To the Chair, Mr. Chong, the Vice-Chair, Mr. Godin, who is also the member of Parliament for Acadie—Bathurst, Ms. Vice-Chair St-Denis and members of the committee, good morning.
First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation to appear today before the Standing Committee on Official Languages of the House of Commons. I am pleased to appear as President of the Board of Governors of the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick, or the CCNB. What's more, the theme of the economic situation of official languages minority communities is of particular interest to us.
I do not have to convince you of the importance of action to support official languages in Canada on the development of minority communities. In the field of education in New Brunswick, that action supports a number of initiatives at all levels, initiatives that contribute to the vitality and economic development of our communities.
I will start by briefly describing our training institution. I will provide some figures that show our economic contribution to the province, and I will speak to the challenges that we face in fulfilling our mandate. I will finish with some possible solutions and recommendations that could help us meet these challenges with our partners.
The CCNB is a technical and professional training institution that, for the last 40 years, has contributed to the development of the Acadian and francophone population in the only officially bilingual province in the country.
Our community represents one third of the 750,000 residents of the province. However, neither the New Brunswick Official Languages Act, the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick, or the inclusion of the principle of the equality of the two linguistic communities in New Brunswick in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have provided, in actual fact, for equality and the desired level of economic development.
Recently, in 2010, the New Brunswick Community Colleges Act recognized the CCNB as an independent French-language college, replacing the bilingual structure that had previously been in place.
The CCNB's mission is to contribute to the development of individuals and of the Acadian and francophone community by offering training programs focused on skills that meet the needs of the labour market, by supporting applied research that stimulates innovation, and through active engagement in our communities. Our five campuses offer more than 92 technical and professional training programs which reflect the needs of the market.
In 2012-2013, the CCNB's regular and continuing education programs served more than 8,560 students. Of those, 86% found a job in the year following their graduation.
Economic Modeling Specialists International recently undertook a study on the impact that the CCNB has in the province. In 2012-2013, the CCNB employed over 700 people and had a budget of $60 million. According to the study, the overall contribution of the CCNB and its students to the economy of New Brunswick was $400.5 million, representing roughly 1.4% of the province's GDP. The payroll was $44 million. The CCNB represented, to provincial taxpayers, a return on investment of 3.6%. Every dollar spent led to the following results: a return of $4.50 for students in terms of lifetime income, and $5.40 to society due to additional provincial revenues and savings to social spending.
The socioeconomic situation is troubling. In 2012, professor Maurice Beaudin, an economist at the Université de Moncton, published a study on labour market trends and the need for labour force training in northern New Brunswick. It showed that more than 70% of the Acadian and francophone population of the province lives in this largely rural area. It also showed that the economy of northern New Brunswick is currently faced with demographic decline, high levels of unemployment, and low literacy and education levels among the population. Although good jobs are available, businesses often have a hard time filling them.
With the exception of our Dieppe campus, which benefits from a better economic climate in the south-east of the province, the CCNB's other campuses are located in northern New Brunswick, in Bathurst, Campbellton, Edmundston and on the Acadian Peninsula. This is a resource region where the economy is based on mines, forestry, peat, and fishing. Major structural changes to the economy over the last 20 years mean that the region is currently in economic transition.
As a result we have seen a number of troubling trends. These include an exodus of young people from northern New Brunswick to the western provinces and to urban areas in southern New Brunswick. There is also the ageing population, which is one of the main reasons for smaller cohorts of skilled workers available to the labour market. A third trend linked to education means that we have low literacy and graduation levels, as well as a high number of individuals who are unemployed and who do not have a diploma or a certificate.
Given this context, the Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick has been warning for several years that regional employers are facing a shortage of skilled workers, representing one of the biggest challenges to their development. This shortage includes not only specialized knowledge, but also skills like adaptability and the ability to work as part of a team.
I will now provide some recommendations for action that could be taken.
It is clear that, as things stand right now, northern New Brunswick is not well prepared for structural changes to the economy. However, the CCNB sees a number of possibilities for training, institutional development and innovation.
Given the CCNB's major role in the New Brunswick Economic Development Action Plan and the New Brunswick Labour Force and Skills Development Strategy 2013-2016, the CCNB is well placed to offer recommendations and suggest positive actions.
It follows that it is essential for the CCNB to increase the skill level of those who are untrained or undertrained, as well as for those who are unemployed or underemployed. The CCNB is ready to play its role in collaboration with major industry stakeholders, the community, governments and other training institutions.
Meanwhile, industry stakeholders wish to see more added value in the natural resource sector. Promising projects include secondary and tertiary processing of natural resources and industrial manufacturing. This is particularly true for megaprojects and large industrial sites.
Working in cooperation with the province, the federal government can directly contribute to local economic development through investments in several sectors. First of all, there needs to be more funding for applied research and innovation at the post-secondary level, and particularly at the college level. Second, the government must invest in infrastructure projects under the Building Canada 2014 program. For the CCNB, this means investing in maintaining our current infrastructure and adding space to adequately meet our training and research needs. Third, the government must support efforts to recruit students internationally, as well as student and staff mobility. Fourth, there must be adequate funding for a system of loans and bursaries that are tailored to the needs of students. Fifth, there must be funding for business internships. Sixth, there must be funding for health care training in French. We already receive funding from the Consortium national de formation en santé, the CNFS. We also rely on funding from the Official Languages in Education Program administered by Canadian Heritage. Finally, we look forward to the establishment of federal institutions in the regions.
In conclusion, it is clear to us that higher literacy levels and lower school dropout rates in our province would allow the CCNB to make a greater contribution to the economic success of our province, as our pool of potential recruits for post-secondary education would be much larger.
Because of dropping birth rates, these recruitment challenges will become even greater in the coming years if nothing is done to keep young people in school and to allow us to reach a larger proportion of our undereducated population.
This will only be possible if we define and better control the idea of access to education in such a way as to reduce financial barriers. It is essential that we work in cooperation with all of our partners to meet the needs of Acadian and francophone communities. It is essential that the provincial government, which is responsible for education, make a culture of learning and ongoing training an interdepartmental priority, with the support of the federal government through various programs designed to support official languages minority communities throughout the country.
Thank you for the invitation to provide our views. I wish the Standing Committee on Official Languages nothing but success with its consultations.