Parties fixated on skills training

PARTIES in the May 14 B.C. election have highlighted their commitments to improve post-secondary skills training. The province faces a wave of baby boomer retirements, shortages in trades and industrial jobs, an increase in temporary foreign workers and under-employment of some university graduates.

Trades and apprenticeship training is a major point of dispute. The B.C. Liberal-created Industry Trade Authority has increased apprentices from 16,000 in 2001 to 34,000, but the NDP counters that percentage completion rates have declined.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Phil Hochstein argues that with many more young people in the apprenticeship system, the number of graduates is at a record level.

Platform highlights:

• The B.C. NDP's biggest commitment is $100 million for a post-secondary student grant program, to be funded by a capital tax on large financial institutions. NDP leader Adrian Dix also promises $40 million new investment for skills training, to "increase apprenticeship training spaces, shorten completion times and improve completion rates."

The NDP notes that while the B.C. Liberal government touts its jobs plan in ads, its February budget projects a $42 million cut to the advanced education ministry over three years.

• The B.C. Liberals highlight a $75 million commitment for upgrading training facilities and equipment, on top of the $500 million annual skills training budget.

The B.C. Liberals emphasize plans to expand vocational training in high schools, and encourage partnerships between high schools and employers. Their platform also promises to develop "relevant training programs" for B.C. residents to work in the LNG industry.

• The B.C. Conservatives promise to "increase training and apprenticeships in the trades and technical sector," but don't specify how. They also promise to increase on-line learning capabilities in colleges and technical institutes, and give qualified B.C. students priority for admission to the province's post-secondary institutions.

• The B.C. Green Party promises to eliminate interest on student debt over five years, "immediately" cut tuition by 20 per cent, create a grant program for low-income students, increase core funding for colleges and universities by $200 million and provide training for laid-off workers.

(The above is one of a series comparing party platforms for the May 14 provincial election.)

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