September 2013

BC Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond has been tasked with “working with the ministries of Advanced Education and Education to develop a seamless 10-year skills training plan for students from high school through entry into the workforce.”

In 2012, the Premier released “The Skills and Training Plan”, a key supporting part of the BC Jobs Plan. Minister Bond’s task involves building on this earlier work to develop a “seamless” plan for high school students’ entry into the workforce. This blog refers to what an updated Plan might emphasize.

Let’s consider the economic and labour market context for this plan.

  • Increasing skill vacancies and shortages
  • Continuing workforce aging and increased retirements in many sectors of the BC economy
  • A tremendous amount of existing and potential major projects, particularly in northern BC, a region without the population to meet labour demand
  • Global uncertainty and volatility in terms of commodity prices, international competition, geopolitical events and global shocks
  • The need for more flexible skills development (location, scheduling and structure) in BC
  • A significant inadequate supply of semi-skilled labour, trades, technical, professional and management positions across many industries in BC
  • An increased need for mobility and utilization of potential and landed immigrants and temporary foreign workers
  • Need for much better development and utilization of Aboriginal Peoples, women and persons with disabilities

I offer the following TOP TEN suggestions for refinements to the original Skills and Training Plan, keeping in mind the above context and the 10-year horizon:

  1. Not only trades and technical skills/programs – While the “trades” have been undervalued for several years, it is the now the hottest skills commodity and interest. However, there is danger that we ignore other non-university careers that are important to our economy: technologists, health care technicians, tourism occupations, information technology technicians, technical operators in oil and natural gas (including LNG), manufacturing equipment operators, etc.
  2. Connect post-secondary education and labour market demand – Provincial government funding should be directly tied to this, but the connection needs to be defined broadly. In many cases, liberal arts programs can equip students with skills and knowledge needed by employers. Institutions each need a plan to increase labour demand connections.
  3. K-12 career education – We need to find a more coordinated way for the careers of more industries to be promoted in primary and middle school grades, and more experiential programming (e.g. co-op, secondary school apprenticeship, ACE-IT, exploratory programs, etc.) is offered at the high school level.
  4. ITA reform – The ITA was supposed to implement a “New Industry Training Model.” Many view the ITA as somewhat of a failure; time for a refresh. See my subsequent blog on reforming industry training and apprenticeship in BC.
  5. Immigration – While all the attention over the last year has been on temporary foreign workers, the answer is in part temporary foreign workers. Government and industry must resist the temptation to back off because of all the negative press and litigation. Regardless of the emotional backlash, the fact is, BC’s major projects – especially in the north – will not succeed without such talent.
  6. Aboriginal Communities – A BC Skills and Training Plan must include a significant component for extensive education upgrading and job training for people in Aboriginal communities. The Aboriginal youth population is the fastest growing in Canada and an important talent pool to tap in respectful and supportive ways. Real jobs must exist at the end of training; and a particular focus of the Plan must be on Aboriginal peoples in northern BC.
  7. Industry-driven processes and needs – Do not let training and employment programs and strategies be determined by what training institutions and employment agencies want/need. The Ministries of Advanced Education, Jobs and Social Development must ensure that the Skills and Training Plan is driven by industry processes and needs, not by suppliers of programs and services.Most of the companies that will participate in the Plan will be small businesses. What works for corporations will not work for small biz. The Province will need to work with sectoral and small business groups to make the Plan relevant to them – to make it user-friendly to smaller employers.
  8. Sectors and regions – Strategies cannot be cookie-cutter-like. Workforce plans must be tailored to specific industry sectors and to regions of the province. Yes, there will be generic strategies common to all; however, specific tactics should be sensitive to industry and regional/community differences.
  9. Northern and resource development – Special attention needs to paid in the Plan to northern economic development needs, essentially to all BC resource industries. LNG, mining, oil and gas, forestry, alternative energy and utilities, etc. are key and we need to ensure the Plan addresses the skills, employment and demographic implications of each.
  10. Federal/Provincial Agreements – Industry and governments need to pay particular attention to the Labour Market Agreement (LMA) and the proposed Canada Job Grant (CJG). Provinces are resisting the CJG as the LMA ends in March 2014. Creative solutions exist that transcend each government’s position. The performance of LMAs across Canada has been less than stellar, and the proposed federal CJG is somewhat impractical. Industries in BC can help bridge this gap with innovative solutions that work for all. This may involve brokering for groups of businesses (e.g. sectors, regions, etc.).

The existing BC Skills and Training Plan needs to be shaped into a 10-year plan that supports an updated BC Jobs Plan and the economic potential of the province, particularly northern development.

Don’t focus exclusively on trades occupations. Reform the ITA. Focus on key sectors and regions and on smaller businesses. Better connect post-secondary education to labour demand. Fully utilize Aboriginal and immigrant talent.

Be truly innovative and industry-driven.

Kerry Jothen

CEO and Principal


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