Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/2/2009 (4037 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This investment of new funds to help retrofit, renovate, expand facilities and acquire new technology recognizes the vital role of colleges and polytechnics for Canada's economic future.
Colleges are disappointed, however, that funding is to be shared, with 70 per cent for universities and only 30 per cent for colleges.
At a time when governments are making unprecedented investments in infrastructure, and local industry is crying out for graduates with the advanced training that our college system provides, this split doesn't effectively address the most critical problem facing Manitoba's economy: the skilled-trades shortage.
A recent study by the Construction Sector Council of Canada revealed that as many as 6,000 new skilled workers are required in Manitoba just to keep pace with existing projects. Another 4,500 workers are needed to replace retiring baby boomers over the next seven years.
This combination of labour shortages and increased infrastructure spending leads to several questions. Do we have enough skilled workers to build all these projects? Will construction costs continue to skyrocket due to labour supply? And where can government make the most strategic investment to solve this problem and help grow the economy?
An investment in expanding the infrastructure of our college system serves four key purposes: it provides a short-term boost to the economy through construction activity; it helps to increase training capacity in high-demand occupations; it results in more skilled graduates working in our province, which will ultimately help control the labour costs of future infrastructure projects; it provides a great social benefit by allowing more individuals to enhance their education and career opportunities.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports that in the area of skills shortages, college graduates are currently required ahead of university graduates by a ratio of six to one. Further, more than 50 per cent of the careers listed in Manitoba's Report on High Demand Occupations require training at the college level. While enrolment in universities is levelling off or declining, Manitoba's college system is continuing to attract a record number of students. Not coincidentally, one of the fastest-growing groups of new college students is former university students.
As the largest applied training institution in the province, Red River College's classrooms, labs and workshops are operating at full capacity. Our popular Princess Street Campus is bursting at the seams, creating a demand for new facilities in that neighbourhood.
The percentage of young Manitobans enrolled in community college, however, is still less than half the national average. More capacity needs to be added to the system.
Red River College has proposed two "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects that would help address this capacity issue. The first is the redevelopment of the historic Union Bank Tower in Winnipeg's Exchange District into the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, which will include overflow classroom space for our Princess Street Campus, a student residence and a teaching/research facility for our culinary and hospitality programs.
That project will open up space at our Notre Dame Campus for the construction of a $57-million state-of-the-art Skilled Trades & Technology Centre, which will allow us to significantly increase the number of students and apprentices trained in areas like carpentry, welding, electrical and piping trades where we currently have sizable waiting lists.
With the economic downturn and rising unemployment, we anticipate that more students than ever will be interested in returning to college to acquire the skills that remain in demand. More than 96 per cent of RRC graduates find employment within six months of graduation, and 94 per cent of them are employed in Manitoba. These skills enhance the competitiveness and productivity of our province.
It's clear the federal and provincial governments need to make colleges a larger priority in this current round of infrastructure spending. An investment in colleges is an investment in building a stronger Manitoba.
Jeff Zabudsky is president of Red River College, Manitoba's second-largest post-secondary institution.