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Year in review: Tech education has played essential role in B.C.’s economic recovery

We made it. The new year is at our doorstep along with a promise of the beginning of the end of the pandemic that locked us in its clutches much of this past year.

We made it. The new year is at our doorstep along with a promise of the beginning of the end of the pandemic that locked us in its clutches much of this past year.

There’s not much more to say about the world’s shock, horror and struggle in response to COVID-19. I extend our thoughts and sympathies to the many people who lost loved ones to this terrible virus and those who are still recovering from its unpredictable effects. The inconvenience and even boredom of physical distancing and other measures pale in comparison to your tragic loss.

I’d like to give a big tip of the hat to everyone in post-secondary education during this extremely challenging time. And I cannot thank the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) community enough for its commitment and resolve as we pivoted to primarily online learning this spring and then leaned in again this fall to support the safe return of some programs to campus.

I know this has not been an easy path and, as the calendar turns, so I hope will our spirits, minds, and resolve.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said earlier this month, “Although the path ahead remains treacherous, we can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic.”

And so, there is room for hope. I believe there is always room for hope.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to work with 2,400 faculty and staff across six campuses who deliver an exceptional applied education to about 50,000 students annually, in partnership with industry. Our schools cross key sectors of the economy and society:  Business and Media; Computing and Academic Studies; Construction and the Environment; Energy; Health Sciences and Transportation. In fact, for 55 years, BCIT’s provincial mandate has been to ensure an ongoing skilled workforce for B.C.’s key economic sectors.

Education elevates skills, experience and possibilities and empowers greater aspirations and accomplishments. The fact that BCIT and other post-secondary institutions were deemed an “essential service” this past year was no mistake. We play an essential role in the lives of our students and, importantly, B.C.’s economic recovery.

As 2020 evolved, our faculty helped displaced workers achieve new, high-demand skills. We assess existing skills and experience, literally give credit where it’s due and help learners re-enter the workforce as efficiently as possible.

We will be here for learners, time and again, as they continue lifelong learning to evolve their skills and careers in response to evolving challenges and opportunities.

One quick example: as soon as the pandemic hit, BCIT offered a free online course, focused on caring for COVID-19 patients, which has been completed by 11,000 health professionals in Canada and the U.S.

In many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated already rapidly evolving technological change that is profoundly impacting how we all live and work. And there’s hope here, too. The World Economic Forum is forecasting that, while 85 million jobs will disappear; an estimated 97 million new jobs will emerge. Opportunity abounds, with the key being access to ongoing learning.

The pandemic has exposed issues in our society impacting poor and marginalized communities, racism and gender bias, and the looming threat of climate change. As we emerge from this pandemic, we cannot accept the status quo. We must do better.

I’m very proud of the ongoing work BCIT is doing in these key areas as well through our globally recognized Sustainability Vision and Centre for Ecocities; our Diversity Circles and our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which are championing respect, diversity and inclusion in alignment with our core values. And our Indigenous Services team is creating and delivering on our Indigenous Vision; embedding indigenization across all BCIT programs and expanding services and support for Indigenous learners.

Let’s seize the learning embedded in this shared pandemic experience and use these opportunities to become even stronger and healthier as a global community.

Thank you, all, for your support and passion: we couldn’t do it without you. I wish you a very happy, healthy and hopeful new year. •

Kathy Kinloch is president of the British Columbia Institute of Technology.