Get thee to Fort St. John. That's been the provincial government's message to secondary school students for the past few years.
To be precise, it doesn't have to be Fort St. John — it can be anywhere in northern B.C. or to any employer in need of trades workers.
You see, the province is suffering from a shortage of skilled labour, and the business sector is clamouring for shipbuilders, pipefitters, electricians, welders, machine operators — you name it. That may be the result of generations of young people being guided toward academic pursuits in universities. You know, those tens of thousands of university graduates owing tens of thousands in student loans with few job prospects.
Now it seems the government is trying to redress the balance by guiding as many high school students as possible into the trades through the "B.C. Jobs Plan and Skills and Training Plan."
These days, the avenues to industrial jobs are almost irresistible for youth what with accelerated-credit industry training programs, college level trades training for high school students and secondary school apprenticeships.
And why not? The plan sure looks like a triple win.
It plugs industry's labour needs. It shifts that young person from the government's negative column (tax-taker) to a positive column (taxpayer). And it brings a 19-year-old into a good-paying job for life.
What else can a fiscally prudent government ask for? We're sure to have our employment problems licked within a decade.
What if the pendulum is being pushed too far in the other direction? What if thousands of young people decide to go for the money in trades even though their true passion lies in, say, the social sciences?
I can hear the overburdened taxpayer yelling, "And why should I pay for that kid's indulgence?"
The answer is because you'll be repaid in full and then some. At least, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study.
In the January 2012 document Who Pays For University Education in B.C.?, Iglika Ivanova finds that the financial and social benefits that university graduates (yes, even English majors) bring to society far outweigh the cost to taxpayers.
Using statistics from such sources as the Canadian census, the author concluded that: "University education is an investment that pays off in terms of better labour market performance and higher incomes for graduates in virtually all programs."
Not only that, but it makes for a better society. Studies show better educated people participate more actively in their communities, have higher voter turnout rates and volunteer more. They are, on average, healthier.
They experience lower rates of depression and mental illness and report a higher degree of satisfaction with life.
The province's $70-million cut last May that led universities and colleges to tighten belts to anorexic levels will hurt the economy as institutions rely increasingly on tuition, which limits those who can enter.
We should not underestimate the positive impact of higher education on our economy and our society. We need to stop stacking the deck when it comes to our youths' choices — if not for them, then for us all.