This op-ed was first published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on October 8, 2015.
With technology evolving at an ever-increasing pace, access to state-of-the art facilities and equipment is not a “nice-to-have” for post-secondary education institutions, but a necessity to train job-ready graduates in high-demand fields. This is especially true for Canada’s colleges and institutes, which are mandated to provide hands-on skills training and experiential learning.
Unfortunately, aging facilities are a growing concern for the communities served by these institutions, where almost half of existing infrastructure currently exceeds its 40-year life cycle. The impact of the situation is most evident in the growing wait lists for programs such as nursing, engineering technologies, carpentry and welding. Employers are offering the jobs that our communities need to prosper, but a growing number of institutions are struggling to meet their demands.
Graduates trained on the latest equipment and technologies are able to hit the ground running when joining the workforce. Businesses can also turn to well-equipped colleges to provide skills upgrading and retraining for their existing employees.
The impact of aging infrastructure is evident at St. Lawrence College, where the estimated cost of deferred maintenance has reached $71 million. In addition to this amount, two new projects are ready to launch for an estimated cost of $39 million. It is critical that the current facilities be maintained, but equally important investments are needed to build the innovative new learning and teaching areas that will ensure that current and future students are provided with a leading-edge learning environment.
St. Lawrence College is not alone in this position; many other institutions across the country face this same situation. Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) members across the country estimate their total funding needs for deferred maintenance at $1.6 billion, with 800 projects fully planned and ready to start as soon as funding is available. Colleges and institutes also have up to 200 new construction projects ready to go, valued at $6 billion. Given the central role colleges and institutes play in communities across the country, infrastructure investments will generate an immediate economic boost for communities in the short term in addition to the long-term benefits to students and employers.
At St. Lawrence College, more than 80 per cent of graduates work and live in the community. The annual impact in eastern Ontario of the college’s students and operations is more than $861 million. By investing in the infrastructure needs of the college, the government will be investing in the future of a vibrant, healthy and prosperous region. And this success story can be replicated in communities across the country, where governments have the opportunity to invest in the bright future of millions of graduates who will play a vital role Canada’s continued prosperity.
Glenn Vollebregt, President and CEO, St. Lawrence College
Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada