An important group of scientists is holding a meeting in Prince George next week to focus on boosting technology and science-based industrial practices in the northern region.
The event is a presentation of the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C. (ASTTBC), as part of National Technology Week. The group has 10,000 members and is the ninth largest professional organization in the province.
The keynote speaker in Prince George is Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond. There will also be a panel discussion led by Northern Development Initiatives Trust CEO Janine North, the City of Prince George's infrastructure specialist Frank Blues, Aboriginal Business and Community Development Centre executive director Vince Prince, and other key participants in northern B.C.'s tech economy.
The executive director of the technologists and technicians organization, John Leech, was raised in Prince George and still has close family in the city. He is not surprised to see the northern region leading the provincial economy's momentum, and sees the science professions as the critical element to capitalizing on the potential of the resource-based industries showing interest in the north.
"Today, trades is getting much higher profile and that is needed, but you want a workforce that carries on past the construction phase of these projects, you want to innovate and develop products and new systems so you add value to your resources," Leech said. "If you take a look at investment and return on investment, the tech jobs are higher paid and to a large extent recession-proof. You'll get a very large return on invest in a tech career. Our research shows 20 per cent of members earn over $100,000 a year and the average is $80,000."
Leech said one of the best parts of the scientific professions is how varied they are. From road building to infrastructure management to forest health to mining exploration to all sides of environmental protection, the jobs of science are the jobs of industry. Only 10 per cent are women, but the ranks are growing and Leech is thrilled about that and recent uptakes in aboriginal interest.
That will only improve, he said, with decisions like the provincial government's investment in engineering programs at UNBC.
"Good for the government to announce a Masters program at UNBC, that was excellent news and strategically helpful for the province, and I would encourage [Advanced Education Minister Amrik] Virk to now come back to P.G. and implement a civil engineering technology program at CNC to go with it."
CNC had approval for such a program but it has stalled in the budget and Leech wants to see delivery on that promise.
He is also impressed with the provincial government's new proposal to create a 10-year skills development plan for students, so the latter years of their grade schooling would dovetail better into their post-secondary education plans.
"We are looking at a system of dual-credits so kids can take some tech training in high school and have that lead to credits at places like BCIT and we'd like to see that at CNC," he said. "We think they are doing a lot of good work and we are there to provide as much support and assistance as we can. To give credit where credit is due, the BC Jobs Plan may not be perfect but it does give professional organizations like ours a roadmap of where they want to go, so we can address the education system."
He added that companies involved in the trades professions had done a good job of making their needs known to post-secondary and government officials.
The Prince George event is a breakfast session on Monday from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Coast Inn of the North. There is no cost to attend but registration is required at http://www.asttbc.org/services/specialevents.php.