Education plays key role in meeting B.C.’s economic challenges

(This story first appeared in Business in Vancouver on December 24, 2018, written by Kathy Kinloch.)

As 2018 draws to a close, we look forward to the fresh start and renewed opportunities inherent in a new year.

It’s easy to look back on the outgoing annum with a certain degree of disdain. So, I believe it’s important to shake off the rear-view-mirror malaise, celebrate our successes and learn from our challenges even as we embrace a fresh new slate.

This approach serves us well in post-secondary and, I have no doubt, applies across industries and sectors.

2018 was a year of positive progress shaded by complex lingering issues. Here in B.C., LNG Canada confirmed the largest private-sector investment in Canada’s history at $40 billion, the tech sector continued its streak of over 7% annual revenue growth and B.C. had the highest job vacancy rate in Canada, signalling a tight labour market with job opportunities across all sectors.

At the same time, affordability remains a significant hurdle for many B.C. families, and the opioid crisis and homelessness continue almost unabated despite multi-jurisdictional efforts.

In fact, the Business Council of British Columbia predicts that it will now take more than three generations to double real incomes per person. We used to achieve this in one generation. On our current trajectory, our children and grandchildren will see very little improvement in income and quality of life relative to what we’ve enjoyed, due to slower growth in output per hour by Canadian workers. I find this both a sobering and a rallying thought.

Many will recognize a common thread here – the ongoing impact of rapidly advancing technologies on our local and national economy, workplace and our very society.

Like Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come in A Christmas Carol, the course of our future can be changed. Educators, industry, Indigenous leaders and government can actively nurture a skilled workforce, invest in productivity and seize global opportunities to turn this tide.

As just one example, B.C. is projecting 903,000 job openings by 2030, 80% of which will require post-secondary education – while 42% of current jobs are at some risk to new technologies. This creates opportunities to raise incomes and improve quality of life for British Columbians.

Displaced and vulnerable workers have invaluable life and employment experience, but they need access to training to up-skill to become job-mobile. That’s why the British Columbia Institute of Technology is focused on delivering effective and accessible relevant programs and credentials, recognizing previous skills and experience and continuously upgrading our equipment and facilities to replicate the real workplace. And we’re doing this in partnership with industry – with people who are experts in their field and know the skills needed today and tomorrow.

Like many employers and educators, I believe ongoing innovation and individual career success are increasingly anchored in human skills – collaboration, critical thinking, teamwork and communication – coupled with ongoing technical up-skilling. Sustainable and agile employment for workers of all ages requires ongoing learning in both these areas to stay current with technological and job market changes and inspire new approaches and solutions.

If we in post-secondary education, industry and government support members of the new and existing workforce in maintaining these complementary skill sets throughout their careers, I believe we will see improved quality of life for B.C. families, higher productivity and global success for B.C. businesses, as well as positive innovation in key areas including health care, energy and trades, engineering, environment and business.

We have the pleasure and privilege of living in an exceptional province and country, and the opportunity to make the future brighter and accessible to everyone across B.C., starting now. I encourage us all to reflect on how we might collectively contribute to this brighter future. Here’s to a happy, healthy and more positive-headline-filled new year. 

Kathy Kinloch is president of the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

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