Cindy Oliver: B.C. election campaigns shine a light on skills training

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      B.C.’s provincial election campaign may only be days old, but skills training and postsecondary education have quickly emerged as priority issues. Both of the major parties—the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP—have released platform information on where they intend to put resources and policy change to work to improve conditions when it comes to skills training as well as trades and apprenticeship programs.

      For the governing B.C. Liberals, the biggest challenge they face on this key issue is credibility. Having been in power for 12 years, they have had the opportunity to establish a track record on skills training. Unfortunately for them, their track record shows major gaps and serious under-performance.

      Without question, the Christy Clark government’s biggest failure on the skills front has been dismal completion rates for those entering apprenticeship programs. In 2009, 43 percent of apprentices successfully completed. By 2010, the rate had dropped to 40 percent. In 2012, the rate was lower still, at 37 percent.

      The picture in terms of sponsors of apprentices looked no better. In 2009, 10,789 sponsors registered to take on apprentices. By late 2011, that number had dropped by 16 percent to 9,093.

      Looking at the B.C. Liberals’ advertising over the last six months, the average viewer would certainly think that not only is skills training a major priority, but that diversity in the trades is an important focus. However, the facts show something quite different. Apart from the culinary apprenticeships, only two percent of all other apprentices are female, a shockingly low number and one that requires immediate and direct actions by government to change.

      The B.C. NDP’s approach has been to look at both the funding and policy sides of the skills issue to identify ways to improve outcomes. Their stated commitment on funding is to increase the allocated resources by approximately $80 million over the next three years. The money would be targeted at increasing the number of training spaces as well as rebalancing the current system that oversees trades training and apprenticeship programs in B.C. That rebalancing is good news for postsecondary educators who have been effectively sidelined by the current government’s approach to trades training, an approach that heavily biases the input of employers over that of other key stakeholders.

      The NDP’s proposed funding increases represent an important and positive shift for training. Over the last two budgets, funding for both postsecondary education, in general, and trades training, in particular, has been flat-lined. Not surprisingly, both have suffered as students find programs cancelled, costs increased, and opportunities for improving their education frustrated by lack of provincial government support. Adrian Dix’s call for change on both fronts is a hopeful sign that our institutions and our students may well get the opportunity they are looking for.




      Apr 20, 2013 at 2:00am

      The focus on trades is crucial as more people are being saddled with student loan debt and no employment to be able to pay it off thanks to the notion that a University degree is the only way to get ahead. I don't expect the Liberals to win, and don't think they should, but as an idea, it's something I hope the NDP runs with.