A stronger workforce will recharge the economy

Students collaborating

The importance of producing a more highly qualified workforce for the new economy cannot be overstated.

It’s no secret the pandemic and other world events have thrown everyone for a loop. We’re dealing with a number of competing pressures that include a threatened economic downturn, climate change, the strain on our health-care and long-term care systems and more.

Organizations that are focused on these areas of concern are likely to grow in the coming years. They will need skilled workers to realize the ambitions we all have for a stable economy, cleaner world and robust health and education systems.

As our province looks to elect a new government soon, there are some specific ways the next government can help position Ontario for success in all of these areas.

To put Ontario at the forefront of accelerating automation and new advances in AI and robotics, students need more access to cutting-edge technology and new approaches in education and training. We’re urging candidates to commit to new equipment, labs and more in our colleges.

Students also need more opportunities to participate in applied research projects with businesses that stimulate their creativity and let them contribute to real-world solutions to today’s many challenges.

Meanwhile, Ontario will also need to make some profound changes to take effective action on climate change.

Our colleges are already proven leaders in this fight. We can play a major role in facilitating Ontario’s transition to a lower-carbon economy.

The next government should work with colleges to establish new training programs for the green jobs and energy sector. Our next government should also invest in capital projects to further improve energy efficiency on college campuses.

Another priority must be student wellness.

Ontario has made great strides in eliminating the stigma around mental health and addiction issues. More people are seeking the help they need and often seek it much sooner than they might have in the past.

The onset of these issues often occurs in early adulthood and those issues have been exacerbated these past two years by the global pandemic. To ensure our future workforce is strong and healthy, there must be effective supports and services for students.

We’re calling for candidates in the election to support increased funding for campus-based services such as front-line counselling and early-intervention supports. As well, Ontario should improve the access to care for people studying away from their home communities.

Finally, Ontario must have a firm commitment to the long-term success of its colleges.

Recently, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk warned the colleges' fiscal situation is "risky." While colleges have coped due to increased international enrolment, many colleges could be severely underfunded if enrolment trends change.

The next provincial government must collaborate with colleges on a comprehensive strategy to promote the long-term sustainability of college education. One solution will be to create a distinct tuition policy for colleges that addresses our specific cost pressures while ensuring programs remain affordable and accessible.

It’s more essential than ever to put a strong emphasis on college education. We urge the candidates and ultimately the next government to embrace and adopt our recommendations to recharge Ontario.

Linda Franklin

Linda Franklin is the past president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy association for Ontario’s 24 colleges.