The Dryden Observer

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Time to smarten up?

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

A report from the Northwest Training and Adjustment Board is a distant early warning of a dire need to increase the average education level of the region’s inhabitants should we wish to share in the spoils of a foretold mining boom.

The basic facts uncovered by the Local Labour Market Plan Report are cringeworthy: over 30 per cent of the population in this area does not have a high school diploma.

Less than one per cent of new trades apprentice registrations and trades certification in Ontario are happening in the Kenora/Rainy River District.

But perhaps what we should fear the most is that only 16 per cent of those actively seeking work through employment services are pursuing more training or education and less than 40 per cent of those seeking help with basic literacy skills express an interest in going any further with their education.

These figures indicate to me that a reckless disregard for the value of learning exists among too high a number of us.

Okay, so what? What does this mean in the long run?

If there is one thing I believe to be true in this world, it is that low-skilled, under-educated people are vulnerable to being taken advantage of at every turn.

Consumer culture pressures us constantly to make poor decisions within an economic system that seeks to increase indebtedness and serves the most informed who recognize the game for what it is.

Those who lack a high school diploma hold far less options to shape their own destiny, less ability to negotiate a better deal for themselves and are doomed to grow bitter over their constant political marginalization. It’s basically a mirror image of the Northwest’s historical relationship with the rest of Ontario.

Bringing little more than our assertions of heritage rights to the table, it’s never been enough to elevate our collective bargaining position.

Transforming the Northwest’s relationship with the rest of Ontario begins with elevating the bargaining position of every single resident by developing the skills which increase our value to others.

Because if we don’t, someone with those skills will fly in, then fly out after three weeks taking their paycheck with them.

Ours is not an isolated problem, a perceived shortage of skilled workers in Western provinces has been identified as Canada’s most pressing economic problem according to the federal government. The Conference Board of Canada has even projected that Canada faces a labour shortage of up to one million workers by 2020.

What may truly exist is a general unwillingness to work in the kind of trades-based resource extraction environments that are generating most of the country’s high paying jobs, which come part and parcel with the struggles of existing in locales with a notoriously high cost of living.

An Albertan business owner told Rex Murphy on CBC’s Cross Country Check-up that he’d been through over 10 basically unreliable employees in a matter of months, citing a general lack of skills and motivation to learn them.

“They know how to play video games,” he said.

 

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