The Seaspan shipyard in North Vancouver - part of the $35 billion bid to build Canada's navy

Last week the BC Provincial government released two reports critical to the economic future of the province, and which have implicit implications for online learning in British Columbia.

British Columbia (2011) BC Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020 Victoria BC: WorkBC

This document provides the following key information:

  • 1,027,400 job openings are projected for B.C. over the next ten years.
  • Tight labour market conditions, with demand exceeding supply projected provincewide by 2016.
  • Over one million job openings are expected in B.C. by 2020.
  • Close to two-thirds of these openings will be due to retirements and aging workforce (certainly one less e-learning consultant by 2020).
  • One-third of job openings will be new jobs due to economic growth.
  • New migrants to B.C. are expected to fill one-third of job openings to 2020 (thus by implication two-thirds will have to be supplied by people already in BC).
  • Approximately 78 per cent of job openings over the next decade will require some post-secondary education and training or a university degree
  • The skill level and market success of British Columbians will depend to a large extent on increasing skills levels of those already in the work force, and teaching new skills to people who are not currently working.
  • Responding to the increasing need for skilled workers in B.C., the government is investing over $470 million in jobs training and skills development programs this year (but this was before the report – what will it do in addition?).

Vancouver Shipyards is also bidding for a $35 billion shipbuilding contract from the Canadian Navy. If it wins this it will require heavy investment in local universities and colleges to develop the required skilled workforce over the next 30 years, as the current shipbuilding industry has been allowed to wither to almost nothing.

British Columbia (2011) Skills for Growth: British Columbia’s Labour Market Strategy to 2020 Victoria BC: Ministry of Regional Economic and Skills Development

The second report from the BC Provincial Government lays out its strategies and priorities for meeting market needs, including a target of 90% of youth transitioning from K-12 to post-secondary training, and 80% of the working adult population having post-secondary education ‘aligned with British Columbia’s economic needs.’ Its three priorities are:

  1. Increase the Skill Level and Labour Market Success of British Columbians
  2. Attract Workers and Entrepreneurs from Outside the Province Who Meet British Columbia’s Regional Economic Needs
  3. Improve Workplace Productivity

However, there is no mention of the need for alternative delivery methods for educating or training this workforce in this document.


First congratulations to a government that I don’t generally support on doing this essential strategic planning. The reports are well researched and set clear goals and priorities.

However, it does smack a little of government silo decision-making. The second report needed to have been done jointly with the two ministries responsible for k-12 and post-secondary education (and the Federal immigration office), since the the three strategies depend essentially on investment, policies and contributions from these areas. Two of the three priorities (increased skill levels and increased workplace productivity) require more and better outcomes from the education and training systems.

In particular, it is hard to see how all these people can be trained through full time attendance at colleges and universities. Many of these will have to work and study at the same time, especially if two-thirds of the jobs have to come from existing British Columbians. This presents great opportunities for online and flexible learning in the province. However, the current provincial government doesn’t have a good track record in supporting programs for working adults, despite good intentions.

At the moment, there are approximately 60,000 British Columbians who started an on-campus apprenticeship program and never completed it. Completion rates for on-campus apprenticeship programs are a dismal 35%.

The BC government established an ePrentice program to train people in the workforce, but the Industry Training Authority, which administered the program, this year cancelled the funding after one year of operation, despite successful programs for auto mechanics and cooks with 75-80% completion rates. The sheer stupidity of this decision is now evident, but don’t look for anything to replace it any time soon, despite over $100 million in grants to the ITA from the provincial government. (see Beyond the campus: hope, trades training and skulduggery for more on this.)

It will be interesting to see how the BC Ministry of Advanced Education responds to the report. It could start by making some significant changes at the ITA.




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