Province fails in a knowledge economy: Seneca report

Unemployment rates in Ontario are projected to skyrocket by 2021 if proper support is not given to higher learning. Coinciding with this will be a growing job market unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers.

President emeritus of Seneca College Rick Miner released a report on Feb. 3, stating that 700,000 people will be unemployed in addition to the common average of only five percent.

“The paper brought together the two trends that are going to really have an impact on the labour force…. The demographic results as a consequence of the aging population and a shift from a labour to knowledge economy,” said Miner.

Although the paper cited the possibility of 1.1 million people unemployed, it also estimated 1.3 million job openings.

“I started to realize that it wasn’t simply a demographic issue but it was a workforce skills issue,” said Miner regarding the discoveries he made while conducting his research.

“People are concentrating on the ‘oh my God, that much more unemployment, what are we going to do’ and at times they miss the ‘oh my God there’s a whole bunch of job vacancies that we can’t fill because we don’t have the right people for the vacancies,” said Miner.

As the province shifts to a knowledge-based economy, post-secondary education – whether through university, college or apprenticeships – will be required for the new job market.

“Somehow we have to make people realize there is going to be a requirement for higher levels of education achievement and that is the new reality,” said Miner.

While attitudes need to shift to increase participation in higher learning, tangible changes need to be made to accommodate this increased enrolment.

“I’m not quite sure if students are going to go because the dollars to support them I don’t think are going to be increased,” said Miner.

Miner noted that although the province has yet to react to his report, he has already received an invitation to present his findings to federal policy-makers of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Federal funding under the Conservative government’s stimulus package has already reached post-secondary institutions, but it does not appear to be enough to alleviate the issue.

“They put a lot of money into the bricks and mortar side of things,” said Miner.

“There may actually be in a couple of years from now more spaces, but the spaces are no good unless there’s money in the operating.”

Miner added that although the government has a large role to play in supporting higher learning, the effort must be collaborative, including corporate entities which provide skills training and internships.

“I hope that in the end someone will say ‘yeah it will cost us to do this but we get two benefits down the road: one we avoid higher levels of unemployment in and of itself is a cost, and second we actually create a very competitive economy.’”

Solution

Change in attitude: Promote higher education and the attainment of credentials from apprenticeships, universities and colleges.

Increased accessibility: Through government funding and corporate support to help students receive the credentials they desire.

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