Election campaigns shine a light on training

BC’s provincial election campaign may only be days old, but skills training and post-secondary education have quickly emerged as priority issues. Both of the major parties—the BC Liberals and the BC 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 BC Liberals, the biggest challenge they face on this key issue is credibility. Having been in power for twelve 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 Clark government’s biggest failure on the skills front has been dismal completion rates for those entering apprenticeship programs. In 2009, 43% of apprentices successfully completed. By 2010 the rate had dropped to 40%. In 2012 the rate was lower still, at 37%.

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% to 9,093.

Looking at the BC 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 2% of all other apprentices are female, a shockingly low number and one that requires immediate and direct actions by government to change.

The BC 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 BC. That rebalancing is good news for post-secondary 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 post-secondary 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.

April 17, 2013

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.