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Access to education can improve the economy

The Canadian economy may be firing on all cylinders right now, but it's facing a looming skills shortage thanks to the mass retirement of the baby-boom generation and a declining birth rate.
Canada is facing an acute skilled worker shortage by 2010. Centennial College is looking for more funding to train new Canadians to fill these well-paying job vacancies.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, we can anticipate a skills shortage around 2010 and beyond due to many more retirees leaving, rather than entrants joining, the workforce. Quite simply, the number of youth aged 15-24 years is not sufficient to replace the large number of baby boomers who are poised to retire.

Immigration is now critical to labour force growth, particularly in major urban centres. Yet new Canadians still have difficulty finding work. The biggest obstacles for immigrants have been "Canadian experience" requirements, difficulties transferring qualifications, language barriers and problems in accessing education and training.

Since its beginnings in 1966, Centennial College has contributed to strong and sustainable communities by providing access to relevant, applied education at a reasonable cost. In turn, graduates become productive employees, consumers and taxpayers, which strengthens the economy.

In Centennial's submission to the Rae Review panel on post-secondary education, the college strongly recommends that the panel endorse funding for colleges that specifically address issues concerning diversity in their communities.

The Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (ACAATO) has called on the province to commit to a bold, new vision that ensures at least 70% of persons aged 25 to 34 years attain a post-secondary education to preserve our economic competitiveness.

Presently, only 51% of young adults have earned a college diploma or university degree. By 2007, the federal government estimates 70% of all new job openings will require some post-secondary education.

"A post-secondary education is essential for most workers in today's economy," says Ann Buller, president of Centennial College. "If Ontario is to maintain its economic strength, there needs to be a dramatic increase in the number of young people trained and educated in our colleges and universities."

Innovation and growth stalls when youth and new immigrants are not integrated into society and the labour market. In the diverse community that Centennial serves, the issue of access becomes crucial as it looks for ways to increase participation for individuals who are under-represented in the labour force.

In one example, Centennial is working with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), along with George Brown College and CARE for Nurses, to develop a sector-specific ESL curriculum. This initiative focuses on internationally educated nurses who are about to take or have passed their Ontario nursing exam, or are already employed as nurses. The greatest areas of need were in listening, speaking (including pronunciation) and documentation, and in understanding the socio-cultural context of Ontario's health-care institutions.

Centennial's goal is to ensure that access to post-secondary education is maintained for all qualified students. There is an underlying fear that increases in costs -- even with the proposed overhaul of the student loan program -- will create new barriers to post-secondary education. Ironically, it would result in lower participation by those who would benefit the most from a college education.

The college system has been underfunded for the last 15 years. Presently, Ontario's colleges are funded at about 70% of the national average. The policy of doing more with less money cannot continue.

It will take a new commitment of resources to support broad, accessible and excellent education. The benefit of more public investment in Ontario's college system will be a smarter, more productive society that will ultimately drive the economy.

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