The Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG) Education and Training sub-committee met for the fifth time on April 24.
Laura Mannell, a planner with rePlan, who works alongside TEDWG presented a baseline study to the School District of Mystery Lake board of trustees that the sub-committee conducted as a gauge to where education and training levels are in Thompson and the surrounding area.
"The baseline is really meant to provide a concrete understanding of what the current reality is in terms of education and training today," said Mannell, "by doing so it really gives us a foundation to think about how we move forward in education and training in to the future."
The hope is that the study can also be used as a resource for local education and training organizations.
What was found in the study may be a bit unnerving to some, especially those on the board. Education levels are quite low in Manitoba, and the numbers are even worse in the North and in Thompson.
Mannell says that a focus needs to be put on education, due to the unique situation in the North with a very young population.
"In terms of age distribution, Thompson and the region have a very young population," said Mannell, "they have more people under the age of 25 than the rest of Manitoba and the rest of Canada."
To go along with that, there is a very young aboriginal population, with over 50 per cent of aboriginal people in Thompson being under the age of 25.
"This tells us that there is a lot of potential for the region because there is a great deal of human resources," said Mannell, "we need to plan for this with things like skill development and build on it for economic growth."
The Northern region that TEDWG and rePlan looked at contains 23 public schools within three districts, as well as 23 First Nations Schools.
Mannell highlighted challenges faced in some of the schools in outlying communities, in that some of them are still without high speed Internet, limiting the access to educational resources a great deal.
In the region studied, 70 per cent of the people do not have a high school diploma, and in Thompson that number is 30 per cent.
"Those numbers are quite high," said Mannell, "and the graduation rate of the high school (R.D. Parker Collegiate) is less than 50 per cent."
The one area where Thompson is meeting standards is in the trades sector. Thompson is actually on par with the province and Canada when it comes to education levels in trades.
"It makes sense that with Vale in Thompson, there would be a number of people that have training in the trades, but Vale is actually still flying many people in to fill positions at the mine, and the attrition rate for those individuals is quite high and they lose about 75 per cent of that workforce over a five to 10 year period."
Thompson's unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, slightly higher than the provincial number of 5.5 per cent. The unemployment rate among aboriginal residents is much higher at 14.2 per cent, and the regional unemployment rate is a staggering 24 per cent.
"This high level of unemployment is directly connected to low levels of education," said Mannell, "while unemployment is a reality, it doesn't appear to be due to a lack of jobs, especially in the resource sector."
The Northern Manitoba Sector Council has estimated that they will require people to fill at least 2,800 jobs in the mining, hydro and forestry industries over the next five years.
"This is where we see the need, that we need to connect education and training to these local jobs," said Mannell, "and to make sure that people have the skills necessary to attain employment."