Strengthening colleges can help drive economic recovery

New white paper examines the future of workers
New white paper examines the future of workers

When we first started working with the StrategyCorp Institute of Public Policy and Economy on a new white paper, “The Future of Ontario’s Workers,” we had some idea how the economy might transform over the next few years. Clearly, advancements like AI and robotics would have a profound effect on our future workforce.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and there was a new urgency to our research.

Economic renewal will be a top priority in the months ahead. While it’s difficult to know what the future holds, it’s likely there will be an increased demand for a highly qualified workforce to help drive private sector growth.

It’s also quite likely the challenge won’t be the same throughout the province.

The pandemic has affected different communities in very different ways. The ideal conditions for economic renewal are most probably going to vary within each region.

That means colleges must have the flexibility and autonomy to respond quickly and effectively to the unique labour-market demands in their community.

The white paper addresses that challenge head-on. It calls for the province to give colleges more independence to develop programs and credentials that ensure students acquire the expertise to succeed in their local labour market.

The 17 recommendations in the white paper include calls for the provincial government to:

  • Create new career-focused three-year degree programs at colleges, replacing many of the existing diploma programs.
  • Expand the range of the colleges’ four-year degree programs in specialized fields, eliminating the arbitrary caps on the number of four-year programs a college can offer.
  • Create master’s degree programs for university and college graduates for in-demand fields such as robotics, cybersecurity and animation.

It also recommends the government provide more funding for short-term micro-credential programs at colleges to increase the retraining opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed.

The proposals to expand the degree programs are particularly important.

For example, allowing colleges to award degrees – rather than diplomas – to qualified graduates in the three-year programs will make those programs attractive to more students. That’s because the degree credential creates more opportunities for pursuing rewarding careers and for advancing in those careers.

As well, the proposal to expand the short-term micro-credential programs will help more people make a quick transition to new careers where there is a demand for new people.

Rebuilding Ontario’s economy is an enormous challenge. But it has also opened up some tremendous opportunities.

As the Ontario government consults this summer on ways to modernize post-secondary education (PSE), it should embrace this opportunity to strengthen our colleges.

By implementing the recommendations in the white paper, Ontario can become a world leader in higher education. We can equip more people with the qualifications and expertise to achieve long-term success.

Linda Franklin

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