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Rex Murphy, live in Pembroke

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy hosts his live call in show Cross Country Checkup from Algonquin College's waterfront campus in Pembroke on Sunday afternoon. The show was a lively discussion on whether education was serving the needs of Canada's young people.

CBC broadcaster Rex Murphy hosts his live call in show Cross Country Checkup from Algonquin College's waterfront campus in Pembroke on Sunday afternoon. The show was a lively discussion on whether education was serving the needs of Canada's young people.

There's nothing like being in front of a live audience.

CBC radio personality and broadcaster Rex Murphy, host of the open-line radio program Cross Country Checkup, was live and on location at Algonquin College’s waterfront campus Sunday afternoon to talk youth unemployment, college, university, the skills mismatch for employers, labour market shortages and the like.

The two hour show, held in the student common area, was a mix of phone calls and questions from the audience regarding the topic of education, and whether it was doing enough to prepare students for the real world.

Murphy's guests included Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen and Fred Blackstein, vice-chairman of the college’s board of governors and retired professional engineer, provided commentary and insight into the topic.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the veteran broadcaster said he enjoys interacting with a live audience.

"It is so much easier to do this in front of people," he said, and not in an empty studio with a producer or two.

"Anything live, you get the energy from the audience. It's more fun, and you get to meet some nice and interesting people. Plus, you get out of the centre of the city."

Jamie Bramburger, community and student affairs manager of Algonquin College's waterfront campus, said in a press release occasionally the CBC takes Cross County Checkup on the road for live shows from destinations across Canada. The topic of post-secondary education had the CBC looking for a campus environment for the show.

"Algonquin College expressed an interest in hosting Rex Murphy and after several months of communication, the CBC chose Algonquin for the live program," he wrote.

The gist of the far ranging discussion seemed to be college was the best choice for many students, for its ability to be flexible in meeting employers demands for a tailor-made workforce, the increased likelihood of employment, and for the economics of not building up large amounts of student debt.

Jensen said there is room for improvement, explaining this country needs to learn from Europe and develop a culture of apprenticeships.

"We should be training our own," she said, and work on encouraging local businesses to sign up.

Several speakers noted a university education is not a sure route to a career or job, and has become horrendously expensive.

"The view used to be those who can't get into university went to college," Jensen said. "Now, colleges are a choice that people make first."

Murphy said he personally thinks it is terrible a university education costs more than most people's first homes, and for something which may not matter as much as it was once thought.

"I don't believe it's an elevator to a higher state of being," he said.

As an example of what an established college can do, Jeremy Whitlock, of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, said with the nuclear program ongoing at Chalk River, the need for radiation safety technicians became apparent. So the company contacted Algonquin College and in time the radiation safety technician program was launched at the college.

"This was a unique skill that was needed," he said, so the college and CNL got together to make it happen.

"We need to do more of this," Whitlock said.

Another example given was the college's successful outdoor adventure program, which was developed with Wilderness Tours, the whitewater rafting resort.

Blackstein pointed out next year, the college system marks its 50th year, and Algonquin is already doing a review of its programs to ensure they still meet the needs of students and employers alike.

Jensen said it is important to note when the college looks at the courses, it is building course models of what the students want and need.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

stephen.uhler@sunmedia.ca


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