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Strategic Context

To prosper in the years ahead, British Columbia must adapt to global environmental and economic changes and to a labour shortage strongly affected by an aging workforce. British Columbia’s colleges, university-colleges, institutes, and universities are an integral part of responding to these pressures. Citizens with post-secondary education benefit from low unemployment rates, high lifetime earnings, and an awareness of the world around them. Business benefits from a literate, skilled workforce and the research and development capacity of the post-secondary system. From an economic standpoint, investment in improving adult literacy skills provides profitable returns. A study on public investment in skills demonstrated that a one per cent increase in literacy skills among Canadians would drive annual sustainable Gross Domestic Product growth of 1.5 per cent ($18.4 billion).2

Jurisdictions outside British Columbia — such as Ireland and Scandinavia — have successfully adapted to globalization and labour-market pressures by investing in post-secondary education. British Columbia can look to these jurisdictions to ensure prosperity in a changing world.

Economic Growth and an Aging Workforce

According to British Columbia’s independent Economic Forecast Council, the B.C. economy grew 3.1 per cent in 2007, lower than the 3.4 per cent expected at the start of the year. B.C.’s economic growth is expected to moderate somewhat, with 2.8 per cent growth in 2008, followed by growth of 3.0 per cent in 2009 and average growth of 2.9 per cent for the 2010 through 2012 period.3

British Columbia’s labour market is shaped by the parallel pressures of strong economic conditions and the aging of the baby boom generation. Unemployment has reached a 30-year low, as a record number of workers approach retirement. Between 2005 and 2015, there will be over one million job openings in British Columbia. This growth will result from the creation of 461,000 new jobs and 652,600 vacancies from retirement. These factors produce the strongest labour market pressures in a generation.4

Filling new openings and vacancies will create strains throughout the economy, both in terms of the availability of workers and the costs of securing skilled labour. The post-secondary system has a key role to play in filling this gap. Other strategies, such as delayed retirement, inter-provincial migration, and immigration (the historic response to Canada’s low birth rate), supplement rather than replace education and training. More than 70 per cent of employment openings in British Columbia (new jobs and those created by retirement) will require at least some post-secondary education. Occupations requiring a university degree or higher will face the most competition for workers.

Climate Change and the Green Economy

British Columbia is confronted with global warming and rising energy prices. The Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic demonstrates the harmful impact of climate change on British Columbia’s economy. Other changes, such as rising sea levels, will affect diverse sectors in future years. Concern is also mounting over air, food and water quality. Meanwhile, global decline in fossil fuel reserves has driven energy prices to record-levels, increasing inflationary pressures on British Columbia workers and business.

Action today can avert serious economic and social consequences in the future. British Columbia is endowed with rich, renewable sources of clean energy and with a growing pool of knowledge on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change and protect air, food and water quality. The post-secondary system can assist British Columbia’s communities in the transition to a green, sustainable economy, deploying research capacity to solve global problems.

Globalization and the Knowledge Economy

New technologies and globalization have transformed employment in North America and Europe. From a natural resource base, British Columbia’s economy has diversified. Despite some growth in mining and in oil and gas, employment in the primary resource sector fell from 55,100 jobs in 1996 to 43,800 jobs in 2006.5 Automation has reduced reliance on manual labour, while some manufacturing and processing have moved to Asia and other developing economies.

The new knowledge economy is grounded in the service sectors and in occupations that require post-secondary education and training. Growing demand for workers in health care, information technology and the skilled trades exemplifies this trend. Responding to labour market pressures will require a combination of strategies including re-focussing efforts on recruitment and retention at institutions and increasing capacity in education programs such as nursing, medicine and trades apprenticeships, in addition to other measures by employers such as competitive compensation packages.

Productivity gains in the global knowledge economy are realized through research, development and innovation, and through increasing literacy levels. British Columbia ranked fourth in Canada in research and development spending in 2004, accounting for 1.5 per cent of GDP.6 Continued diversification of the provincial economy — and sustained economic growth — depend on research and innovation-intensive industries, such as clean technology,7 life sciences, high technology, new media and engineering. Government and the private sector can contribute to future economic growth by investing in research and innovation today.

Harnessing Diversity

Despite the current labour shortage in the province, workforce participation and post-secondary attainment do not reflect British Columbia’s rich diversity. Aboriginal people, who account for 5 per cent of the population and the fastest-growing segment of 15-24 year-olds, continue to be under-represented. Unemployment among working-age Aboriginals in 2006 was three times the rate for non-Aboriginals (13.1 per cent compared with 4.6 per cent). The high-school completion rate for British Columbia’s Aboriginal youth was 65 per cent in 2006, compared with nearly 80 per cent among non-Aboriginal youth; only 6 per cent of Aboriginals held university degrees, a quarter the proportion in the non-Aboriginal population.8

Immigrants also face challenges in British Columbia’s labour market despite strong educational credentials. Very recent immigrants (those arriving in the past five years) are more than twice as likely to hold a post-secondary degree compared with the general working-age population (54 per cent compared with 26 per cent). A remarkable 18 per cent of these immigrants hold graduate degrees (compared with 6 per cent of their Canadian-born counterparts). However, university-educated immigrants are four times as likely to be unemployed.9

In the context of British Columbia’s globalizing economy and aging workforce, the post-secondary system can be more responsive to under-represented groups, leading to successful integration into the labour force and a stronger economy.

Campus 2020

The Ministry received the report it commissioned on the future of post-secondary education called Campus 2020 Thinking Ahead: The Report. The Ministry is working on a transformative plan to implement recommendations made by the Report.

The Ministry has already taken action on: making Adult Basic Education tuition-free, undertaking a review of student financial assistance, and announcing a review of the act governing private career colleges. This Service Plan foreshadows many of the actions the Ministry will be taking as part of Campus 2020. However, the Ministry’s position on some of the recommendations is not explicitly incorporated into the plan as consultation with our partners is still ongoing.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles

As a preliminary step towards meeting Government’s ActNow objectives, the Ministry worked with the public post-secondary institutions to provide healthier choices in campus vending machines.

In addition to supporting BC Public Service initiatives such as the Provincial Employee Fitness Society, Ministry staff have endorsed the spirit of ActNow by engaging in the Victoria Times Colonist 10 km run, boot camp fitness classes and a walking club.


2  Coulombe, Serge and Jean-Francois Tremblay, “Public Investment in Skills: Are Canadian Governments Doing Enough?” C.D. Howe Institute Commentary ISSN 0824-8001, October 2005.
3  Economic Forecast Council, December 2007
4  Ministry of Advanced Education, “Employment Outlook for British Columbia: COPS BC Unique Scenario for 2005 to 2015,” February 2007.
5  Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey (2006), Annual Averages.
6  BC Progress Board, Strategic Considerations for BC’s Future: Issues and Trends 2007 Report, June 2007.
7  The means to create electricity and fuels with a smaller environmental footprint, such as with wind power, solar power and biofuels.
8  B Stats. “Labour Market Characteristics of the Off-Reserve Aboriginal Population in BC,” Earnings and Employment Trends, April 2007.
9  Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey Immigration Series (September 2007); BC Stats, “Labour Market Characteristics of the Immigrant Population in B.C.,” Infoline, 5 October 2007.
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