Education key to post-pandemic recovery

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AS Manitobans, we have been dealing with a distressing wave of COVID-19 and for most of us, the virus has wreaked havoc. This includes tough measures such as physical distancing, self-isolation and coping with layoffs, while balancing work and family responsibilities such as taking on added responsibililties for our children’s education.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/04/2020 (960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

AS Manitobans, we have been dealing with a distressing wave of COVID-19 and for most of us, the virus has wreaked havoc. This includes tough measures such as physical distancing, self-isolation and coping with layoffs, while balancing work and family responsibilities such as taking on added responsibililties for our children’s education.

Our local economy has been battered by businesses closures and, sadly, some of them will never re-open. Many industries are doing their best to deliver services virtually or through alternate means. Through these troubled times, Manitoba’s Prairie resiliency shines through and once again demonstrates our resolve to help each other in this great time of need.

Our public institutions, including colleges and universities, are showing their resiliency by adapting to the new reality and looking to the future. Post-secondary education is as busy as it has even been; instructors are still teaching, students are still learning, and essential research, potentially leading to a vaccine, continues.

Demand for post-secondary education is increasing, driven by students from Manitoba and those looking to up-skill and retrain so they can re-enter the workforce with new skills and abilities. It is precisely now that we must look to education as a key pillar in Manitoba’s recovery efforts.

Last fall, the Manitoba government unveiled a bold vision for economic growth and job creation. It should maintain that optimism for a bright future. After COVID-19, tens of thousands of jobs will be created as Manitoba recovers; the vast majority of those jobs will require post-secondary education. College and university graduates bring critically important, durable and transferable skills that are in demand in the workforce, including cutting-edge technological skills and the essential skills of problem-solving and teamwork.

Our governments are to be applauded for dealing with COVID-19 on multiple fronts. We receive clear information about how we are going to fight this together. The education sector is also making contributions to the effort by emptying its reserves of personal protective equipment to share with hospitals, by researching vaccines and finding new ways to sterilize hospital equipment. The education sector can and will do more.

The governments of Manitoba and Canada are responding by deploying resources to fight COVID-19. There is a danger, however, that they will reduce resources that support the development of talent and technology that drives Manitoba’s economy. Governments must not be tempted to cut the very institutions that train and educate the individuals most in demand in our province, now and in the future. We must avoid losing an entire cohort of students who may never fulfill their potential, especially those who already face barriers to accessing education.

Through this crisis, we have learned that a variety of skill sets and roles are essential to upholding essential services. We need more access to technology; we need innovative small- and medium-business owners; we need nurses and doctors, scientists and supply-chain managers. And most parents right now would agree, we need teachers.

This variety of talent, skills and knowledge are developed at our colleges and universities. Fresh data from the Conference Board of Canada shows that while Manitoba’s GDP will shrink by 3.9 per cent in 2020, it will rebound by six per cent in 2021. We will need qualified people to fill jobs created in a post-COVID-19 economy, or our growth will stall.

The education sector is critically important in securing a brighter economic future for all of us. We rely on skilled graduates to enter our economy and propel businesses forward. For example, those who graduated during the 2000-01 and 2008-09 recessions put their education to good use and created the tech boom in Manitoba.

The primary role of post-secondary institutions is to grow leaders who become the health-care professionals, entrepreneurs, educators and computer programmers, among many other careers, that Manitoba’s economy needs to continue thriving.

There is a direct link between the education level of a society and its economic, health, and social success. The fact Manitobans are highly educated is one of the reasons why we are so resilient in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

To survive and thrive, we must consider short-, medium- and long-term actions that have real impact. We might not know the full effect of these times, but we do understand education is a critical tool moving forward.

Let’s fight this threat with the same Prairie vigour that will secure our future by drawing on the collective strengths that make Manitoba great.

Barb Gamey and Bob Silver are Manitoba business leaders and champions of education.

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