Federal government holds steady with literacy funding

Last week on April 16th, the federal government tabled its Main Estimates outlining its spending plan for 2018 – 2019.

Planned spending for grants and contributions to not-for-profit, for-profit, and aboriginal organizations, municipal, provincial and territorial governments for adult learning, literacy and essential skills remained the same as in the previous year. The Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) will have $14,800,000 in grants and $3,209,000 in contributions for a total of $18,009,000 in fiscal year 2018 – 2019. This has been the same annual budget since 2016-2017. As I have written before, OLES spends well under half of this money each year.

With the tabling of the Main Estimates are two reports specific to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) – the 2016 – 2017 Department Results Report and the 2018 – 2019 Departmental Plan.

Literacy and essential skills activities for adult is mentioned once in the 2016-17 Results Report in a section discussing innovation.

The effectiveness of approaches to workplace literacy and essential skills training was also tested. Some 1,454 workers were contacted through the project, and literacy training was provided to 727 low-skilled Canadians in 88 companies across eight provinces. The result was improved literacy scores, superior job performance and job retention, and increased health and safety for workers as well as positive benefits for participating employers in terms of customer satisfaction, productivity gains and increased revenues.[1]

There is no mention of which organization(s) led this project.

Youth directed literacy and essential skills activities are cited as part of the Youth Employment Strategy (YES). During 2016-17, ESDC focused on:

  • supporting young Canadians in improving their essential skills by funding projects, through YES, that are testing the effectiveness of innovative approaches;

  • continuing to work horizontally to integrate essential skills into federal, provincial and territorial labour market programming such as YES so that Canadians can benefit from an increased access to essential skills training. [2]

Again, no specific information about the nature of these projects are provided.

Unfortunately, no mention of literacy and essential skills is made in the 2018 – 2019 ESDC Department Plan other than to indicate that activities are funded.

Once again, we see the federal government shying away from any role in promoting or leading on adult literacy and essential skills policy and/or programming. I had expected that the Liberal government would have, by this point in its mandate, reversed the disastrous decisions of the previous government and restored federal leadership on this file.

Is it really too much to ask the federal government to make adult literacy a priority?

[1] Employment and Social Development Canada. 2016-17 Departmental Results Report. Page 69.

[2] Ibid. Page 38.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Budget, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) | 2 Comments

BC ends fees for Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning

As you can see, I’m catching up on budget announcements that happened while I was lying on a beach getting away from winter.

British Columbia announced in its February 20, 2018 budget an additional $19 million annually to end fees for Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning. This confirms the elimination of a key barrier that will lead to greater participation in post-secondary education and in the economy. Many literacy advocates had protested against the introduction of fees by the previous government.

The budget also provided permanent funding to the Indigenous Skills Training Development Fund of $30 million over 3 years. The fund is used for projects led by First Nations communities who identify labour market opportunities and work with accredited training providers to deliver the appropriate training.

BC’s version of the renewed Canada Job Grant/Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities is called the Workforce Development Agreement (WDA). BC will invest $95 million annually on training and employment services, primarily for those not eligible for Employment Insurance. According to Budget 2018,

“much of the programming will be repurposed to focus more on the Indigenous population, persons with disabilities, youth, and vulnerable groups. Two separate additional allocations within the WDA will be devoted to communities requiring access to skills training to respond to sudden labour market shifts such as natural disasters, closure of a major employer, or new economic development opportunities, and to employers who are upskilling workers or providing training for newly hired vulnerable workers to be job-ready.”

No mention is made of literacy and essential skills in the context of the WDA in the budget. Hopefully, the WDA will set aside funds for those with weaker skills.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada Job Fund, Canada Job Grant, Provincial/Territorial Budgets, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Money for literacy in Ontario budget

Ontario tabled its budget on March 28, 2018. It continues the Lifelong Learning and Skills Plan 2017 which announced a $185 million over four years in essential skills programming for adults. While Budget 2018 does not specifically reference the Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program, a ministry backgrounder indicates a $25 million increase to the base budget in 2018-19. This funding will continue with initiatives started in 2017-18:

  • Corrections Literacy Initiative
  • Service delivery site (SDS) across-the-board funding to address static funding challenges
  • Increased funding for service providers in areas highly in need of literacy services
  • Support organization across-the-board increase
  • e-Channel curriculum development and increased learners

In addition, new funds will be used for incremental increases, support to provincial organizations for curriculum development and digital skills training to providers.

Budget 2018 announced a new configuration of training programs under the banner of the Ontario Training Bank. An additional $63 million over 3 years will be used to create a one-stop shop for employers, job seekers and workers to access skills training. Falling under the Ontario Training Bank will be Second Career, the Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG), SkillsAdvance Ontario and the Sector Partnership Planning Grant[1]. The Ontario Training Bank has a specific mandate to, among other objectives,

“Provide employers with access to essential skills upgrading, including digital literacy for their workers at no cost to the employer.”

The Ontario budget gave some specific information about the COJG going forward. You may recall that the new agreements were to be signed between the federal government and provinces/territories as of April 1, 2018 although funding began flowing in 2017-2018. Ontario announced its new version of the Job Grant – Employer Partnership Training Fund. Here’s how Budget 2018 describes the fund:

“The refreshed program will encourage employees [sic] to implement training programs to meet their hiring and skills needs, and also make it easier for small and medium-sized employers to access the fund. The new program, effective April 1, 2018, will:

• Incentivize employers to team up so that higher value training can be delivered across a number of employers to support hiring and skills needs.

• Simplify contribution requirements to reduce administrative burden for employers as well as service providers. Large employers who have greater capacity to invest in training will have higher cost-sharing contributions, thereby also freeing up resources to support more small and medium-sized employers.”[2]

As Ontario had one of the most onerous processes to access Job Grant funds, I’m sure employers will welcome a reduction in administrative burden. The information provided in the budget is not enough to understand how exactly this Employer Partnership Training Fund differs from the COJG.

The Ontario Training Bank also incorporates SkillsAdvance Ontario which received $30 million over two years.

“SkillsAdvance Ontario (SAO) works to support local employers in key sectors to develop customized training programs that fill employers’ skills needs, help people find employment, and provide skills upgrading for workers. The program also provides training for vulnerable job seekers, including the long‐term unemployed, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, at‐risk youth and others, to provide access to in‐demand jobs.

“There are currently five SAO projects operating across the province in support of approximately 700 participants. These sector‐focused projects are in the construction, hospitality, automotive manufacturing, general manufacturing and energy sectors.”[3]

I’m not familiar with the work of SAO but I hope that literacy and essential skills training and the expertise of LBS providers are being incorporated in the pilots.

The Ontario budget does not provide a line-by-line itemization of spending, so it is very difficult to see where the money is exactly going. We’ll have to wait and see what the impact of the new money is on LBS programming and how different, if at all, the new Employment Partnership Training Fund is from the COJG.



[1] Sector Partnership Planning Grant brings together partners—employers, training groups and employment and workforce planning agencies—to develop strategies that align training with the skills needed for their industry or sector to grow and compete in the new economy. Workforce strategies supported by the Sector Partnership Planning Grant help connect job seekers at all skills levels, including the least skilled, to the training they need for these jobs. http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/eng/eopg/programs/sppg.html

[2] Ontario Budget 2018 – Budget Papers. Page 65.

[3] Ibid. Page 65

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada Job Fund, Canada Job Grant, Provincial/Territorial Budgets, Skills | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

School named in honour of Joyce Fairbairn

Canada’s literacy senator, Joyce Fairbairn, will have a middle school named after her in her home town of Lethbridge (New public middle school named after Senator Joyce Fairbairn). Given Senator Fairbairn’s dedication to literacy, this is certainly a wonderful tribute to her and her work.

As you may recall, Joyce first raised the issue of literacy in the Senate over 30 years ago and in 1993 became Minister with Special Responsibility for Literacy. I had the pleasure of travelling with the Senator, always dressed in red, as she made countless speeches about literacy across the country. As she would say, literacy was the cause of her life. Joyce retired from the Senate in 2013 when faced with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The leader of the Liberals in the Senate made the following statement last week about the naming of the school and the contribution that Joyce made to literacy and to Canada. I know many of you will join me in congratulating the Lethbridge School District for honouring Joyce Fairbairn.

Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): Honourable colleagues, as we welcome new senators to this chamber, I would like to bring to your attention an honour paid to one of our former colleagues.

Last week it was announced that the newest school in Lethbridge, Alberta, would be named after our dear friend and former colleague the Honourable Joyce Fairbairn. Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School, which will serve students in Grades 6 to 8, will open its doors this fall. How incredibly fitting that is.

Anyone who knows Joyce will not be surprised by this honour. She has always been a remarkable woman, displaying unparalleled enthusiasm and commitment to her fellow Albertans and to all Canadians over nearly three decades of service in this chamber.

I am told that when she was first asked to join the Senate, she declined. Fortunately for everyone, she was later otherwise convinced.

She came to this place in 1984, and while she was here she served on 18 different committees. She was Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Agricultural and Forestry and championed its comprehensive report on rural poverty in Canada. She was Chair of the Special Senate Committee on Bill C-36, which was the first anti-terrorism legislation drafted after 9/11, and I was pleased to serve with her on that particular committee. She was a founding member of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, and the first woman ever to be named Leader of the Government in the Senate.

But it is literacy that we most associate with Joyce. While Leader of the Government here, she was also Minister with Special Responsibility for Literacy. In 1985 she and the Special Committee on Youth proposed a national campaign to improve the opportunity and results in literacy for young people. She started fighting on behalf of those who needed help with their literacy skills and never abated with her passion and desire to make sure that all Canadians have the necessary basic and fundamental skills to succeed and to prosper.

Though she has not been in this chamber for almost five years now, when senators in this place speak about literacy they still acknowledge the work that our Joyce did before. That is the legacy she has left us.

Joyce was always proud of her roots in Lethbridge. She is well known and well loved there, and the Senator Joyce Fairbairn Middle School will help ensure that her name lives on for decades to come.


Posted in Literacy and Essential Skills | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Budget 2018 – my thoughts and comments

The federal government tabled its 2018 budget on February 27th while I happened to be vacationing in sunny Cuba (the nerve, indeed!). Hence, this not particularly timely post with my take on the budget.

Budget 2018 is built on a strong gender-based analysis with almost every provision linked back to how it supports Canadian women. The budget integrates

considerations of gender impacts at each step of the budgeting process and introduce(es) a new Gender Results Framework…In Budget 2018, no budget decision was taken without being informed by Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+).[1]

I’m not sure if this is done in other countries, but it strikes me as fairly innovative.

Here are some items in the budget which directly impact adult skills and training.

Horizontal Skills Review

Over next year, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) will review all the programs that relate to skills in order to maximize effectiveness. $750,000 has been set aside for this review.[2]

While the budget does not mention how many programs will be part of the review, I can imagine there are quite a few. Last year’s budget charged TBS with conducting a review of ‘innovation’ programs. That review found some 92 programs. Budget 2018 outlines how these programs are now organized around 4 ‘platforms’ with a reduced number of about 35+ programs.[3] This review might be used as the template for the horizontal skills review.

Labour Market Transfer Agreements

Last year’s budget announced $2.7 billion over six years for the new Labour Market Transfer Agreements (LMTAs) which cover the Labour Market Development Agreements and a new agreement called the Workforce Development Agreement (WDA). The WDA combines the Canada Job Fund, the Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities and the Targeted Older Worker Initiative into one agreement.

Budget 2017 committed $2.7 billion in new funding for the labour market transfer agreements distributed over six years between two agreements.[4]

  • $900M nationally over six years, starting in 2017-18 for the new Workforce Development Agreements
  • $1.8B nationally over six years, starting in 2017-18 for the Labour Market Development Agreements

While funding began in the current fiscal year (2017-18), no LMTA has been signed. Budget 2018 states they will come into force April 1, 2018. This seems to mean that Year 1 funding for the new LMTAs is being spent according to the provisions of the ‘old’ transfer agreements.

Negotiations of the new LMTAs have taken place between the federal government and the provinces/territories behind closed doors. I’ve been unable to obtain any information on the details of either the re-negotiated LMDAs or the new WDAs.

I was interested to read in the GBA+ section of the budget the following commentary on labour market programming:

The indirect nature of these programs—administered by provinces and territories—represents a challenge to measuring how investments ultimately meet the needs of different groups of women and men. Current negotiations between federal, provincial and territorial governments on Labour Market Transfer Agreements provide an opportunity to achieve program goals, while providing additional flexibility to provinces and territories, expanding eligibility and focusing on outcomes.[5]

While this commentary is not new to anyone working within the labour market agreements, I was encouraged to see the federal government name one of the key challenges of the agreements.

Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program

The Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy will be re-named once again. The Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program will receive $447 million in new money over 5 years. The program has been divided into four streams to better serve the distinct needs of Indigenous People – First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban/non-affiliated.[6]

The program will be re-focused on “training for higher quality better paying jobs rather than rapid re-employment.” The Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program,

…as a result of gender-based analysis, wrap-around services, such as child care, will also ensure that Indigenous women can better access skills development and training opportunities offered by the program’s service delivery organizations.[7]

Higher quality, better paying jobs and wrap around supports should be part of every Labour Market Transfer Agreement.

Other areas of interest:

  • New funding of $400 million over 5 years in support of the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023. RESDAC has previously accessed funding from the action plan to support official language minority communities’ literacy needs[8].
  • Enhancements to Employment Insurance. Donna Wood has written an excellent commentary on the Budget 2018 changes which you can access at “The Welfare State Matters…” https://donnaewood.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/some-comments-on-the-2018-federal-budget/.
  • An Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Linkage Platform will track and make available labour market information. However, this will be funded out of existing Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) funds.[9] It is not clear how this initiative will relate to the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) of the Forum of Labour Market Ministers – duplication or enhancement?
  • Recognition of barriers including lower language and literacy levels of visible minority newcomer women through a three-year pilot project with $31.8 million of funding over three years.[10]
  • ESDC will reallocate $7.8 million of its existing money over 5 years to help community organizations build their capacity to pursue government contracts or maximize available funding opportunities.[11] I was not able to find any further details about how this funding would work, but it certainly could be helpful to many in the non-profit sector.
  • A Future Skills Lab, first announced in Budget 2017, is designed to
    • Identify the skills sought and required by Canadian workers
    • Explore new and innovative approaches to skills development
    • Share information and analysis to help inform future skills investment and programming

Budget 2018 announces that the Future Skills Lab will be launched in spring 2018.[12] Again, there are few details. The biggest challenge for a skills lab will be its governance model. A recent report from the Mowat Centre concluded:

The skills lab cannot fulfill expectations if it proceeds as a unilateral federal initiative — even if, following its establishment, it is encouraged to work in collaboration with “willing” provinces. If the skills lab is to succeed, it will be important to balance nimbleness and provincial-territorial involvement from the design stage onwards. The skills lab, therefore, should be seen not solely as an opportunity to operate as a laboratory for skills development and measurement but as an experiment in federal provincial institutional governance in Canada.[13]

  • Investments to improve access to broadband in remote/rural areas – $100 million over 5 years.[14]
  • The government will respond to the expert panel on political activities by charities in the coming months[15]. For a more detailed overview of the impact of the budget on the charitable sector, see “Blumbergs 2018 Canadian Federal Budget – How will it affect the Canadian charitable sector?” https://www.globalphilanthropy.ca/images/uploads/2018_Canadian_Federal_Budget_and_its_impact_on_the_Canadian_charitable_sector.pdf
  • The GBA+ Results Framework has a section relating to adult literacy. An indicator of meeting the goal of “equal life long learning opportunities for adults” has been established as “adults’ literacy and numeracy test scores by gender (based on Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)).”[16]

One can hope that this means the next PIAAC survey will be used to look at population level advances and that this indicator will not be used for individual literacy programs. For more about the challenges and pitfalls of using PIAAC as an individual measure, please see Christine Pinsent-Johnson’s blog “Policy Problems – The (mis)use of an international large-scale assessment in Ontario’s adult education system” https://policyproblems.wordpress.com/

Naming the issue is a big deal:

Throughout the budget document are references to literacy. To my mind, even naming the challenges faced by those with weak literacy skills is a step in the right direction toward ensuring full participation by all Canadians in our society. Here are a few examples from the budget:

  • “Research undertaken in 2007 by the Canadian Red Cross, Brandon University and federal partners analyzed the needs of at-risk populations in relation to emergency management at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels. 10 population groups were found to be particularly susceptible to harm due to emergencies or disasters: seniors; persons with disability; Indigenous Peoples; medically dependent persons; low-income persons; children and youth; persons with low literacy levels; women; transient populations; and new immigrants and cultural minorities.”[17]
  • “Furthermore, the complexity of the tax system, low literacy and lack of access to available assistance are all barriers to tax filing among low-income individuals that can cause them to miss out on potential tax benefits.”[18]
  • “Investments in CRA telephone services to address high caller demand and improve accuracy in agent responses will also deliver positive impacts for low-income groups requiring assistance, including seniors, people with mobility barriers, people living in geographically isolated regions, and people who generally prefer to interact with the CRA by telephone.”[19]

[1] Department of Finance. Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class. February 27, 2018.. p. 18. https://www.budget.gc.ca/2018/home-accueil-en.html

[2] Ibid. p. 64.

[3] Ibid. p. 108.

[4] Ibid. p. 58.

[5] Ibid. p. 249.

[6] Ibid. p. 132.

[7] Ibid. p. 259.

[8] Ibid. p. 182.

[9] Ibid. p. 56.

[10] Ibid. p. 62.

[11] Ibid. p. 62.

[12] Ibid. p. 63.

[13] Parkin, Andrew, Erich Hartmann and Michael Morden. How to Build a Skills Lab: A New Model of Institutional Governance in Canada. Mowat Centre. June 2017.

[14] Ibid. p. 120.

[15] Ibid. p. 189.

[16] Ibid. p. 222.

[17] Ibid. p. 262. italics added

[18] Ibid. p. 275. italics added

[19] Ibid. p. 277.


Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada Job Fund, Federal Budget, Federal Government and Literacy, Francophone literacy, Indigenous People, International Literacy Surveys, Labour Market Agreements, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Skills | Leave a comment

Ontario’s Adult Education Consultation and an On-going Concern about a Seemingly Uncoordinated System

Christine Pinsent-Johnson has written a post on the various initiatives underway in Ontario. Lots happening, much of it good, but she wonders if it’s a bit too much or uncoordinated.

Policy Problems

So much is happening in Ontario’s adult education system in a very short period of time that it becomes challenging to keep track of announcements and various initiatives. In just over a year, those working in LBS, ESL/FSL and Adult Credit have been caught up with

  1. The Highly Skilled Workforce Initiative,
  2. The LBS evaluation, a symposium and now a year-long engagement process (announcements here),
  3. An infusion of funding,
  4. Further development of the adult education strategy
  5. An extensive audit of ESL/FSL,
  6. And now a province-wide adult education consultation process, accompanying a reorganization of the adult education system.

For those working in the field, particularly for those involved with all three learning ministries (i.e. the Ministries of Citizenship and Immigration, Education and Advanced Education and Skills Development) any one of these efforts would have been enough to draw attention away from day-to-day program operations. Now there are six initiatives…

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Who Should be Helped First? Employed Workers or the Unemployed?

Donna Wood’s latest blog post – worth a read. Her conclusion:

“Our workforce development infrastructure is in dire need of revitalization and reform, with many issues needing to be addressed. Indeed, we probably do need to pay attention to the impact of automation on current jobs.

But let’s not get the cart before the horse. Before we start to extend services to the employed to the level recommended by the Advisory Council, we need first to expand, strengthen and consolidate the services on offer by provincial governments to the unemployed. That has to be the first priority. If only we knew in more detail what our governments had in mind.”

The Welfare State Matters....

With government resources always limited, would Canadians prefer that we spend more on training employed workers over the unemployed? I think this is unlikely. Yet that is exactly what the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth has suggested in their December 2017 Learning Nation: Equipping Canada’s Workforce with Skills for the Future.

Acknowledging that automation and changes in existing occupations could threaten the jobs of more than 10 per cent of Canadian workers ─ about 2 million people ─ the Council has recommended a $15 billion dollar investment in a federally-governed Canada Lifelong Learning Fund and the transformation of the network of provincially[1] operated employment centres that primarily serve the unemployed to also serve the employed.

The employment centres use names such as Work BC, Alberta Works, Employment Ontario, and Emploi-Quebec. Although in some places provincial offices provide the ‘front door’, most…

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Posted in Canada Job Grant, Labour Market Agreements, Skills | 1 Comment