Conestoga news

February 22, 2006 3:27 PM

Ontario College Enrolment Must Increase by 30,000

Ontario's colleges and institutes are urging the provincial government to commit to increasing full-time college enrolment by 30,000 by 2011 in order to produce the skilled workforce needed for the knowledge economy.

"We must educate significantly higher numbers of skilled graduates, who are needed to replace an aging workforce and strengthen Ontario's competitive advantage," said Conestoga President John Tibbits. "The promotion of a skills agenda for Ontario and a national skills strategy are critical to our future. If we as a province don't set a clear plan and targets for improvement, we run a serious risk of not having the numbers and types of workers required for our knowledge-based economy."

President Tibbits made the comments following the release this week of What We Heard, a report on the colleges' Pathway to Prosperity consultations held across Ontario last fall. In November 2005, Conestoga hosted one of the 25 consultations. He cited statistics that show at least 70 per cent of new-job openings in Canada in the near future will require post-secondary education.

Currently, only 53 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Ontario have a post-secondary education. Working to realize a post-secondary 70 per cent completion rate was a key objective included in the 2005 review of Ontario's post-secondary education sector, chaired by former Premier Bob Rae.

To reach that 70 per cent attainment rate will require colleges to increase full-time enrolment by 40 per cent. As a step towards reaching that goal, colleges are proposing an enrolment increase of 20 per cent, or 30,000 students, over the next five years.

Currently, there are 150,000 full-time and 350,000 part-time students in Ontario colleges. To increase this number by 30,000, the government must increase its annual operating funding to colleges by more than $200 million.

The Pathway to Prosperity consultations focused on Canada's ability to address major workforce challenges such as globalization, rapidly changing technology and a looming shortage of skilled workers due to an aging population. Ontario needs colleges to support a revitalized economic model.

About 2,000 people participated in the Pathway to Prosperity consultations, and more than 600 companies were represented. Contributors have included business organizations and think tanks, educators, labour, students and government.

What We Heard is the first report from the consultations, and found that there are widespread concerns about job losses and skills shortages in a number of sectors. Participants were worried that Canada doesn't have a national skills strategy to boost productivity and competitiveness.

The 60-page report, which is available online at, addresses these issues and identifies three urgent steps needed in Ontario and Canada:

Leadership: We need leaders to provide the vision, the direction and the incentive to make change happen. The Prime Minister and the First Ministers must assume a leadership role in setting the agenda for a National Skills Strategy.

Benchmarks: For a vision to be meaningful, we must be able to set specific goals so we are confident that we are getting the results we want. We must establish measurable targets and assessment standards.

Planning: There needs to be greater co-ordination and co-operation among the players in our system. Federal and provincial governments must put a comprehensive plan in place so that we can meet our future education and training needs.

"Ontario needs post-secondary graduates to succeed and prosper. Most of the graduates will have to be educated and trained in the colleges," President Tibbits said. "Our political leaders must set a course of action for the workforce challenges ahead, and Ontario's 24 colleges and institutes must be central to that vision."