A skills shortage will hit B.C. in 2016 and continue to grow unless action is taken, according to a warning from the Research Universities’ Council of B.C.
The group — which represents the interests of six major universities in B.C. — warns tens of thousands of jobs will soon go unfilled across all sectors of the economy.
"This is a wake-up call for all of us. The government data shows that we have to act today," said University of British Columbia president Stephen Toope.
"To secure our economy, we need to continue to build on our excellent post-secondary system and deepen our commitment to education, innovation and research."
Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter says it's a myth that future jobs won’t require a university degree.
"Yes, we have a trades shortage now, but that trades shortage is going to be overshadowed in three years by a much more general and deeper shortage of skills that require university, college and trades training."
Petter says according to a report based on the province's own labour market outlook, by 2020 more than 18,000 jobs — in areas ranging from nursing to engineering to economics — could go unfilled because too few British Columbians will have the necessary training to fill them.
"We haven't seen any major expansion of university or college spaces in this province in quite a few years," Petter said.
The Research Universities’ Council of B.C. is calling for the province to fund 11,000 new student spaces for university, college and trades training at a cost of $130 million over the next four years. It also calls for an expansion of grants, loan reductions and graduate scholarships.
But whether the proposal will succeed is uncertain.
Premier Christy Clark told Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition that while she hasn't seen the proposal yet, the province is determined not to raise taxes for British Columbians.
"We also need to pay attention to the trades," Clark said.
She said one in five children in B.C. doesn't graduate from high school, and she thinks more technical and trades training could be a way to keep more students in school.