Colleges are central to Canada’s efforts to strengthen the future workforce

Colleges train the workforce of tomorrow.
Colleges will help train the skills needed for the future workforce.

Canada’s Future Skills Council recently released a new report, Canada – A Learning Nation: A Skilled, Agile Workforce Ready to Shape the Future. It sets priorities for education, training and accreditation as the country strives to recover from the pandemic.

Federal Employment and Workforce Development Minister Carla Qualtrough said the report “is a call to action for all Canadians to continue learning, acquire new skills and create opportunities for all across the country.”

The goal is to build a sustainable workforce. The report says Canada must create equal opportunities for lifelong learning and approach skills development in innovative ways.

Clearly, colleges will be pivotal to the success of those recommendations.

For example, the report calls for improvements to help more people in underrepresented groups acquire skills that will help them succeed in the workforce. This is a priority for colleges, which have a student population that mirrors the diversity of the population.

The report also calls for improved learning and skills development for First Nation, Inuit and Métis students based on a commitment to reconciliation and self-determination.

Most Indigenous students enrol in colleges and training programs and colleges are already working on the Indigenezation of curriculum and campuses. For example, Confederation College recently launched its new strategic plan, named Kaa-anokaatekin, which has a huge focus on Indigenous education.

The report says there needs to be a “clear emphasis on building skills leading to sustainable jobs in areas where there are signs of growth is critical. This future skills focus is likely to emphasize sectors such as the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, creative industries and eco-tourism.”

With their cutting-edge programs and community ties, our colleges are perfectly positioned to move this goal forward.

Another priority in the report is to enable and validate skills development and training in all their diverse forms. Being nimble and responding to learner and employer needs is a hallmark of colleges.

We understand this world. For example, we have more than 600 micro-credential retraining programs for people who need retraining or upskilling for new careers.

It is important to note that in comparison to universities, colleges retain the property of curriculum they commission from their faculty. This allows us to create more straightforward pathways for learners.

The report also stresses the importance of promoting the well-being of communities and society.

One of the priorities must be preparing tomorrow’s workforce for a greener economy. Once again, colleges will be central to this effort.

Mohawk College in Hamilton is a great example of a leader in this area, having recently introduced a comprehensive environmental management plan.

Colleges will also continue to be central to the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly as Ontario looks to get more value from its post-secondary research.

Many SMEs cannot afford to experiment with new products, develop marketing campaigns or new prototypes. With their strong community and industry ties, colleges are able to partner with these businesses on real-world research that leads to new products and efficiencies and gives students practical experience working on projects that help strengthen the economy.

As natural collaborators and innovators, our colleges are committed to working with governments and business to produce a workforce with the expertise to drive economic growth and prosperity.

Linda Franklin

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