New skills announcement offers more questions than answers

Premier Clark has spent much of the last year focusing on a jobs strategy. When she first launched that initiative in September of last year, it was difficult to sort out what was truly new in her government’s strategy. In a number of announcements, for example, she was either ribbon-cutting something that was already in place or was pledging support for something that was still in the planning phase and years away from the actual start of work and the hiring of workers.

For post-secondary educators, the announcements from last fall also included a piece about international education. Like the other announcements, it was hard to distill exactly how the Premier’s enthusiasm for expanding international education was going to translate into program changes and effective support for the public post-secondary education system.

Fast forward to this week and many of the same problems persist when it comes to announcements out of the Premier’s office. On September 19th, Clark announced plans to commit $75 million in funding for trades training and skills development. On the face of it, $75 million sounded like a step in the right direction. Trades training in BC has never matched the hype that the BC Liberals claimed would flow from their so-called new model for trades training. It was brought in over a decade ago. It replaced the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) with the Industry Training Authority (ITA). Despite a heftier budget for ITA, it has not come close to meeting either the expectations or demands for trades training in the province.

For public post-secondary institutions, who deliver over 90 percent of the trades training in BC, ITA has been a major headache. Whether it has been ITA’s unilateral decisions to cut the number of funded weeks for specific programs or its inability to fully support apprentices as they work towards completion, ITA has failed to live up to the promise that it would do a better job than its predecessor, ITAC.

The Premier’s announcement had some curious twists for a government that rarely wants to admit they have followed the wrong path. For example, the announcement includes the funding of 15 “coaches” whose job will be to support apprentices through the system. Under ITAC, there were over 125 counselors whose job was to support apprentices. Those counselors were laid off because the ITA’s new model would rely on apprentices managing themselves; counselors weren’t necessary under the new model. Ten years later, the BC Liberals have finally acknowledged their mistake, although with only 15 funded “coaches”, they still have a long way to go.

Another curious piece in the $75 million announcement is the extent to which so many of the initiatives that it is designed to fund won’t actually begin until 2013 or 2014. When you consider the fact that college and university Presidents released a letter that they had sent to the Minister of Advanced Education after the February 2012 budget calling on the Minster for immediate funding of at least $70 million—funding that the Presidents said they needed now, not twelve to twenty-four months from now—the 2-3 year phase-in of the $75 million starts to look a little underwhelming at best.


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.