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November 12, 2013

Labour Market Demands a National Education Strategy

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Employers say they can’t fill one in five positions in Canada because the candidates don’t have the right skills to do the jobs. Yet more than half of all Canadians hold a university or college degree, diploma or certificate, more than any other country in the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This apparent misalignment is more than an academic discussion. It has real economic consequences. A recent study by The Conference Board of Canada found that skills gaps cost the Ontario economy up to $24-billion annually – and that’s one province, in one year. This foregone GDP means up to $3.7-billion annually in lost tax revenues for an Ontario government that is under deficit and debt pressures; as well as an additional $4.4-billion annually for the federal government.

There is widespread agreement that Canada requires a high-performing postsecondary education (PSE) system. By many measures, that is a reality. Our Canadian researchers punch above their weight – they are among the world leaders in citations in major peer reviewed journals. And the two thirds of Canadian adults who hold postsecondary credentials are much more likely to be employed than those without.

Yet, Canadians’ literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills are decidedly average – even among those who have completed postsecondary studies. Recent international testing found that Canada ranks a mediocre 15th out of 19 OECD countries in the adeptness of its postsecondary graduates in using technology to solve problems. This is particularly worrying because being able to use technology is crucial to making innovation and productivity gains, which are this country’s engines of growth and prosperity.

The international playing field is not getting any easier. Countries everywhere are themselves reforming and enhancing their PSE systems and institutions. It’s all part of their national competitiveness strategies. China is the most spectacular example: Its elite top-nine universities are rapidly moving up world rankings. Many more of its PSE institutions are emerging as top-flight centres of learning and research – all this within the last decade. Canada must adjust quickly to maintain its competitive position in the world.

Our own PSE system is broad and varied. It includes traditional universities, colleges and polytechnic institutions, apprenticeship systems, workplaces, and even community resources such as libraries and public health centres. Alignment and discussion among these stakeholders – as well as governments, employers and students themselves – is crucial if Canadian postsecondary education is to meet the expectations being placed on it.

Click here to read the full article in the Globe and Mail.


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