On Thursday, June 23, 2016, the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel released its final report. The panel was created to help Ontario’s workforce, “adapt to the demands of a technology-driven knowledge economy.” Not surprisingly, the report contains multiple recommendations with implications for the province’s universities.
The report recognizes that good work is already being done to prepare people to pursue and support employment opportunities in knowledge-driven sectors. It also acknowledges that concerns about the so-called “skills gap” are often overblown. Of the 28 recommendations made by the panel, the following are the most relevant for the university sector:
- Ontario should commit to ensuring that every student have at least one experiential learning opportunity by the end of their postsecondary program.
- A Planning and Partnership Table should be established, chaired by representatives from employers, education, and government, to drive change and develop actionable solutions related to skills, talent development, and experiential learning opportunities.
- An inter-ministerial Workforce Planning and Development Office should be created with a mandate to, among other things, work with educational institutions and other stakeholders to monitor and discuss the impact of the changing nature of the workplace on the existing and new labour force.
- Sector specific partnerships between postsecondary institutions and employers should be incentivized through the Differentiation Framework Policy and the revised university funding model.
- Universities, colleges, and private career colleges should look at ways to shift focus to needed skills and competencies.
OCUFA welcomes discussion about how to support Ontarians as they prepare for a changing labour market, and what role universities can reasonably play in supporting this process. It is important to remember that universities play a variety of economic, social, and civic roles. The focus on skills development and job training should not be privileged over these other essential functions.
In the coming months, OCUFA will be engaging with the government as they seek to implement aspects of the Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel’s recommendations. We will be working to ensure good outcomes for students, while protecting the autonomy of our universities and the quality of the learning experience.