Ontario must address shortage of skilled workers.
Ontario isn't producing enough postsecondary-level graduates to fill the demand in the skilled trades, nor is it doing enough to ensure our graduates have been trained with up-to-date technology. If the situation continues, the prospects for sustaining Ontario's businesses and industry aren't good.
A survey released earlier this year by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce highlights the problem. Based on results from 495 respondents, the survey of skilled-trades issues in Ontario businesses found:
* 52 per cent of skilled trades people are expected to retire within the next 15 years.
* 41 per cent of respondents expected to face a skills shortage in their industry within five years.
* Businesses and industries report it is difficult to find qualified people with the right skills and training and that the situation will intensify as more people retire.
National statistics also point to a significant problem. For example, the federal government has estimated that by 2007, about 70 per cent of all new-job openings in Ontario will require some postsecondary education.
That demand is in stark contrast to the education-achievement rates in Ontario today, where only about 50 per cent of the 25 to 34 year olds in the province have attained a postsecondary education.
Ontario' needs a bold, new target for providing skills and training to the employees of tomorrow. Ontario's colleges have recommended the province strive to have at least 70 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds attain a postsecondary education and training, a target supported by Ontario businesses.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has pledged its commitment to improved training and skills development. Recently, the Chamber of Commerce signed an agreement with Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology to improve the sharing of information between colleges and business, and to work together to provide more training programs for employees.
Clearly, this is just a first step. The province is in need of comprehensive planning that not only includes businesses, industries and colleges, but also the universities, the provincial government and the broader public sector. Working together, there are many steps that can be taken to produce a qualified workforce for today's rapidly evolving economy.
For example, Ontario needs a significant expansion in the number of available apprenticeship programs.
The province's colleges currently have the infrastructure to deliver quality in-school portions of apprenticeship programs, while the provincial government has stated its desire to see a growth in apprenticeship opportunities. In order to match the existing resources with the government's goals, the province must provide new financial incentives to encourage more employers to take part in apprenticeship programs. As well, Ontario should continue to explore ways to deliver apprenticeship training to more people in their workplace, through such initiatives as e-learning.
Another step to help colleges produce more well-trained graduates involves the secondary school curriculum in Ontario. While the high school courses for students destined for university seem to be working well, it isn't the same for students considering college. Often, colleges receive applications from students who haven't acquired the appropriate preparation for the desired college program.
The government, in consultation with school boards and colleges, must ensure the high school curriculum adequately prepares students for colleges and apprenticeship programs.
It is also clear Ontario must reinvest in its postsecondary education system.
Current per-student funding to Ontario colleges is the lowest in Canada. The grants and fees to Ontario colleges only represent about 70 per cent of the national average.
While colleges have strived to do their best, years of under-funding have had a detrimental impact: reduced instructional hours, fewer full-time faculty and staff, reduced academic support services and constrained investments in learning resources and information technology.
Ontario must do better. In order to maintain the province's competitive edge, Ontario needs a renewed commitment to its workforce and to providing high-quality education and training to as many qualified people as possible.
Len Crispino is the President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. David Lindsay is the President of the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario.
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|Publication:||Northern Ontario Business|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2005|
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