Speaking at the Canada 2020 Conference on Skilled Trades in the Energy Sector in Ottawa Feb. 28, Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development, noted labour shortages and skills mismatches have become a “dominant policy concern.”
A number options are under consideration, including:
• Helping Canadians make more informed career choices, including at earlier stages in their education.
• Working with partners, including other levels of government and employers, for new skills and training initiatives.
• Encouraging greater workforce participation of underrepresented groups, including youth.
• Increasing private-sector involvement in training and skills development.
But Finley said she is “seriously considering” six recommendations made by Polytechnics Canada, which represents 11 colleges and institutes of technology.
It suggests reallocating existing funding or making modest new investments to enable SMEs to generate jobs. Recommendations include:
1. Launching a pilot commercialization voucher program to allow innovative SMEs to partner with colleges and other applied research service providers to overcome the well-documented, private sector late-stage commercialization hurdle.
2. Through reallocation, increase funding by $15 million for the over-subscribed College & Community Innovation Program (CCIP) so that more SMEs will benefit.
3. Using federal tendering criteria for major government contracts to create more apprenticeships by requiring bidders maintain a minimum number.
4. Create an alternative to Employment Insurance (income bridge loans, micro loans, automatic savings programs) for mature Red Seal apprentices or those in the later years of their programs. This would encourage more workers to become qualified tradespeople by offering to them the same financial support available to other post-secondary students. (Currently, apprentices are limited to Employment Insurance, which creates a barrier for many potential and existing apprentices.)
5. Provide tax credits to employers when an apprentice achieves Red Seal certification in his or her trade. Employers say they are reluctant to release employees to finish their certification because they will then have to pay higher wages or risk losing the apprentice to poaching from rival firms that do not invest in apprenticeship training.
6. Target new Labour Market Agreement funds to increase the number of Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs at colleges and polytechnics. This will increase awareness of, and facilitate new entrants into, professions in the skilled trades.
Finley, while acknowledging everyone involved in the skills issue must do more, noted employers have the primary responsibility for managing their labour forces.
“And shuffling our people from job to job without training them, or simply poaching skilled workers from other companies, only masks the problem instead of helping it.”
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor
Ottawa planning budget measures to tackle shortage of skilled trades
Addressing Canada’s growing labour and skills shortage – along with balancing the budget by 2015 – is shaping up as a dominant theme of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s 2013 budget, which is expected within weeks.
Part of the government’s plan is to challenge the bias that exists among young Canadians who see a university degree as more valuable than going to college to learn a skilled trade.
To bridge that gap, Ottawa is said to be seriously considering the pre-budget proposals from Polytechnics Canada, a group representing 11 trades-focused colleges approved to offer bachelor degrees that are equivalent to a university degree.
The Polytechnics – which include six Ontario colleges, two institutes in Alberta and one each in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – have caught the eye of the Conservative cabinet for their willingness to involve the private sector in developing curriculum.
The government wants to encourage the private sector to offer more apprenticeships – which are currently in short supply. Policy options could include rewriting labour deals with the provinces so that apprenticeships are recognized across the country. Current labour agreements with the provinces – worth about $500-million a year combined – are set to expire in 2014 and their terms around skills training must be renegotiated. Another proposed option would be for Ottawa to offer a tax credit to employers who train apprentices.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor