Flexible post-secondary education key to closing skills gap in B.C.

The job market in British Columbia has faced its share of challenges. The effects of the pandemic and rising inflation have led to acute labour shortages as employers across all sectors face difficulties finding and keeping skilled workers. Meanwhile, many job seekers are rethinking their investment in higher education or re-evaluating their career path entirely.

More than 200,000 people have exited Canada’s workforce since March of 2022, leaving nearly all fields with a shortage of workers. Health-care, social assistance, accommodation and food-service sectors are reporting the greatest challenges overall. There’s a growing demand for solutions, so what’s being done to close the gap? Developing a robust workforce to meet this need will take the collaborative efforts of industry, government and post-secondary fields.

At a recent panel hosted by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, business leaders across the Lower Mainland convened to discuss this dilemma. Much of the conversation centred on employers investing in their employees, both professionally and emotionally.

Panelist and Edelman vice-president Sarah Norman clearly articulated the need for organizations and businesses to communicate their values as well as to authentically act on them. Workers are seeking employers who align with their own values. Gone are the days of “the customer is always right” — instead, business leaders would be well advised to recognize and reward their own employees as their No. 1 stakeholder.

Certainly, job seekers are looking to be compensated appropriately, but workplace surveys also show that company culture, management and work/life balance are equally or more important than compensation. The panel was in universal agreement: Business leaders who demonstrate authentic understanding of their employees, and the lives employees want to live, will see better workplace retention.

Concurrently, job trainers, government and employers must be in close collaboration to identify areas of need and build the talent that supports in-demand jobs. There are many examples of these kinds of strategic partnerships succeeding across a variety of industries.

When Tesla experienced a major shortage of Red Seal-certified automotive service technicians in the Lower Mainland, they looked to BCIT to bridge the gap.

The result is a customized curriculum that offers Red Seal technician certification alongside specialized skills unique to Tesla’s electric vehicles. Students will carry out their apprenticeships through placements at local Tesla service centres and get a direct path to job opportunities once their education is complete.

With a large percentage of the population poised to retire from the workforce and a post-pandemic economy that calls for a new skill set, the province will see more than one million job openings emerge within the next decade. The majority of these roles will require some level of post-secondary education and training.

In response to this call, innovative post-secondary institutions across the country have begun to integrate more flexible learning options into their offerings to allow for quick up-skilling and re-skilling. These range from free online courses and part-time credentials to stackable micro-credentials. The most successful offerings are those that are developed through close consultation with industry partners and taught by instructors who have hands-on expertise in their fields.

With this model, learners can chart their own course, choosing not only what they learn but how, when and where they learn it. This strategy is especially valuable during times of economic difficulty. Rather than investing more time and money into longer programs, learners can choose shorter-term accreditation and gain faster entry to in-demand careers.

Canadians know that ongoing skills development is vital, but not everyone has the time or resources to dedicate to full-time education. Many job seekers juggle caretaking responsibilities at home, while others are underemployed but not able to commit to full-time learning. Still others have professional training from a foreign country and need an upgrade to align with Canadian requirements.

Additional pathways to learning, such as the à la carte approach of BCIT flexible learning, reduce barriers to lifelong education and provide our community more employment opportunities, while allowing employers to gain workers with relevant skills in less time. All of this contributes to a diverse workforce, ultimately closing the skills gap in the B.C. labour market.

About the Author

Paul McCullough, Interim President, British Columbia Institute of Technology

Paul McCullough is the Interim President at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, one of B.C.’s largest post-secondary institutes, hosting over 45,000 students each year at five campuses across the Lower Mainland.