The B.C. government is committing $136 million to build a new trades and technology centre at the B.C. Institute of Technology to close a skills gap that’s widening as baby boomers retire.
Premier John Horgan and Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced the project Thursday as part of their post-pandemic economic development plan, an extension of their StrongerBC project launched before the 2020 B.C. election. It continues the province’s collaboration with U.K. economics professor Mariana Mazzucato, whose latest book is called Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism.
The plan has sweeping goals, including reconciliation with Indigenous people, meeting B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, leading on environmental and social goals and fostering innovation through a new Crown corporation. The new investment entity, called InBC, was provided $500 million last year to steer key industries such as forestry and mining in what Kahlon calls a “people, planet, profits” approach to economic development.
“The pandemic has exposed deep vulnerabilities in our society, and we know we can’t go back to the way things were,” Kahlon said at the B.C. legislature Feb. 17.
BCIT president Kathy Kinloch said the new centre at the Burnaby campus will help train people to fill the 85,000 new trades jobs expected over the next 10 years.
That skills gap has already arrived, says Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association, whose open-shop members sponsor more than 80 per cent of the trades apprentices in B.C. The ICBA has opposed the NDP government’s move to restrict major public construction projects to a list of 19 mostly international unions, with another Crown corporation to manage the projects.
The government is proceeding with its plan to make registration compulsory for red seal trades, and to change the name of the Industry Training Authority to SkilledTradesBC.
“We know what prevents young people from seeking their Red Seal designation and it’s not a Crown agency’s name – it’s lack of spaces and the absence of modern training delivery options,” Gardner wrote in a response Tuesday. “B.C.’s trades training system is overwhelmed – there simply is not enough training spaces to meet demand. So much so, that the wait lists to get into classes are generally a year, and sometimes two or three years.”
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