More workers needed to grow economy

Local graduates lagging in post-secondary learning

If you’re looking for a job around here in 10 years, you’ll be in the driver’s seat, if you have the right education.

But if you live in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge or Mission, there’s less chance you’ll have that education, because only 65 per cent of high school grads here go to university or college – compared to 92 per cent in Vancouver.

The stats are from a report for the task force that’s trying to build a post-secondary institute on the north side of the Fraser River.

Coun. Bob Masse, who’s on the task force, has seen that connection before. Before University of Northern B.C. opened in Prince George, post-secondary attendance rates were low, said Masse.

Now with UNBC, percentage wise, more high school grads in Prince George go to university than those in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

“Not having anything locally is a huge detriment to the city,” Masse said Wednesday, before the North Fraser Labour Market Information Research Study was released.

The report says that not only will there not be enough workers to allow the North Fraser economy to grow, almost two-thirds of any new hires will require more than a high school education.

Masse said the aim of the report was to show how North Fraser can help solve the looming skill shortages in B.C. About 800 business owners were interviewed in Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and Mission.

“That was the biggest piece of work, doing fairly extensive conversation with businesses to really get at the numbers.

The skills shortage should be a reason the province will build a post-secondary institute here. One form of that could be a multi-institutional campus that offers a range of programs from different universities.

“We want to show the province that we can be a significant part of the solution to a problem the province has.”

He also cited previous Fraser Health stats from 2013 that say only 12 per cent of local kids complete a university degree, compared to 21 per cent for the Metro Vancouver region.

“That’s a huge gap.”

Without a local college or university, students who leave the area often don’t return.

“So we lose a lot of our best and brightest because of that.”

He wondered why Surrey SFU’s campus will be expanded, while Maple Ridge still has nothing.

According to SFU’s five-year capital plan, expansion there continues to be the highest priority for new building projects due to the overwhelming success of the Surrey campus. Expansion is needed to allow growth of academic programs and to meet the instructional requirements of senior and graduate students.

“We should have a piece of that,” Masse said.

Last year, Invest North Fraser used a $111,000 grant from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to pay for the labour market report.

What happens now, after the release of the report, remains to be seen. He didn’t want the task force to disintegrate.

“That decision has to be made and clarified very quickly.”

To pave the way for a vibrant economy, the report says a labour force training committee should press for a multi-disciplinary school in the area, given “the low transition rate of local graduates to post-secondary education.”

The report also says a strategy should be formed to manage human resources, while businesses and schools need to connect so that the latter is providing the right training. Incentives to attract people to work here is another idea.

Economic development executive director Sandy Blue said that a new university in Maple Ridge isn’t necessarily the immediate solution.

Instead, industries can offer on-site training to students or potential employees, as might happen when The Ridge Studios opens a new studio in the downtown.