Northwest not immune to skills gap

A council of six universities are warning that by 2016 the province won’t be able to supply enough workers to fill in huge growth in demand.

A council of six universities are warning that by 2016 the province won’t be able to supply enough workers to fill in huge growth in demand.

The Research Universities’ Council of BC (RUCBC) say that based on the province government’s own numbers and other statistics, by 2020 18,800 jobs will go unfilled in B.C., because of the lack of necessary education and training.

The president of the University of Northern B.C., a member of the university council, said in the north we’re already entering into skills shortages.

“For many of us, for example in Kitimat and other very active fronts, this has already arrived,” said President George Iwama.

He said a problem facing college and university campuses everywhere is that the grade 12 graduation rate is declining. Additionally, many people are choosing to move to urban areas rather than staying rural.

“When you combine the two [factors] for Northern B.C., our enrolments are declining,” he said.

By 2020, out of the 18,800 jobs needed, 8,400 will be those requiring a university degree, 8,100 a college credential and 2,300 need trades training. The year 2016 will be what Iwama calls the “tipping point” where jobs start to outnumber available workers.

Iwama said the skills deficit will be exacerbated in the north because of numbers in the BC Labour Market Outlook which anticipates that two of the top three regions with the fastest rate of employment growth will be in the north.

The university council, in response to the skills shortage, put together an Opportunity Agenda for BC, which boils down to three goals.

First, is to have a space for every qualified student, and add 11,000 student spaces in universities, colleges and trades training over the next four years.

Second, have a guarantee for students in need, by investing in more grants and scholarships, and making improvements to student loans.

Finally, they want a commitment to “innovation and jobs by establishing an Innovate BC initiative.” That would bring together government, business and post-secondary institutions together to drive economic growth, they say.

Iwama said the Opportunities Agenda is in a way related to a recently completed Regional Training Plan, which was assembled by the Northwest Workforce Table.

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That document set out a number of recommendations to get people trained for upcoming opportunities and pushed for more training opportunities.

“That underscores a very important aspect of what the research universities are trying to say; that companies are telling us ‘yes, we need equipment operators, we need the welders, we need the plumbers, but we also need people with university training.’,” said Iwama.

That document set out a number of recommendations to get people trained for upcoming opportunities and pushed for more training opportunities.

“That underscores a very important aspect of what the research universities are trying to say; that companies are telling us ‘yes, we need equipment operators, we need the welders, we need the plumbers, but we also need people with university training.’,” said Iwama.