Clark: Special celebration for Okanagan College

…it was an honour to be invited to take part in the recent 50th anniversary celebrations at the Kelowna campus.

In 1963, it was a different world. Beatlemania first swept across North America. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in Washington, DC. The lava lamp was invented.

And in Kelowna, then premier W.A.C. Bennett opened the $1.7-million B.C. Vocational School in Kelowna. This marked the beginning of Okanagan College.

Fifty years later, Okanagan College has graduated more than 53,000 students. Today, it offers post-secondary education at four campuses: Penticton, Vernon, Salmon Arm, and the original campus in Kelowna.

It’s the largest college in B.C. outside the Lower Mainland, and one of the largest trades training institutions in the province.

From the students and staff to the jobs the college has created, it’s transformed a lot of lives—so it was an honour to be invited to take part in the recent 50th anniversary celebrations at the Kelowna campus.

And just as it’s become a crucial part of the community, it’s a critical part of our BC Jobs Plan and Skills and Training Plan. Our future prosperity hinges on developing a workforce equipped for an increasingly skill-based world economy.

And make no mistake, those highly-skilled jobs are coming. As we pursue the transformational opportunity of LNG, the impact on our economy will be incredible. It will create 100,000 jobs across B.C.

That’s our opportunity, and that’s our challenge. To make sure British Columbians are first in line for those jobs, we have to make sure they’re prepared.

Consider some of the numbers: 21,600 jobs directly involved in the building of LNG export facilities and associated pipelines; 41,900 jobs in industries that supply goods and services during construction; 2,400 permanent jobs to operate and maintain the plants and pipelines on an ongoing basis; 61,700 jobs are required to support LNG operations including workers required to drill, produce, process and transport the natural gas to export facilities.

And it’s worth pointing out, that’s just LNG. Of the one million job openings projected in B.C. by 2020, 43 per cent will need trades and technical training.

With a view to preparing British Columbians for those opportunities, we launched the Skills and Training Plan in September 2012.

It promotes opportunities in trades, and invests in and improves training facilities and equipment in institutions like Okanagan College.

That’s why the provincial government has invested more than $69 million since 2005 to expand and upgrade the college’s facilities.

That includes $28 million to modernize the trades training facility, $23 million to expand the centre of learning here at the Kelowna campus, funding to help build the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence at the Penticton campus, and expand the trades facility at the Salmon Arm campus.

For Okanagan College, the next 50 years promise to be just as bright. Future plans include the expansion and renovation of the trades training facilities at the Kelowna campus.

A $33-million investment will make sure that future welders, heavy-duty mechanics, electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers get the training they need. The expansion is expected to be complete in the spring of 2016.

For 50 years, Okanagan College has helped define a region, and transformed thousands of lives.

Here’s to another 50.

Kelowna Capital News