While Whistler2020 (Whistler's guiding community document, adopted in 2005) highlighted the need for more learning opportunities locally, there is still work to be done.
"The 2018 Community Life Survey indicates that just 31 per cent of respondents are happy with the accredited education opportunities in Whistler," said Suki Cheyne, executive director of the Whistler Learning Centre (WLC), in a presentation to the Committee of the Whole on Feb. 12.
"So what is the WLC doing to bridge the gap between the plan and reality?"
The short answer is "lots."
In her presentation, Cheyne touched on several initiatives underway at the WLC, including a new pilot program in partnership with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) called Learn Earn and Play (LEaP).
The program will allow Whistler residents to get their first year of post-secondary education while working full-time in Whistler.
"From the perspective of the labour force, and having additional recruiting of people, it can be set up in some kind of model where it's an education plus paid work experience for the international student, (and) also supplies workers into the local community," said Kevin Wainwright, director of special projects at BCIT's SITE Centre of Excellence.
"At the same time, that same type of program is also available for the local community, so it's not separated, it's not segregated, which means it's much easier to put on offerings and hit critical mass and keep programs viable."
At the outset, LEaP will focus on business-related courses, certificates, diplomas and degrees, with the level of completion depending on the goals of the student.
The courses will prove relevant to Whistler's economy, with classes relating to programs like small business management, human resources, leadership, project management, business management, sustainable business leadership, non-profit management, and tourism, as well as financial and marketing management.
The WLC is eyeing staff recruitment for the 2019-2020 winter season.
Meanwhile, in partnership with U.S.-based non-profit Road Scholar, which offers life-long learning opportunities to adults 50 and over, the WLC will host two programs in 2020.
The group is also partnering with the Lil'wat Nation to develop a First Nation Therapist Training Centre of Excellence, with training being delivered exclusively in Whistler.
"The goal of this program is to develop and implement a university-level program to train First Nation individuals at a level needed to qualify as a licensed mental health therapist falling under the BC health providers act," Cheyne said.
A speaker series is also in the works, with the first event planned for May.
The WLC is also working with the Lil'wat Nation on developing a cultural awareness course for delivery this year, Cheyne said.
"Should this be successful, it can be customized for different communities, each of which have their own unique characteristics," she said.
"This course would provide an opportunity for Resort Municipality of Whistler staff to receive First Nation cultural awareness training, which is a goal of the corporate plan."
With Statistics Canada estimating the economic impact of education services to be $13.1 billion in British Columbia for 2016, pursuing educational opportunities makes sense for Whistler.
"Education offers an opportunity for responsible growth with a weather-proof, environmentally friendly and authentic experience that can benefit the local economy and the community," Cheyne said.
The RMOW has $177,500 earmarked for learning and education initiatives in 2019, including $107,500 for Whistler 101 seminars, $45,000 for cultural tourism initiatives and $25,000 for a First Nations and Whistler Learning Centre.
Find out more about the WLC and its latest programs at www.whistlerlearningcentre.com.