Critics pronounce Skills for Jobs Blueprint a failure


On April 29, 2014, the Government of British Columbia launched BC’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, a program designed to facilitate the growth of BC’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector. Premier Christy Clark claimed that 100,000 LNG-related jobs would be created by the program. Two years later, skeptics are questioning the credibility of this program and where the purported jobs are.

One such skeptic is Burnaby-Lougheed MLA and NDP member, Jane Shin. She said that the BC Liberals’ promises during the election for the Skills for Jobs Blueprint were misleading.

Shin stated that “the grandiose promises were never going to be achieved in the timeframe she was promising,” claiming that if the Clark government were genuine in their assertion to help students transition from school to the workforce, they would avoid “dismantling public education, slashing supports for post-secondary, and gutting our apprenticeship and trades training system.”

Given the current circumstances in the LNG industry — dramatic price drops internationally and a glut in the market — many have criticized the Blueprint’s restriction of funding to only specialized post-secondary programs.

As president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC George Davidson explained, this means that post-secondary institutions — which have been undergoing cuts to funding throughout the BC Liberal administration — must allocate their budget towards programs for jobs specified by the government.

“One hundred and thirty million dollars over the last couple of years has been devoted to this. Where are the jobs?” Davidson asked. “You’ve got a lot of students who are taking these programs, but there are no jobs when they come out at the end.”

“One hundred and thirty million dollars over the last couple of years has been devoted to this. Where are the jobs?” –George Davidson, President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC

To this, Minister of Advanced Education Andrew Wilkinson stated that there will be almost a million job openings by 2024. “The Ministry of Advanced Education is aligning funding and programs to these high-demand opportunities in a variety of sectors. [. . .] Government invests an average of almost $5 million per day in the public post-secondary system,” he said.

Davidson stated that, with inflation accounted for, government funding for post-secondary operating grants has been cut by 27 percent since the BC Liberal government came into power in 2001.

He also noted that inflation for post-secondary education and healthcare is larger than it is for consumer price index industries. This reduction in funding has meant that post-secondary institutions must make cuts to programs, providing students with far fewer choices than there used to be.

When “you starve institutions of funding [. . .] there are only a few ways of making that up, and increased tuition is one of them,” said Davidson. “This year the government will take in through its institutions $1.92 billion in tuition. That’s more money than the government is putting into operating grants for institutions.” The current amount given is $1.82 billion.

International students in particular pay the price for this: “International student tuition makes up more money than the government operating grants at places like Langara and Douglas,” said Davidson.

According to Wilkinson, the total operating grants provided to post-secondary institutions has increased by 41.6 percent since 2001 — from $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion. He also noted that “Only 25 percent of operating grants to public post-secondary institutions will be specifically targeted to a broad range of in-demand programs.”

Additionally, Shin alleged that BC residents may not be the ones receiving work for the planned programs. “Most of the major LNG proposals plan to hire temporary foreign workers from overseas during the construction phase, meaning these jobs will not go to British Columbians as promised,” she said.

“One simple thing government could do is reinstate the requirement for companies working on public sector projects to have a minimum number of apprenticeship spaces.”

As for the future of BC’s LNG industry and the Skills for Jobs Blueprint, both Shin and Davidson are dubious of its potential for success. “BC’s economy is best when it is diversified. We should not put all our eggs in one basket like Clark has done,” said Shin.

Davidson stated that LNG is a short-term answer as it’s cleaner burning than coal, but that “we need to start looking at reducing greenhouse gases, and reliance on LNG in BC is now below the targets that the government has set [. . .] I don’t see how they can achieve those.”