CHERISE LETSON — THE BRUNSWICKIAN (UNIVERSITY OF NEW BRUNSWICK)
The provincial government’s new labour force and skills development strategy does not exclude universities, says Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Jody Carr.
The recently released plan, New Brunswick’s Labour Force and Skills Development Strategy 2013–2016, is the current Conservative government’s plan to help bridge the skills gap between the jobs that are — and will be — in demand and the people who need them. These areas include value-added food, value-added wood, information and communication technology, aerospace and defence, biosciences and industrial fabrication.
“We’ve been working to focus on jobs and having the skills for our people to be able to prepare for the jobs that are coming in the near future, especially in resource development,” Carr said.
The strategy involves educating high school students about the specific jobs available in the province and a clear picture of the job market, as well as helping them develop a post-graduation plan. It also includes educating high school students on the financial aid available to them.
The strategy also heavily focuses on trades and vocational training and linking students with the private sector. The lack of specifics about universities in the strategy has been a point of criticism for many, including the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA).
“At first glance there are a lot of areas that we like and there are some areas that we think could use more of a focus on post-secondary,” said Pat Joyce, executive director of the NBSA. “But it is a very broad strategy, so there aspects that aren’t directly connected to PSE and we understand that.”
The NBSA is on the steering committee that will help implement the strategy. Joyce said though they are glad the government is seeing the value of post-secondary education in the province’s future, the NBSA will be making sure they understand the value in any form of university education.
“We do think it’s important to reiterate the importance of the broad value of education and the point of having an educated populous, not just for having a strong labour force, but also for building a healthier population and a more engaged population,” Joyce said. “We’ve been sure to raise that concern with government that students aren’t only interested in vocational training and in education as just a means for a job. We also think that education is something that’s good for society and something that we’re committed to focusing on.”
Carr said universities and university education are not left out of the strategy.
“Certainly, universities are key to this strategy. I think that it’s reasonably balanced between all of those aspects of post-secondary, to make sure that when we have students and recruit students to university, that it’s students that are aware of what they want to do and that they’re successful in university,” Carr said.
Carr points to the government’s recent $7 million investment in graduate scholarships as an example of how the universities are important to the strategy. The strategy also includes a full review of student financial aid.
Carr also cites “Action 13” in the strategy, which says the government will “through a multi-departmental approach with the private sector and the New Brunswick Innovation Council, position research and development investment to create high-value jobs … ”
“That’s really around Action 13, we’re really working with the private sector, the innovation council and also with post-secondary to create that high-value jobs, increase skills and grow our province,” he said. “So the more educated our students are, and that’s through our universities, it’s a key component.”
Carr said though not everyone is interested in a career in the “priority” sectors; he said the government needs to focus where they can get the “greatest growth and new opportunities.” However, he said there still be jobs needed in other fields.
“There definitely will be need for other professions, and that’s part of our approach to make sure we have more accurate information of what is available for jobs, what the future will hold for jobs in the labour market,”he said.
In the meantime, if you’re already halfway through a degree in something not in demand, Carr said the government will be “aggressively” promoting their One-Job-Pledge program to help keep young people in the province.
The One-Job-Pledge is where the government gives an incentive to New Brunswick companies to create a new position for a graduate. The government will contribute $10/hour for the salary for one year.
“All university graduates are eligible to benefit from this One-Job-Pledge and that’s for all post-secondary,” Carr said. “If a company or small business or non-profit organization wants to hire any new position . . . if there’s a new position being created than One-Job-Pledge will support.”
Though training and labour is in New Brunswick’s future, Carr said there will always be value in even the most foundational university studies, for they serve as stepping stones to further education.
“There will always be a need to have some foundational studies at post-secondary. Some liberal arts, some of those developmental and foundational studies are important and we know that they lead to stepping stones of great things,” Carr said. “A big component is to make sure we’re focused on the labour force, jobs in New Brunswick and how the universities can contribute a big amount to job development innovation, research but also how universities can provide a foundation for students as well and they can use a stepping stones into further studies.”
Victor Boudreau, Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour critic for the New Brunswick Liberals, said though the government’s strategy plan is not entirely bad, the Conservative government looks at post-secondary education more as an expense rather than an investment. He cites their decision to reinstate parental contribution on student loans as an example of this.
Bourdreau said he’s unsure of how well the Conservatives will implement the strategy.
“It’s hard to know how serious they are or what exactly they are going to do with it,” Bourdreau said. “This government’s been strong on words but not as strong in putting actions to those words. You can put a fancy report together…but if you don’t the actions to it and actually make those things a reality, I think people are going to see through that.”