Post-secondary students need to think about jobs

Opinion by Amrik Virk, Minister of Advanced Education

This school year in British Columbia, we expect more than 400,000 students to enrol in at least one course at our public post-secondary institutions.

As the new post-secondary school year gets underway, my goal as British Columbia’s new Advanced Education Minister is to ensure post-secondary students obtain the experience and qualifications needed to put a paycheque in their back pocket. Whether they are thinking about courses to upgrade their skills, just starting out, well underway or finishing their studies – we expect there will be job openings in many fields over the coming years.

As a parent of three children – two of whom will be returning to post-secondary education classes in September – I want all our children to have greater opportunities than we had. But world-class post-secondary education, skills training and other public services are viable only with a strong economy. We need to work within budgets and make the most effective use of existing resources.

We are all part of a large collaborative education network that is working together to provide the right training at the right time so we can fill the jobs of today and tomorrow – wherever they are in B.C. And, we will continue to work with Aboriginal communities to increase access to post-secondary education and employment-related training.

Labour market forecasts expect an estimated one million jobs here by 2020  – and 43 per cent of them will require trades or technical training. We are a province where there are going to be a million jobs because the world believes in the relationships and the strong economy that we have built.

British Columbians must be flexible about going where the jobs are.

Government must make sure that skills and training are aligned to jobs. And institutions must continue to adapt and respond when it comes to preparing students for the jobs of today as well as the jobs of tomorrow, whatever they may be.

My advice to students is to look at where the jobs are based and tailor their education and training to match. Our population is concentrated in the Lower Mainland and on southern Vancouver Island, but as a resource-based economy, many directly and indirectly related jobs are located elsewhere.

In the coming years, we expect to see many job opportunities emerge in the Northwest, which is the heart of liquefied natural gas development.

Recently, I talked with an individual who is training to be an elementary school teacher, a worthy career that she said she wanted to pursue since high school. But if she wants to stay in the Lower Mainland close to family, she may need to work as a substitute teacher. Right now there are more elementary teachers than jobs available. If she were to consider taking a job in a more rural or remote part of the province, she might more easily find full-time work as an elementary school teacher.

My vision is for a system that is nimble and flexible – a system that meets the ever-changing needs of students, institutions, industry and government through innovative ideas and new approaches. Working in partnership, we will leverage the expertise of institutions and enhance collaboration in sectors such as shipbuilding, agriculture, mining, and oil and gas development.

Our mandate is clear. Some of the areas that government will look at in the months ahead include a review of the student loan program to find further improvements to meet students’ needs. We will be working hard to increase the number of international students who choose B.C. as a place to study. And we will establish a school of traditional Chinese medicine at a public post-secondary institution and create a Centre of Excellence in Agriculture in the Fraser Valley.

We need to strike a balance between growing our economy and educating a skilled workforce with the research and intellectual curiosity that is a vital element of our post-secondary system.

The public post-secondary system belongs to all of us. I believe we can maintain it and ensure its future success only by working together, continuing to engage in dialogue and collaborating to find administrative savings, while at the same time developing programs to align skills with jobs.

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