demand.”

Routley noted that the $7500 price tag for the mining haul truck operator program and the required four weeks off work are a big financial barrier to British Columbians in low-wage jobs who want to upgrade their skills.

“The College of the Rockies haul truck program is a perfect example of the kind of skills training we need to be making accessible to British Columbians,” said Routley. “It’s effective, industry-focused and aimed at alleviating skills shortages – so why are we putting barriers up to potential students?”

Routley noted the issue of student financial assistance for truck driver training was raised by Kootenay MLAs Katrine Conroy and Michelle Mungall in Nov. 2011, but nothing was done to address the failure of the B.C. student loan system to support students who want to pursue industry-focused training.

“If the B.C. Liberals want students and parents to take the trades seriously they need to offer the same financial assistance for people pursuing industry-focused skills training as they do for students pursuing academic degrees,” said Routley.

B.C. Liberal LNG Minister Rich Coleman admitted yesterday that the skills shortage was a major concern for overseas investors looking at the B.C. LNG industry. However, instead of elaborating on his government’s plan to train British Columbians to work in the industry he said he had reassured investors that programs were available to bring in workers.

“There is a real disconnect when the College of New Caledonia is shuttering their welding program at the same time as Northern B.C. businesses are going to Ireland to find welders,” said Routley.

“The B.C. Liberals have had 12 years to offer training programs, yet instead, we have young people in rural B.C. unable to find work and businesses going elsewhere to hire. This approach is doomed to fail because it will drive up the cost of doing business in B.C. and erode support for industrial development in rural communities.”