Kathleen Wynne visits Durham College, UOIT

Kathleen Wynne was at the 2016 summit on talent and skills in the new economy on January 20, hosted by Durham College and UOIT.

The need for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs is important to opening doors for students who will be looking for jobs after graduating and ultimately shrinking the unemployment rate in Ontario and Canada as a whole.

That’s the message Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says is behind a summit on talent and skills in the new economy hosted by Durham College on January 20.

If we have workers, employers, government and educational institutions working collaboratively then we will see constant improvement in the labour force and the skills students are attaining, the premier told reporters at a news conference.

Wynne was on hand to discuss the accessibility of post-secondary education and what the province of Ontario is doing to make STEM programs in college and university more accessible for students.

STEM programs are some of the most expensive programs offered in post-secondary schools, and according to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average public debt for students in Ontario is $37,000 after completing a four-year degree.

“Access is somewhere we are really focused on and it’s where we will continue to focus. There are students who come into the system and come out on the other side with a huge debt load because they don’t have the financial support to deal with tuition rates,” says Wynne.

“The ministry is working with the government to find ways to improve access,” says Wynne.

Wynne would not comment further on what her government would be rolling out in the near future to help combat the debt load and accessibility of post-secondary education.

Peggy Sattler, the NDP’s training, colleges and universities critic, who was also at the event says, “she (Wynne) mentioned that we are far over represented in college level attainment but we are in fact being outpaced dramatically by other countries”.

“Tuition is a huge barrier to access for students. The NDP has called, repeatedly, at a minimum for a freeze on post-secondary tuition rates and then look to rebalancing who is funding post-secondary education,” says Sattler.

Sattler also say society benefits from having a well-educated work force so the government has a responsibility to fund post-secondary education so people who want to get that education are able to afford to do so.

The summit featured many influential speakers including president and managing director of General Motors Canada and president and CEO of Siemens Canada, Robert Hardt. The focus of the summit was to bring these people together to speak about the highly skilled workforce strategy the government of Ontario is working on.