This op-ed was originally published in the Toronto Star, on January 27, 2020.
Year after year, Canada figures among the top-ranked countries when comparing post-secondary attainment rates. In 2018, 62 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds in Canada held a post-secondary title or degree, way above the 44 per cent average among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries.
What few people realize is that Canada’s remarkable system of colleges and institutes is what pushes us so far above average. Canada boasts some of the best universities in the world and the share of Canadians with a bachelor’s degree is slightly above the OECD average, but it’s our robust and accessible college system that really sets us apart.
In 2018, 26 per cent of all Canadians aged 25-64 had obtained a short-cycle tertiary diploma, which are usually granted by colleges and institutes, compared to an OECD average of only 7 per cent.
That difference is huge, but it’s not too surprising for those of us who work closely with colleges and institutes. It is first and foremost a testament to the value these institutions provide to Canadians and their communities across the country.
In fact, 95 per cent of Canadians, and 86 per cent of Indigenous people, live within 50 km of a college or institute campus or learning centre. Being present in so many communities, they are able to serve Canadians where they live, and provide them with accessible training opportunities that meet their needs, as well as the needs of local employers.
That focus on the local economy is also why colleges and institutes use program advisory committees that allow local experts and employers to weigh in on curriculum development and program requirements in order to ensure they are up to date and meet industry needs.
This is especially valuable in these times of rapid technological progress and disruption where many jobs and sectors are changing dramatically. It is this deep connection that makes colleges and institutes among the most adaptable post-secondary institutions in the world.
Chances are that the vast majority of Canadians entering the workforce these days will need to return to school at some point to hone their skills or even shift to another sector altogether as industries change. Access to flexible programs and credentials, continuing education, online learning, as well prior-learning assessment and recognition will all become essential assets going forward.
To ensure Canadians have as many opportunities as possible for re-skilling or upskilling we need to embrace a culture of lifelong learning. The good news is that Canada has a strong foundation on which to build, as colleges and institutes across the country are already working hard to provide diverse, flexible learning options, and deliver for their communities.
President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada