Our Two Cents

Call to Action - New BC Student Loan Program

As the economic recovery continues in Canada, the need for a properly trained workforce increases on a daily basis. Shortages of qualified workers are already beginning to show up in a variety of industries, including trucking and related transportation industries.

For qualified truck drivers, there are excellent employment opportunities with quality employers, at above average wages, but the fact is that many unemployed or under employed Canadians who want to retrain for these jobs are prevented from doing so because they can't get enough money to pay for tuition, books, transportation, and accommodations.

Proper training that meets established standards and results in skill sets that allow individuals to be employable right out of school is critical to meet the current needs, but good training from an accredited school is expensive.

Andy Roberts, owner and President of Castlegar, BC-based Mountain Transport Institute, says, “I’m receiving inquiries from carriers every week looking for graduates of the Earning Your Wheels program at MTI. We are currently running classes of four students each – in the past it was 8 to 10 per class – not because people aren’t interested, but because they can’t access funding to take the program.”

Roberts is behind a "call to action" for the BC government to create a new student loan program so anyone who chooses can access money for training to improve their personal situation and become a more effective and productive individual.

The current student loan programs in BC and the rest of Canada are set up for relatively low cost and lengthy college or university style programs and won't allow for loans that fund shorter more expensive programs such as professional driver training.

To make matters worse in BC, the primary source of funding for driver training is also under the gun. In November 2009, due to a high demand for retraining dollars during the recessionary times, the BC government placed a "temporary" cap on tuition funding ($4,000) for clients who were receiving Employment Insurance (EI) benefits, and this cap remains in place today. Although many programs fall under the $4,000 cap, there are capital intensive training programs (professional driver training, heavy equipment operator, aviation, commercial diving, etc.) with tuition fees that regularly exceed $10,000 and in many cases are close to $20,000, once all costs are factored in.

Roberts has created a website with a wealth of background information on both the current and proposed student loan funding regimes. The website includes an on-line petition and allows you to send letters to the Premier and cabinet ministers directly from the site. There are also generic and sector-specific sample letters you can use, as well as e-mail addresses of all BC MLAs.

Having a viable student loan program is a win-win situation for all involved: students can access training that allows them to be employable, carriers can fill their empty seats with qualified professional drivers, the government gets the money back to reuse for the next student, the schools get motivated students as they have bills to pay at the end of their training, and the public wins with safer roads to share.

Please visit the website and support this initiative. A re-vamped, trucking-friendly student loan program in BC could be a model for other Canadian provinces.


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