By Jenn McGarrigle
The statistics are shocking – 21% of Vancouver Island’s youth are currently living below the poverty line. That is more than one in five youth who are less likely to access any form of post-secondary education, and lack the supports that would help them fully participate in the economy. Impacts are far-reaching with the need for a new generation of skilled workers to drive the Island economy.
The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance has entered the dialogue with a position paper co-authored with Dr. Ralph Nilson, VIU President and Vice-Chancellor, and Adrian Legin, CEO of Coastal Community Credit Union. Both Nilson and Legin, along with Jeremy Higgs, Executive Director of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training’s Labour Market Information Office, participated in a panel discussion that focused on addressing poverty at the 2017 State of the Island Economic Summit.
Panel moderator Signy Madden, Executive Director of United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island, was excited to see the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance bring this issue to the forefront. She said her organization has invested $6 million in social programs, but they can’t solve the problem alone.
The Job Outlook
In BC, employment opportunities are growing faster than the labour market, said Higgs. Challenges moving forward include an aging demographic across BC, and wages that are lower-than-average on the Island. Higgs said many of the jobs available for the younger demographic are part-time, casual jobs. Many jobs going forward are going to require some form of post-secondary education, he added.
From Poverty to Prosperity
From Legin’s perspective, economic and social prosperity are linked. The challenge is to create higher-paying jobs and ensure people are getting the skills needed for the jobs of the future, he said. Developing and attracting the brightest and best minds and skills to the Island to solve the social and economic issues the region is experiencing will take co-operation and coalition building, Legin added.
Ensuring No One is Left Behind
Nilson believes education is key to developing the human capital needed for the region. In a region with a high child poverty level, that means working to ensure post-secondary education is within reach for all. One way VIU is doing this is by helping low-income families sign up for free government grants that help them save for their children’s post-secondary education, such as the Canada Learning Bond program. VIU has also waived tuition for former youth in care since 2013.
VIU would like to work with the province to establish a regional education enterprise zone, Nilson added, and the institution’s call to action for the local community is to come to the table to work on initiatives that will build human capital and attract investment to the region.