Thank you very much.
I'd like to use my seven-minute statement to touch on three things. First, to describe the initiatives under way at KPU and in the Lower Mainland that might be of interest to the committee; second, to identify a couple of other contacts who might have interesting information and who you might like to speak to; and third, to identify some possible future directions for federal policy in this area.
First, KPU is a polytechnic institution, which means that work-integrated learning and pathways to the workforce aren't just priorities for us; they're key purposes. Enabling students to move through their education into appropriate, meaningful work based on what they've learned in their university curriculum is absolutely essential to our mission. That applies to everything from our welding programs and millwright programs to our liberal arts programs and our science programs.
In pursuit of those goals and values, we have co-operative education experiences, field schools, work-integrated learning experiences, service learning, and partnerships with over 300 local non-profit organizations.
My interest in this area is, however, much more specific. One of the things we are finding—and this is true across the country—is that while we do have something like a skills shortage, it would be more valid, I think, to conclude that we do not know what skills we have, and that there might be a shortage but we do not know enough about what our graduates know and can do to truly know what the Canadian labour force looks like.
When you go from grade 12, for example, into first-year university—say, into an undergraduate program—essentially everything the education system knows about you is forgotten. All of the hundreds of assessments that have been taken of your learning and your progress from kindergarten through grade 12 are distilled into a very small number of letter or number grades, depending on the province you go to.
From the perspective of understanding the skills that members of our labour force actually have, this is a significant national loss. We take all of this information we have about the passions and capacities of students and turn it into something like “B-plus”, and then when they enter university or college experiences, we start building that information from square one: What can they do? What do they know how to do? How have they grown over time? When you graduate from those programs, whether it's in a skilled trade or in an undergraduate program, we again essentially forget what it is that the education system has learned about you, so when you move out into the labour force, you have a certificate or a seal or a degree, which is meant to summarize all of this achievement. In 2017 when we know that a person's competencies are much more important than the ticket or seal or degree attached to their name, we have to start thinking of that as not good enough.
One of the things that KPU was doing—and this is the research that I'm currently engaged in—is partnering with our local school district, which is Surrey Schools, to see if we can devise ways in which we can admit students to university, not based upon their grades but based upon their actual skills and competencies.
This year we received permission to admit a small number of students to my university based on their skills and competencies. That test student group will be working with my student research team to propose future university-level policies to allow people to come to our institution with all of that rich detail and competency and ability, and not merely that letter grade, which might still persist. It's something we look at in administration or admission decisions, but really should be peripheral. What Canadian students know how to do is much more complicated than their grades, and if we're going to understand the skills the workforce truly has and needs, we need to start taking a look at that at the high school level and at the undergraduate level.
All of the information about that study can be found at our lab website, which is www.kepi.community, on which we describe the partnership and we'll be posting information about what we find as we proceed in the coming years.
There are a few persons who I think would be useful in your research. One of them is Dr. McKean, of course, who organized the post-secondary education summit for the Conference Board last week, which is where I met the honourable chair. They recently published some documents on this subject, so they would certainly be worth speaking to.
Also, as a polytechnic institute, we're a proud member of Polytechnics Canada. One of the things that Polytechnics Canada might provide the committee is some really rigorous analysis of work-integrated learning. Because it's an important area, you get lots and lots of institutions saying that work-integrated learning and these kinds of experiences are a part of what they do, but there's much less concrete policy action, which is what I'm trying to do, and much less evidence-based practice, which is what Polytechnics Canada can provide.
They collect data from my institution and 12 other polytechnic institutes that might be of significant value in tackling these issues, and they do some terrific work. I think they would certainly be worth speaking to.
I'll talk about my recommendations for possible future policy action by the federal government. This notion of amnesia is quite significant to me in terms of the system. We lose far too much information that was far too costly to collect through teachers giving assessments and observing students, through professors doing the same, and so forth. It's almost as if—and this is what I noted at the Conference Board—you move from one doctor to the other, and your new doctor does not want to read your medical file. They simply want to know if you are healthy or not, yes or no. All of these different details in a medical file surely are pertinent to your health in much the same way that all of the different competencies you've developed in your bachelor of arts, for example, are relevant to what you could contribute to the workplace.
I think the federal government has a couple of possible avenues for intervention here. One of them is that we need a shared language, which we currently lack, among K-to-12 systems, university or post-secondary systems, and companies. I'm hearing the representative of the Welding Association speak in terms very similar to those used by the representative of the analogous body for mining, who I spoke to last week. I'm struck by how little we actually speak with these industry bodies, and how, when we do, we tend to use completely different language to describe the same things. In K-to-12 schools, the learning outcomes established by the provincial governments are not well understood by professors, who do very little communicating back to the K-to-12 systems about what's learned within university; and neither of those two systems speaks very well to companies and to the economy. We need a shared language across all three sectors: K to 12; post-secondary; and the private sector or the public sector, our employers.
I think a useful example of this is the classification of instructional programs used by Statistics Canada, which provides shared language about the kinds of jobs that Canadians have. That framework allows us to collect data through the census, for example, about employment rates and about our labour force. What we need is something similar in the area of skills development that could be used both in education and in industry.
The second point is that the federal government could support a system through which we could more adequately carry all of this information forward. It should be seen, if you step back from the system, as simply unacceptable that we do not know what our labour force knows. We're looking at a number of different platforms to catalogue and better understand what graduates actually know as they enter the workforce. When we're talking about the formulation of federal trade and industrial policy, I think that kind of data would be absolutely crucial in making good decisions. The federal government could certainly support a shared language and a shared dataset in terms of what graduates and people in a workforce know and can do. I think educational systems can contribute meaningfully to that.
I think those are the two best areas I could suggest to interact with. We also have some excellent experiential learning folks at KPU, including Dr. Larissa Petrillo, who manages the 300 partnerships I mentioned before and who might be very good for you to speak to.
Thank you for your time.