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SFU president cautions province on trades focus

Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter speaking before the Surrey Board of Trade April 1. - Jeff Nagel / Black Press
Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter speaking before the Surrey Board of Trade April 1.
— image credit: Jeff Nagel / Black Press

Simon Fraser University president Andrew Petter is cautioning the province against a major shift in advanced education budget dollars from universities to trades training.

Petter spoke to members of the Surrey Board of Trade on Tuesday, arguing skills shortages are actually forecast to be more acute for college- and university-trained workers in the years ahead than in trades.

"We're in a highly competitive global knowledge-based economy," Petter said. "Our capacity to exploit our natural resource base depends upon having not only skilled labourers, but having the kinds of engineers, entrepreneurs, managers and business people to market and deliver those resources in a way that exacts the maximum value."

He's the latest university administrator to express trepidation with the government's focus on trades as it aims to launch a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry.

"We should not be engaged in a zero sum kind of battle for dollars," Petter said later in an interview.

Petter said he emerged from a meeting with advanced education minister Amrik Virk hopeful that the province understands more student seats are needed in all sectors.

He said the province's expected labour shortage in skilled trades workers is "relatively small" compared to the much larger shortage of people with college and university credentials.

"Because there's a certain immediacy and tangibility around the trades issue there's a danger that we lose sight of the fact that we're going to need the full spectrum of post-secondary graduates."

Petter outlined plans to pursue an up to $300-million capital expansion of SFU's Surrey campus in the city's burgeoning city centre over the next 10 years.

New offerings would fall in three major areas – energy systems engineering, health technologies and creative technologies, including game design.

Petter said the Surrey expansion strategy is underpinned by the large youthful demographic in the area as well as the city's rapid growth.

"Here in Surrey it would be tragic to see such a large potential contributing labour force instead undervalued and not given the opportunity to reach their full potential."

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