Top B.C. universities warn about looming skills shortage
B.C.’s top universities are warning that the province could face a growing skills shortage if efforts are not made to improve access to all levels of postsecondary education.
The Research Universities’ Council of B.C. today (January 29) released a report that forecasts there will not be enough B.C. graduates to fill all jobs requiring postsecondary education starting in 2016.
The report, based on data from the province's B.C. Labour Market Outlook, projects the number of unfilled jobs will rise to around 18,800 by 2020. That figure includes 8,400 jobs requiring credentials from university; 8,100 from college; and 2,300 from a trades program.
“What we’re trying to suggest here with this data is that if we don’t produce these people to occupy these jobs, we will have reduced economic activity, we will have reduced provincial income through taxation,” UBC president Stephen Toope told the Straight by phone.
“If we don’t get on top of this and do it quickly, we could find ourselves in a real economic bind within just a few years,” Toope said.
The members of the Research Universities’ Council of B.C. include UBC, SFU, the University of Victoria, the University of Northern B.C., Royal Roads University, and Thompson Rivers University.
The council is calling on the provincial government to invest $181 million over four years to fund 11,000 new student spaces, expand financial aid, and establish an Innovate B.C. program to bring together governments, business, and postsecondary institutions.
“This is really an investment in the economic and social future of the province. It shouldn’t be seen as a drawdown on simply provincial expenditures,” Toope said.
Toope and SFU president Andrew Petter both said their universities are already taking on more students than they are funded for by the provincial government.
“We’re already at the limits of our capacity and have exceeded them in order to try to address this problem and that’s why, I think, we really need to look for support from the province,” Petter told the Straight by phone.
The new report estimates there will be more than 1 million job openings in the province from 2010 to 2020. Postsecondary education is expected to be required for more than three quarters of those positions.
The report also says B.C. produces fewer postsecondary graduates per capita than many other provinces and only one third of the total expected job openings will be filled by people from other provinces or countries.
“We have tried, in releasing this data, to speak for the whole of the need of the province in the future. We’re not looking only at universities. We’re looking at colleges. We’re looking at the trades,” Toope said.
“We’re saying that the government has to take a comprehensive view about this. And, as a matter of public policy, it would be a terrible mistake to look at only one segment, try to solve that, but thereby miss the reality that we have to address all of these segments if we’re going to successfully see the British Columbia economy grow in the future.”