Cindy Oliver: B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint raises more questions than answers

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With the legislative press gallery in full attendance, the B.C. government released its report on proposed changes to the province’s education and training plan. The proposed changes were the result of a review undertaken by former deputy minister Jessica MacDonald, who canvassed the views of employers, the labour movement, post-secondary institutions, as well as a number of industry training organizations to find out how to improve B.C.’s track record on trades training.

As MacDonald’s report readily acknowledges, the Industry Training Authority (ITA) has not been the glowing success that the government had promised when it was first launched in 2003. At the time, the ITA was going to be a “new model” for trades training, one that would rely more on apprentices finding their own way through the system and would leave employers free to sort out their apprenticeships without any substantial oversight by government.

A decade later, the ITA’s new model has proven to be a bust. Completion rates have steadily declined despite a steady increases in the ITA’s budget over the same period. The real disappointment, however, is that despite those failures, MacDonald’s report does not call for the ITA to be scrapped or for the legislation that created it to be substantially overhauled.

The report released Tuesday (April 29)—B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint—relies on much of what MacDonald included in her report. However, when it comes to specific recommendations for how the government is going to change things, readers would be hard pressed to decipher exactly what “new” initiatives are contemplated. The Blueprint says government will re-constitute the governance structure of the ITA but makes no commitment to improve the access the labour movement would have to that governance structure. The Blueprint also talks about deploying more funding, but in terms of actual new money, the government’s only new commitment is for approximately $6.6 million to fund expanded capacity for specific trades programs. Where additional funding is referenced in the Blueprint document, most of that funding flows from the federal government’s transfers through the Labour Market Agreement and the Canada Jobs Grant program.

The government’s Blueprint document also rests on some shaky pedagogy. Early on in the Blueprint, the government says “Learning is an activity, not a classroom.” That’s fundamentally flawed. Learning is both and as any educator will tell you, learning has to take many different forms because no two students are the same. Just as troubling is the suggestion that the criteria for high school graduation will be revised to reflect more hands-on learning.

And it’s around that premise and others that the Blueprint raises far more questions than it provides answers or details. It recognizes that employers have to take on more responsibility, but doesn’t say how that will be accomplished. It says that apprentices need more support, but is only prepared to fund 15 counsellor positions to manage a case load of over 35,000 registered apprentices. It recognizes that the labour movement should be more involved in the trades training and apprenticeship system, but isn’t prepared to change the governance structure to allow that to happen.

The government’s Blueprint is at best a puzzle. B.C. deserves better and the government needs to head back to the drawing board.

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