With Alberta’s lagging economy, Calgary’s School of Public Policy says the province is facing a tough question when it comes to the future of post-secondary training: should schools stay the course and train more oil-industry workers, or should they seize new opportunities in alternative energy?
Labour economist Herb Emery says it’s vital that policymakers start addressing the question in a serious way.
“If we’re going to have budgetary issues and the world is going to get leaner, let’s start strategically planning,” says Emery. “The fact that we’re not even strategically planning around that and we’re taking these gambles anyway just seems we’re not doing a really good job of at least being prudent.”
One option, says Emery, is to maintain the status quo and hope that oil rebounds soon.
A second option is to anticipate a move to alternative energy and to begin to diversify educational programming towards clean technology.
Another option is to double down on the alternative energy sector and create a glut of workers in the hopes of spurring investment and driving the transformation of the economy.
There is no clear answer, he says.
“Staying put you may be bailed out by the energy prices coming back, but if they don’t come back you’ll be held accountable for not having doing something when there might’ve been a better opportunity.”
He points out that all of the options come with a risk.
If colleges and universities move away now and then oil rebounds, it would be very expensive to return to the traditional programs.
But, he says, there is little sense in training people for careers that won’t exist in the future.
The best decision will be made if policymakers make sure to find out what students and taxpayers want, adds Emery.
“Because the tax payer and the students are going to be the ones caught holding the bag if the gamble goes bad.”