Chamber gets education strategy paper passed 

Created to address labour, skills shortages

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The British Columbia Chamber of Commerce has unanimously passed Whistler Chamber of Commerce's paper on creating a national strategy on post-secondary education in Canada.

Whistler Chamber president Fiona Famulak said the paper would be presented at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's annual general meeting in Hamilton in September. If it passes there, it will be presented to the federal government as a policy request.

Famulak said the paper was created to address labour and skills shortages with "forward thinking."

Focusing on education, literacy and immigration and training, Whistler's paper seeks greater co-ordination of the post-secondary education system. Canada, said Famulak, has no national strategy, unlike other countries.

"Almost all countries have aggressive national strategies on post-secondary education, in order to advance their agenda to demonstrate to the world that they are innovative and productive and can attract national growth," she said.

Canada's failure to create a strategy means it hampers the nation's ability to develop a homegrown skills base with which to tackle the national skills shortage, Famulak said.

It also hampers Canada being able to compete effectively globally and attract foreign students who are crucial to the economic viability to Canadian educational institutions and the country's overall economic health.

"Although we don't have an issue right now, we do want to be proactive to make sure our businesses have access to the human resources and skills that they'll need in the future," Famulak said.

Meanwhile, the Whistler Chamber's initiative to broaden the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, previously known as the Working Holiday Visa Program, from Australian nationals to include citizens of New Zealand, the U.K., South Korea, the Czech Republic and Japan was not presented to the B.C. Chamber AGM as originally planned.

Famulak said it remains a priority for the Whistler Chamber in 2012, but more research was needed for this particular paper. She added that the IEC proposal would be presented, "at the very latest," to the B.C. Chamber at their 2013 AGM, though it remained possible that it could be on the table for the Canadian Chamber AGM in September.

Kosuke Homma, 32, is a British citizen who has permanent residency status and plans to apply for his Canadian citizenship later this year — after having come to Canada on a working holiday visa.

He works as a snowboarding instructor in Whistler and started a discussion page on Facebook called "2 year IEC Visas for other nationals without residency requirements", which now has 200 members, mainly Britons, New Zealanders and Japanese nationals.

Many foreign workers of the IEC program visas "don't know what their future holds," he said in an interview. For the British, the one-year visa quota for the IEC program for 2012 was reached in May.

"I know a few people who didn't get their application in (for renewal, before the quota was met) and they are going to have to leave," he said. "For sure, they're desperate."

They will have to leave the country and reapply for 2013, should they wish to come back.

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