Western Canada’s workforce needs more diplomas, degrees (Guest commentary)

Geography, community context and culture account for fewer secondary and post-secondary grads in West
By Marlyn Chisholm
|Western Report|Last Updated: 08/10/2009

Although educational attainment in Western Canada has been rising in recent years, it still has a long way to go to catch up with other parts of Canada and some of our international competitors. The share of the labour force aged 25 to 54 with post-secondary credentials (certificate, diploma or higher) was about 56 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 2007, compared with a national average of 65 per cent. This east-west gap creates real concerns for all Canadians.

The key concerns are productivity and long-term quality of life. A highly educated workforce is more productive and competitive. In the long term, this means higher real incomes, greater economic success and, ultimately, a better quality of life, both at the individual and the aggregate social level.

We need to do a better job of helping students in Western Canada complete high school and enrol in post-secondary education. While the high school graduation rate has risen in every Canadian province during the past decade, about 9.5 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 do not have a high school diploma and dropout rates in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta are 12.6 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 11.3 per cent, respectively. In rural Manitoba and Alberta, dropout rates exceed 20 per cent. Additionally, high school graduates in the West are the most likely to delay entry into post-secondary education, or choose not to attend at all, according to results from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey.