Thoughts on Ontario’s Budget

Ontario’s 2019 budget[1], released on April 11, contains a few announcements relevant to the adult education and training sector.

Several efforts mentioned in the budget are directed at the automotive sector in response to the shutting down of GM’s Oshawa plant. While these efforts are specific to that sector, I think they signal how the province plans to deal with training in general.

The province’s Driving Prosperity strategy is built on three pillars – a competitive business climate, innovation, and talent. The talent ‘pillar’ is made up of :

  • Promote careers in advanced manufacturing
  • Leverage industry input
  • Enhance and raise awareness of existing employment and training programs
  • Strengthen and formalize Ontario’s technical education pathways

For the automotive sector, the province plans to:

  • Develop a talent roadmap and skills inventory;
  • Launch a micro‐credentials pilot to help the unemployed and at‐risk workers gain skills to succeed;
  • Create new internships and other experiential learning opportunities;
  • Establish an online learning and training portal focused on manufacturing skills; and
  • Increase funding for AVIN’s TalentEdge program to support internships and fellowships for research on connected and autonomous vehicles.

The concept of micro-credentials appears again under the proposed review of the Second Career program, which provides up to $28,000 for training, where the province intends to launch a micro-credentials pilot.

Micro-credentials, or as they are called in some jurisdictions, badges, “are most frequently online representations of proficiency in a particular skill or competency.”[2] Micro-credentials lend themselves to short, specific training sessions not necessarily based in time and are seen as an alternative to more formal, time-based programs.

British Columbia’s Decoda Literacy Solutions developed a series of badges for practitioner and learner credentials. An infographic on its webpage explains how they work. Bow Valley College in Calgary introduced micro-credentials through its Pivot-Ed program Learning Agents’ Don Presant has promoted the use of online badges for years and hosts an online platform for tracking badges.

The concept is particularly useful for shorter training programs and for prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR). Micro-credentials can build a pathway towards full credentials.

However, the notion of micro-credentials shows up in proposed changes to how apprenticeship will work in the province. The province had previously announced the winding down of the College of Trades which regulates apprenticeship. Budget 2019 contains initiatives to “modernize” the apprenticeship system. One initiative caught my eye:

“Part of this modernization approach includes a new flexible framework to enable training and certification in a full trade or in a portable skill set, which would allow training and certification within and between trades.”

This immediately brought to mind BC’s experiment in modularizing its apprenticeship system back in 2003. A report by the BC Federation of Labour based on Statistics Canada data found, among other points, that:

  • Overall apprenticeship completion rates have declined compared to a decade ago and relative to other jurisdictions.
  • Lower average rates of completion for trades that are compulsory in other jurisdictions suggest that the absence of compulsory trade certification in BC decreases the motivation for apprentices to complete.
  • Certification in Red Seal trades has declined significantly in BC, from 84% in the 2001 to 2004 period to 65% in the 2011 to 2014 period. This decline is greater than that experienced in the rest of Canada and suggests fewer tradespeople in BC are completing the full Red Seal certification since implementation[3].

These findings were echoed by the BC Chamber of Commerce which outlined some ‘unintended consequences” promoting the Chamber to recommend that the provincial government:

  • Should discontinue certification of modular in training; and
  • Should realign with the certification practices of the rest of Canada accompanied by using a clear framework for the review of trades with an effective compliance and enforcement policy, based on evidence-based analysis and input from industry.[4]

One can only hope that Ontario checks in with BC about its experiences.

Another budget item of interest was the announcement of a review of training and employment support programs (191). The review will also look at supports to employers to invest in their own employees’ training. Efforts will also be made to enhance the labour market information website including improved connections to the government of Canada site.

Changes will also take place in service delivery. A new competitive process is planned for selecting service providers. As well social assistance employment services will be integrated with the Employment Ontario network. These changes are likely to be disruptive to service delivery if the last modernizing process is any example. On a positive note, the budget states that wraparound supports will be provided to social assistance recipients.

Enhancements to the Ontario Immigrant Nomination Program will aim the program towards reflecting labour market needs, including those of the technology sector. Efforts will also be made to bring immigrants to smaller communities.

The budget outlines the province’s dissatisfaction with the federal Labour Market Development Agreement (LMDA) arguing that it does not receive its fair share of that agreement compared to its population. It also criticizes the recent federal budget for not addressing barriers in accessing EI benefits and training.

Budget 2019 includes several education elements. A ‘back to basics’ approach for elementary school education is proposed with a focus on ‘memorization’. The introduction to a pay for performance scheme for post-secondary education institutions is also outlined. For an in-depth analysis of the pay for performance scheme I recommend reading Alex Usher’s blog

The budget makes no mention of literacy and is short on specifics for adult training. The budget for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities appears to be forecasted for 2019-20 at about $1 billion less.

[1] 2019 Ontario Budget. Protecting What Matters Most.

[2] Harvey, David. “Make way for micro-credentials.” Canadian HR Reporter. March 1, 2018.

[3] BC Federation of Labour. BC’s (Not So) Great Apprenticeship Training Experiment: A Decade Reconsidered. November 2017.

[4] BC Chamber of Commerce. “Improving Apprenticeship Completion Rates (2018)”.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Labour Market Agreements, Labour Market Information, Provincial/Territorial Budgets, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy, Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Future Skills Centre – Call for Proposals

The Future Skills Centre launched its first call for proposals on April 2nd.

“The FSC-CCF is seeking proposals for innovative projects that help fill gaps in training opportunities for mid-career workers. The Centre will work with successful project proponents to support efforts to generate forward looking, responsive, and evidence-informed solutions to better meet the needs of mid-career workers facing challenges in the labour market.”

The timelines are tight – applications are due May 2, 2019.

You can find guidelines and application instructions at

Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Future Skills Centre, Skills | 1 Comment

Comments on the 2019 Federal Budget

On March 19, 2019, the Minister of Finance released Budget 2019. As news stories preceding the release of the budget had suggested, Budget 2019 has a strong skills component.

1. Canada Training Benefit

Starting in 2019-20, the federal government will invest $1.7 billion over 6 years (just under $300 million/year) and $586 million each year afterwards.

Beginning in 2020, this tax benefit will allow workers to claim a tax rebate of up to ½ of training fees at a rate of up to $250 per year with a lifetime maximum of $5,000. This allows workers to take a $500 course each year. It would take a worker 20 years to accumulate the full maximum of $5,000.

The training must be provided by colleges, universities and “eligible institutions providing occupational skills training.” While the budget does not indicate what is an eligible institution, I would imagine this would be similar to eligible institutions under the Canada Job Grant.

For the Canada Training Benefit to work, the employer must approve the training. Workers must make below $150,000 to be eligible. This seems to me to cover almost all workers since almost 91% of workers made under $100,000 in 2017.[1]

2. Employment Insurance Training Support Benefit

The budget acknowledges that providing the training benefit is only a part of the solution by creating the Employment Insurance Training Support Benefit. Starting in late 2020, workers who are taking training while on leave without pay will be able to access up to 4 weeks of leave at 55% of average weekly earnings. Basically, the worker would be on EI during this period.

3. EI Small Business Premium Rebate

Budget 2019 expects that most workers accessing the above two benefits will work for small businesses. It introduces an EI premium rebate to those employers to compensate for workers on training.

4. Leave Provisions

Protecting workers’ jobs while on training will be the subject of negotiations with provinces and territories. As the federal government designs the Canada Training Benefit, it will negotiate to ensure there is time off and a job to return to.

Commentary on the Canada Training Benefit has been mixed. The Maytree Foundation’s reaction was favourable stating:

The CTB is an acknowledgement of the life-long learning that an increasing number of workers will require in the changing labour market, and that supports are needed for people to do so.[2]

A paper in Policy Options questioned the use of a tax rebate:

…lower- and modest-income learners can’t afford to wait to get back money they’ve paid out of pocket. When fleshing out the implementation design for the Training Credit, the government should ensure that users can make a claim anytime in the year, not just at tax-time.[3]

Educational expert Alex Usher welcomed the idea but had two main concerns. First, because the program will be built using existing systems (tax and EI) it favours formal, week long courses rather than weekend or evening ones. As well, he argues that the money is not enough to draw people into courses.[4] Alex also has written about similar initiatives in France and Singapore; the Canada Training Benefit was apparently based on the Singapore model.[5]

I’d encourage you to read the commentaries mentioned above for some good insight into the Canada Training Benefit.

A few other skills related items were included in the budget:

  • A horizontal review of federal government skills programs has been completed. It examined 106 programs across 30 departments and agencies. A particularly interesting finding was “working adults in mid-career could benefit from more opportunities to refresh their skills, or gain new ones.” This is certainly not “news” for those in the adult education and training field, but it is nice to have the federal government acknowledge it. I’m trying to obtain a copy of the review.
  • An interesting piece is a $5 million/5 years investment to improve gender and diversity outcomes in skills programs. Employment and Social Development Canada will develop a strategy to “better measure, monitor and address gender disparity and promote access of under-represented groups across skills programming.”
  • Budget 2019 proposes to develop a new strategy to support apprentices and those employed in the skilled trades. While there is new money in the budget for apprenticeship, it is mainly targeted at encouraging young people to enter the trades.
  • The budget re-stated investments announced in earlier budgets including the Labour Market Development Agreements, Workforce Development Agreements, Future Skills, and Skills Boost. The new LMDAs and WDAs are slowly being made public, but I’ve yet to accumulate enough information to analyse the new regime. I’ve written recently about Future Skills – the Centre and the Council. Information about Skills Boost, which supports unemployed Canadians to go back to school or to take training while on EI, has not been updated online since its 2018 announcement.

Overall, the budget continues the Liberal government’s efforts to address skills issues. The Canada Training Benefit is a good addition to those efforts. However, I do agree with other commentators that the mechanism of a tax rebate could be a barrier to some workers, that the emphasis on formal learning might be to the detriment of informal training, and that the funds are not sufficient to act as an incentive. I will be watching carefully as this initiative moves forward.

[1] Statistics Canada. Distribution of employment income of individuals by sex and work activity, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas. Table: 11-10-0240-01.

[2] Kapoor, Garima Talwar. “What the Canada Training Benefit could mean for the future of workers in Canada. Maytree. March 28, 2019.

[3] Robson, Jennifer. “Canada’s new training credit comes with caveats.” Policy Options. March 21, 2019.

[4] Usher, Alex. “Budget 2019 Commentary”. March 20, 2019.

[5] Usher, Alex. “Training ‘Accounts’: France.” March 15, 2019. and Usher, Alex. “Training ‘Accounts’: Singapore. March 14, 2019.

Posted in Canada Job Grant, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Budget, Labour Market Agreements, Skills, Workforce Development Agreements | Leave a comment

Remembering Donna Wood

I was shocked to learn of Donna Wood’s death last month. For those who did not know her, Donna was a leading expert on Employment Insurance (EI), Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDA), Labour Market Agreements (LMA), the Canada Job Fund and the Public Employment Service.

I first met Donna about 5 and ½ years ago when she reached out to me about her research on how Quebec was offering services to the unemployed using LMDA and LMA funding. We met for coffee in Montreal. I was fascinated to learn that Donna had ended a long career as a senior public servant in Alberta, gone to the University of Edinburgh to complete a PhD., and now was living in Quebec for 6 months to undertake her research. Definitely someone who does not do things by half measure.

We shared an interest in how the federal government funds employment and training. Donna was a prolific writer and a dogged researcher. Between the two of us we created shared Dropbox folders where we placed EI Monitoring and Reporting reports as well as LMDA and LMA agreements, reports and evaluations. We would meet face-to-face a few times, but mainly corresponded by email or phone, as she lived in Victoria and I’m in Ottawa. She was my go-to expert on all things to do with federal/provincial/territorial training.

I was proud to have collaborated with Donna on The Labour Market Agreements: What Did They Really Do? which we wrote in 2016 for the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. Donna was kind enough to acknowledge me in her most recent book, Federalism in Action: The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service, 1995-2015.

I had encouraged her to set up her blog, The Welfare State Matters, Donna had subtitled it, ….my reflections on unemployment insurance, social assistance, and the public employment service in Canada and other places.” It contains a gold mine of well documented and articulate analysis.

Donna always played down her illness when we corresponded, being more interested in telling me the latest information she’d uncovered or talking about her next writing project. In fact, six weeks before her death she wrote many of us to share her paper on EI Renewal and had been quoted in the Ottawa Citizen. I didn’t realize her health had taken a turn for the worse and never had the chance to say goodbye.

You can read about Donna’s fascinating life at

Posted in Canada Job Fund, Canada Job Grant, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Forum of Labour Market Ministers, Labour Market Agreements, Poverty Reduction Strategy, Skills, Workforce Development Agreements | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Future Skills Council membership announced

Today the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour along with the Minister of Finance, made a full announcement about the Future Skills Centre and the Future Skills Council. (Eagle-eyed readers will have caught an error in an earlier blog post when I said that I had no idea who had won the competition for the Future Skills Centre – my aged mind failed to remind me that we knew last fall that Ryerson University was the successful lead candidate.)

The Future Skills Centre (previously known as the Future Skills Lab) will be run by Ryerson, the Conference Board and Blueprint. Blueprint is a policy research organization led by former Social Research and Development Corporation (SRDC) principal researcher Karen Myers, who is well versed in issues related to adult education, literacy and essential skills.

The Future Skills Centre will operate at arm’s length from the Government of Canada to fund projects across Canada that develop, test and measure new approaches to skills assessment and development.

According to the backgrounder released today, the Centre will distribute 50% of its funding to disadvantaged and under-represented groups including up to 20% for youth.

The big news today is the composition of the Future Skills Council which was announced today. The Council will make recommendation to the minister on skills development and training. The membership of the Council is:

  • Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada
  • Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer, Desire 2 Learn (ON)
  • Roberta Baikie-Andersen, Program Director of Inuit Pathways, Nunatsiavut Government (NL)
  • Dr. Thierry Karsenti, Director, Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la formation et la profession enseignante (QC)
  • Lisa Langevin, Assistant Business Manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 (BC)
  • Mike Luff, National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress
  • Dr. Alexander MacDonald, President and CEO, Holland College (PEI)
  • Gladys Okine, Executive Director, First Work: Ontario’s Youth Employment Network (ON)
  • Christa Ross, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Immigration, Employment and Career Development Division with the Ministry of Immigration and Career Training (SK)
  • Melissa Sariffodeen, CEO and Co-Founder, Canada Learning Code (ON)
  • Kerry Smith, Senior Director, Manitoba Metis Federation (MB)
  • David Ticoll, Chair, National Stakeholder Advisory Panel, Labour Market Information Council; Special Advisor, Talent, Information Technology Association of Canada; Distinguished Fellow, Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto (ON)
  • Judy Fairburn, Board Director, Calgary Economic Development (AB)
  • Dr. Paulette Tremblay, Chief Executive Officer, Assembly of First Nations
  • Valerie Walker, Executive Director of the Business/ Higher Education Roundtable
  • Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

Ms Walker and Dr. Karsenti will act as co-chairs.

The Forum of Labour Market Ministers (FLMM) has a seat on the Council. Saskatchewan is the current host of the FLMM Secretariat. It is not clear if this seat is in addition to the names listed above or if Ms Ross is on the Council representing the FLMM.

I was pleased to see two labour and three indigenous representatives. Mr. Luff is the Canadian Labour Congress lead on literacy and essential skills issues. Dr. Tremblay did her PhD. at the University of Ottawa under the supervision of Dr. Maurice Taylor, a leading researcher in adult literacy.

Colleges and Institutes Canada’s participation makes sense given the role colleges play in adult upgrading. The ESDC representative Rachel Wernick served as Director General responsible for the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills from 2007 to 2010. From what I can gather based on a quick Google search, two members are from private companies in the business of digital learning.

No Council members come from the North, although the Nunatsiavut representative is from Labrador. There are also no members from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick both of which have active workplace skill development and essential skills programs.

The Centre and the Council will journey along a well-trodden path. The Canadian Centre for Business and Labour (CLBC), which grew out of the Canadian Labour Market and Productivity Centre, was for 22 years the national forum for dialogue among business, labour, government, and other players on skills issues. It closed its doors in 2007 after the Harper Government chose to no longer fund it. The Canadian Labour Force Development Board, founded in 1991, was another attempt to work horizontally with the various players and governments on these same issues. It folded in 1999 when it lost federal government support. Arising from the CLBC and the Canadian Council on Learning was the Centre for Workplace Skills and its Roundtable on Workforce Skills in the late ‘00s. This effort lasted about four years, again the victim of federal government neglect.

These earlier attempts demonstrate the logic in bringing the players together to discuss and make recommendations on skills development. Collaboration and cooperation are necessary ingredients to success. One only needs to look at the successful Quebec model Commission des partenaires du marché du travail to see how and why this works.

Unfortunately, you need someone willing to hear what is being proposed. My experience is that the federal government is keen to hear but not necessarily keen to act. With the earlier incarnations, no obligation existed to ensure that the federal government would follow any of the recommendations. While the federal government often required the most senior representatives of the various partner organizations, it was not willing to send its most senior officials to the table.

Navigating complex partnerships in the area of skills development, education and training is not for the faint of heart. I wish the Future Skills Centre and the Futures Skills Council all the best. I hope that this time, the federal government means what it says and will follow through and act on the advice it receives.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Forum of Labour Market Ministers, Indigenous People, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Skills | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Making the case for workplace literacy education and training

In late January, The Globe and Mail published an op-ed piece by Janet Lane and T. Scott Murray (Canada’s shortfall in basic skills costs us all) in anticipation of the upcoming federal budget which, rumour has it, will focus on skills training. Many of you will remember Janet from the time she served as Executive Director of Literacy Alberta. She now serves as the Director of the Canada West Foundation’s Human Capital Centre. Scott Murray is no stranger to the literacy field being the leading researcher of literacy and essential skills data in Canada and abroad.

Janet and Scott collaborated on a December 2018 Canada West Foundation publication entitled Literacy Lost: Canada’s Basic Skills Shortfall. The report focuses on missed opportunities to develop and retain literacy skills in the context of the workplace. While much of the data and discussion covers ground familiar to those who have worked in the field, it is nice to have the data summarized in one document.

The paper makes the case for working to alleviate skill mismatches – people having either lower or higher skills than needed on the job – as well as the case for creating jobs so workers can use skills in order not to lose skills. Data assembled by Scott examines the literacy demands of jobs based on an analysis of the Essential Skills Profiles. According to the data, there are no jobs requiring only level 1 literacy skills. Most jobs require level 3 or 4. From my perspective, I prefer discussing the requirements of the job, that is, what levels do you need to do a particular job, rather than relying on a categorical “everyone needs level 3.” For me this is a more nuanced way to think about jobs and it connects nicely to the idea of literacy-rich work environments.

The paper does a good job of summarizing what we know about literacy skills. It refers to research that found the loss of skills that occurs with age is not a matter of the aging process itself but of not using skills on the job. This was something I had always thought to be true but had not previously seen evidence to support this finding.

I appreciated the effort to focus on the role of the employer (rather than on the worker alone).

…employers do not always understand that improving the skills of their employees, and reorganizing the work processes to use those skills fully could improve both productivity and retention.

Connected to this thought is the call for a better understanding of the literacy and other skill requirements of the job and not solely relying on credentials to determine skill level. As the report states:

Canada’s reliance on credentials has lulled employers and workers into a false sense of achievement. Certificates and diplomas do not mean as much as many think they do.

My own observations from talking with employers is that many do not have a good idea of what skills are needed besides technical skills.

The paper lays out several solutions, many of which have been promoted for years. These include embedding literacy skills into workplace education and training and following good practice in workplace literacy design. The authors encourage the soon to be created Future Skills Centre to focus on cognitive skills. (An aside: I’ve not yet seen an announcement as to who won the request for proposals to set up the centre).

I did find some challenges with the report. While the authors lay out solutions to stop skill loss in low skill low wage jobs, they avoid the question of whether these efforts will result in better wages and “good jobs.” The example in the paper of McDonald’s introduction of kiosks does not say whether higher skill use led to higher wages. As well, the paper calls for a pay for performance approach to workplace training. Unfortunately, the paper does not provide supporting evidence for this claim.

All in all, Literacy Lost: Canada’s Basic Skills Shortfall does a good job of supporting the need to improve literacy skills in the workplace. The attention it garnered with the op-ed in the Globe will hopefully lead to some employers responding positively to workers skill training and development needs.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Essential Skills, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Skills, Workplace Literacy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

20th Anniversary of Family Literacy Day

I wanted to congratulate ABC Canada on the 20th anniversary of Family Literacy Day. It’s not that often in the Canadian literacy field that we witness longevity (I’m thinking that the PGIs are the other example, but I can’t think of others).

FLD has survived several transitions and continues to promote the value of family literacy nationally and with its community partners. Family literacy activities and programs benefit all family members. Children’s skills improve as do those of the parents.

Well done. Here’s to the next 20 years.

Posted in ABC Canada, Family Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, PGIs, Public Opinion on Literacy | Tagged | 2 Comments