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Education is changing…but are we as a Community?

For the past 30+ years that I have lived in Dawson Creek,BC, I have seen changes in technology, changes in our local environment and changes in industry (witness the Oil the Gas industry as probably the best example). But there are a few things that sadly haven’t changed.

My wife and I raised 3 children in the community and I have never regretted that. They attended school, participated in local sports and activities like Scouting and Girl Guides. They all graduated from high school with all three going onto university. The oldest graduated with a business degree and works at a university in Victoria, BC. The second daughter received a degree in English (UNBC Prince George) and is pursuing her Masters starting in 2 weeks. The youngest, my son is pursuing a degree in computer science at University of Calgary, Alberta. So all in all, we have been very fortunate. They all graduated and are enhancing their education further.

My wife and I encouraged and supported them in all their work and schooling. We pushed them a bit but most of the time, they were very self motivated. Which we are still happy to see. But I wonder aloud…. if I was raising my kids today in Dawson Creek, BC and watching them leave school to go on and attend our local college, if they would follow the same route?

Our local college system is predominantly focused (in my own opinion) on the Oil and Gas sector which in this area is hot. Jobs pay well and certainly there is no question that they can earn good money in their early years. But there are a number of changes that bother me or maybe I should say “lack of changes”.

When my son looked at taking courses in programming, locally there were very few. Of those that were available, many are simply remotely taught classes that students can enrol in online. There are limited instructors locally,if any and earning a computer certificate or degree locally is pretty much impossible. The majority of courses relating to computer technology are done online or even larger centres. Where classes are packed… and we have to help support our youth as they live in residence or rent an apartment. Costs are high and living at home if we reside in Dawson Creek is not an option except for Summer jobs and residence.

Don’t get me wrong, ALL my kids returned home in the summer and worked locally. We were fortunate they could get jobs and they did well with their employers. But for todays children and teenagers going through school, why don’t they have opportunities at local colleges to take courses like Robotics, various levels evels of programming (locally), courses in technologies that have been in development and are current today?

In the US and some parts of Canada, young people are taking courses/training around programming and robotics using the advanced training tools that Lego provides. This isn’t Lego like I had as a kid (4 windows, 2 types of wheels etc). This is Lego with wires, programmable circuits and computer languages for programming. Electrical training and engineering is huge and yet the solutions locally seem to only support Oil and Gas industry careers. Maybe I am missing something here. I know you can get your instrumentation training with our college. But that is only one part.

When I drive by our college, I see a wonderful $750,000 obelisk building for teaching people how to handle heights and work on wind turbines. We have a beautiful building associated with sustainable living. With promotion for solar opportunities. But do we actually have regular running LOCAL courses on getting certified to be an electrician to work on Solar Panel installation? How many graduates are we sending out of the college able to setup and install Wind Towers, Geothermal or other renewable technologies?

In the consulting work I do, there are days when I look at the work I have available and wonder why we don’t teach courses locally in:

  • Social Madia Marketing or Management
  • Programming in Python / Java / Ruby / CSS-PHP / PERL / SWIFT / Objective C / X-Code
  • Responsive Web Development (building sites that work properly on SmartPhones, Tablets etc)
  • Development of Mobile Apps for all mobile devices
  • Development of Apps and Programs for Apple products (iPads, iPhones, MAcBooks etc)
  • Technology Writers / Editors / Copywriting
  • CAD / CAM Traing (non surveying) using Solidworks or other higher end programs
  • 3D Printing and working with 3D Design / Manufacturing Processes

These are areas in the economy (all over the globe) where training is needed. Now!

About 14 months ago, I embarked on taking my A+ certification for Computers. As a parttime employee of a local computer store, I wanted to certify myself so that I could fix computers better and have a greater technical know how versus just my own 25+ yrs experience. The standard courses in Canada and the USA for the A+ certification are through a governing body called CompTIA. I signed up for their courses and started looking at making arrangements for taking the 2 tests that need to be taken. Locally, the college was not aware of these tests and CompTIA and so I could not take the tests. Grande Prairie College did not offer the tests or the ability to procter (administer) the tests. The College of New Caledonia offered the 2 tests in Prince George but only tests on Momday(test part 1) and Wednesday am (test part 2). That would require 3 days plus travel / lodging on both sides. The closest location where I could write was in Edmonton, Alberta or Vancouver, BC.

My point above was that we in the computer industry promote certifications in these courses. But know where short, of a MAJOR city, can you even take these tests. Locally, computer stores look for this instruction, testing and training. There are literally hundreds of jobs around the community that use high level computer software and require trained staff.  So again, why do we have to send people away for this type of education? In Dawson Creek, Chetwynd and Fort St John, there is a HUGE shortage in Network Administrators. So the business is there, and the need for this training.

I don’t want to sound too harsh on the local educational facilities. The reality is that we can’t train EVERYONE in EVERY discipline. But there is a world outside of Oil and Gas (and LNG when it gets going in 10 years) and we are missing the boat. Recent cutbacks to education provincially are not new and the college locally has been very much in the media complaining about the lack of funding or funding cuts (which affects enrollment). Someone at a board or community level needs to sitdown and openly discuss whether the colleges in BC and in particular Northern BC are meeting ALL our needs.  If my son or daughters want to explore career opportunities in Medicine, Robotics, Advanced Agricultural Technologies, Sciences and Humanities, Research etc, its going to be tough to get that here. And the motivated ones will move away and there is a good chance they might not come back.

Now before everyone says we have a great college system, we have lots of kids moving home opening up businesses and expanding their careers in Dawson Creek, please understand that I am also looking at the kids that don’t come home. I am talking to parents with kids in Grade 11 and 12 wondering what choices they have for their kids at the local college. My own eldest daughter took classes locally and struggled with poor programming, a non-existent interest in management meeting with the  student body leadership and all sorts of games trying to get courses credits transferred outside of Dawson Creek. Many class credits DON’T transfer to Alberta to this day.

My point in all this is to say that we need to look at our children and the world they are growing up in and tell me if you think our educational system is preparing them for careers of the future. If they don’t get the introduction in highschool (or even primary) and the college doesn’t offer training our courses in new technologies (locally). Then they will leave and don’t expect them back. In terms of taking courses through the college locally? You can take almost ANY course online through a variety of training facilities WITHOUT going through a local college.  The college simply helps register the student so they show up as a college referral. Its all a numbers game.

Last thoughts – Is there a need for technology training? Absolutely. I taught at both the Provincial Community Skills Centres, The Federal Govt funded Training Centre at North Computer (a few years back) as well as for various large corporations in Northern BC. There is a demand…but someone in programming needs to balance all the Oil and Gas Training with other forms of training or we will see a mass exodus of youth learners head south and east for advanced training and careers they simply cannot start in Dawson Creek.

my 2 cents

Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Date
August 17th, 2014

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