CASTLEGAR – Selkirk College president Angus Graeme returned from Ottawa last month with a broadened perspective on the role community colleges will play in addressing future needs for employers across Canada.
Graeme attended the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC) National Skills Summit in Ottawa in late-October that brought together the presidents and CEOs from colleges, institutes and polytechnics from across Canada. In attendance at the summit were the country’s business leaders, industry sector associations and federal government officials.
On the table at the two-day summit was the move to bridge Canada’s very real skills gap and ensure students and parents have the complete picture of how to start a great career with a college education.
“We simply don’t have the population and the replacement demographics to move the economy forward. In the current context, that is a big part of the federal government’s goals and objectives for economic prosperity,” says Graeme. “There is a real excitement amongst community colleges that we are very well suited to do that work.”
Graeme is the current chair of BC Colleges, an association that represents 11 community colleges across the province. As the provincial representative, Graeme was one of the speakers at the summit.
“I think it’s more than a skills shortage, it’s a talent gap,” Graeme says of what he touched on in his speech to those in attendance. “When you think skills, people right away think trades. It’s more than just skills, it’s the broad range of talent, innovation and diverse education we are going to need in all aspects of business, industry and social sectors.”
The post-secondary leaders were able to hear from a number of speakers that included representatives from the Canadian Construction Association, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Forest Products Association of Canada, Microsoft and many more.
“When these business and industry leaders are up there saying ‘we’ve got some serious challenges finding qualified people,’ it’s a sobering moment,” says Graeme. “The good news is that there are many opportunities out there for students and we can help contribute to making the connection.”
One of the hurdles colleges face when taking action on graduating those prepared for today’s workforce is the lack of a national strategy at the post-secondary level. With post-secondary falling under the mandate of provincial governments, there is a lack of cohesion that can act as a barrier to a common purpose.
“People trained in our Canadian post-secondary system are running up against challenges because of inter-provincial barriers,” says Graeme. “It’s astonishing that this is still happening in some areas.”
Graeme and his colleagues had the opportunity to meet with federal politicians at the summit to further advance a national strategy. Graeme was part of a group that spoke directly with Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification Michelle Rempel.
Graeme stressed to the Conservative Party cabinet minister the need for federal investment in community colleges. In the case of Selkirk College, the physical buildings and classrooms are outdated and in need of a funding infusion.
“We’re stressing to government, industry and business that we need the tools to be able to help with the capital side and those tools include attention to infrastructure,” says Graeme.
The ACCC is the national and international voice of Canada’s publicly funded colleges, institutes and polytechnics, with more than 1.5 million learners of all ages and backgrounds at campuses serving urban, rural and remote communities.