Opinion: Opening the gate to skills training will lead to a path of prosperity for B.C.

To ensure shared prosperity in B.C., we must do more to establish an education and talent system that prepares workers for high-tech jobs

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To ensure shared prosperity in our province, we must do more to establish an education and talent system that prepares workers for high-tech jobs

Jacquie Griffiths is executive vice-president of Invest Vancouver, a regional economic prosperity service of Metro Vancouver with the objective of attracting strategic investment and laying the foundation for a region where every resident can thrive economically in a fast-changing economy.

It wasn’t so long ago that in this province, you could work in a family-supporting job with a high-school education.

My grandfather grew up on a farm in Surrey and worked in the mills along the Fraser River. He provided for his family and was active in the trade union movement, fighting to establish better working conditions and wages. 

My father, who was employed in forestry and mining, eventually moved the family to Campbell River, where many of my high-school friends worked at the local mine or mill after graduation. Those jobs paid well and afforded them the opportunity to buy a home and support their own young families—we were competing and winning in a resources-based economy.

Times have certainly changed.

Within a generation, those resources-based jobs—once the lifeblood of our province and accessible by many—have significantly declined, shifting instead to technology-focused roles, often in a digital space.

The barrier to employment in these sectors is high, with the vast majority of employment opportunities today requiring at least a postsecondary education.   

The newly released B.C.’s Economic Plan promises investment in training for the jobs of tomorrow, but will this plan do enough to remove barriers that are currently holding back homegrown talent from joining the economies that will drive our province forward?  

At Invest Vancouver, we know jobs in sectors such as agritech, life sciences, digital media and entertainment will be a substantial part of B.C.’s future economy. Occupations in these and other high-tech or digital sectors benefit the residents of our region because they’re generally well-paying, provide competitive benefits, and are relatively future-proof—but almost entirely inaccessible without at least a university degree.  

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Postsecondary education is often expensive and time-intensive, which can be a challenge to most workers looking to retrain or upskill, but even more so for those who are low-income, women and minorities. Indigenous Peoples have a critical role in this province’s economy, yet they’re often marginalized from accessing education.

If education has become an unavoidable barrier between people and high-paying, family-supporting jobs, then how to we ensure that job-ready skills training is attainable and equitable?

The economic benefits of making skills training more accessible are clear: a well-trained workforce can attract outside investment. In Invest Vancouver’s recent analysis of our region’s clean transportation sector, firms overwhelmingly reported that highly specialized local talent draws them to Metro Vancouver—in the hydrogen sector, the engineering expertise in our region leads the world.

Yet very few training opportunities exist in the province to support these jobs, so much so that students are often recruited before they graduate from their programs. We must be mindful that an inability to keep up with workforce demands means we may lose clean transportation firms looking to establish themselves in our region.

In its economic plan, the Province stated that it will advance inclusive and clean growth to create a low-carbon economy that works for everyone.

By focusing on how to advance broadly shared prosperity for all, supporting the export-oriented sectors where we have productive advantages and addressing barriers to future economic growth, we’re on a better path to supporting our province’s workforce and attracting investment to our region. However, we must do more to establish an education and talent system that is accessible, connected, scalable and supportive of the jobs that will sustain the families of the next generation in B.C.

Just as the generation before me couldn’t imagine a time when high-tech jobs would replace the once-prosperous mill in the town where I grew up, I don’t know exactly what the future of work will look like for my own kids. However, I do know that we are transitioning to a technology-driven economy at a rapid pace. Equitable and expeditious access to agile digital skills training is imperative for us to ensure shared prosperity for the residents of this province, while we establish ourselves in the global economy of the future.