In my visits to Burlington manufacturers and through economic roundtables I have hosted in the community, I have heard one thing loud and clear from local businesspeople: The skills gap is real and so is the need to reach a solution.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the skills gap is costing Ontario a staggering $24 billion annually in lost economic activity. Our skills shortage will only intensify as baby boomers exit the workforce and other jurisdictions compete for the most talented.
Yet for the past five years, Ontario’s youth unemployment rate has been at or above 15% – twice that of the general population. One in six young people are stalled on the starting blocks, losing ground and losing hope.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We need to create more effective links and synergies between our high schools and the labour market. Business leaders should have the opportunity, working in concert with school boards, to talk to students at special-purpose assemblies, letting them know about the exciting, challenging, well-paying work opportunities out there.
Government should also expand specialist skills programs and industry partnerships, equipping our young people with skills that mesh with the real-world jobs market.
Germany’s Dual Education System is a promising model. High school students spend their week in paid co-ops split between training with a company and studying at school, receiving on-the-job training and the possibility of being recruited upon completion. The result? Germany’s youth unemployment rate is roughly half that of Canada’s.
Ontario Progressive Conservatives have called for renewed emphasis on math and science education, skills that are vital to this province’s economic future and essential to young workers looking to carve out careers. Our party has long promoted the importance of training more skilled workers to meet the demand in trades and help young people find good jobs.
Preparing our young people for life is a fundamental part of our duty to the future. Staying competitive means keeping pace with global change, and requires business, schools and government to be equally engaged. In-school presentations from business leaders will inspire students, open up life-changing opportunities and invigorate our economy.
We have the tools. Let’s work together here in Burlington to fill the gap and be front-runners in finding a common-sense solution to this urgent problem.
A version of this entry appeared in the Feb 5, 2013 edition of the Burlington Post.