Thompson Rivers University’s Dr. Ray Sanders welcomes recent announcements that an extra $23 million is being made available for skills training in B.C.
The money for new training comes in two batches through the Canada/British Columbia Labour Market Agreement — $10 million for sector or industry-based organizations to apply for up to $500,000 per training project, and $13 million for post-secondary institutions to offer trades training without charging tuition — and focuses on low-skilled or unemployed workers.
“I’m happy to see they’re putting more money in because it’s a definite need that we see, especially in the Cariboo Chilcotin area. I know it’s true across the province, but my major concern is this region,” says Sanders, director of the Williams Lake campus.
He says even without the addition of any new industry and new mines, the Cariboo Chilcotin will experience a significant shortage of skilled labour in the next decade.
Sanders has been in contact with mines and mills in the Cariboo Chilcotin and has heard they are very worried about the future.
“The average age of a mine worker is 60 years of age and there’s not a real stream of replacements,” he says.
Recently TRU Williams Lake campus received a grant for $245,000 to enhance the basic literacy and numeracy skills of workers.
“We know there’s going to be a tremendous need for workers, but the mines are not hiring someone without Grade 12 or Grade 12 equivalent,” Sanders explains, adding the Cariboo Chilcotin has one of the lowest skill levels in B.C. when it comes to reading, literacy, numeracy, and graduation rates.
“Forty-seven per cent of high school students drop out,” he says.
That doesn’t bode well for the skilled worker work force, he suggests, adding when it comes to advanced university degrees the area has nine per cent of the population possessing bachelor degrees, compared with 22 per cent in the province.
“That’s very problematic when you look at our basic skill level. We have a lot of people who apply who aren’t qualified to get into university preparation and we’re looking at ways to bring people’s skills up. We’re not elitist, we do have our standards maintained, but we do believe in taking people where they are and moving them up to those standards,” he says.
As a result of the new training money, TRU Williams Lake will most likely add another heavy-duty mechanics program, Sanders says.
“The one we have already is combined with automotive, but more people want to get into heavy duty. The jobs pay better because heavy duty mechanics support the mines.”
There are also plans to add a co-operative cooking program with the school district. It would have spots for local high school and TRU students.
“We’re also looking at doing a millwright program and utilizing Columneetza’s industrial machine program, but the training would take place after school and on the weekends,” he says.
Industry Training Authority (ITA) CEO Kevin Evans says the new funding will help industry address various training needs for the future.
“When you look at the stats for the Thompson-Okanagan region, they’re estimating 13,000 trades jobs opening up between now and 2020. For example in your area, there’s a shortage of heavy-equipment operators,” Evans says, adding the top occupations predicted to be in demand and experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, from now until 2020, are for carpenters and cabinet makers, machinery and transportation mechanics, and chefs and cooks.
While high schools and colleges are encouraged to grow in programs that offer trade programs, Evans thinks employers need to buy in as well, and apply for funding to offer training.
He also says attitudes have to shift so that young people are encouraged to consider going into trades.
“There’s a philosophy out there that is still geared toward the academic stream, but that doesn’t mean that the trades are second best. It’s a slow process, but we need to move towards a training culture. If we want workers for tomorrow, we have to invest in trades training today.”
Sanders says he concurs wholeheartedly with Evans.
“I started out my life as an auto mechanic,” Sanders says. “I was a trades person and then I taught automotive one year in a high school and five years before I went to university and became a university professor.
“I can tell you, to work with your hands is no longer to just work with your hands — these skill levels we’re talking about are a lot of theory. It’s amazing to me that we still look down on someone who works with their hands. I think to be a fully educated person, regardless, I would add to reading, writing and arithmetic, technological literacy.”