G7 Communiqué supports workplace training and education

The latest Twitter war that saw the US lob insulting tweets at Canada and the G7 distracted many from the content of the Charlevoix communiqué. In reading the communiqué today, I found the following section:

Preparing for Jobs of the Future

8. We are resolved to ensure that all workers have access to the skills and education necessary to adapt and prosper in the new world of work brought by innovation through emerging technologies. We will promote innovation through a culture of lifelong learning among current and future generations of workers. We will expand market-driven training and education, particularly for girls and women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. We recognize the need to remove barriers to women’s leadership and equal opportunity to participate in all aspects of the labour market, including by eliminating violence, discrimination and harassment within and beyond the workplace. We will explore innovative new approaches to apprenticeship and vocational learning, as well as opportunities to engage employers and improve access to workplace training.

9. We highlight the importance of working towards making social protection more effective and efficient and creating quality work environments for workers, including those in non-standard forms of work. Expanding communication and collaboration between governments and businesses, social partners, educational institutions and other relevant stakeholders will be essential for preparing workers to adapt and thrive in the new world of work. To realize the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI), we endorse the Charlevoix Common Vision for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. We recognize that a human-centric approach to AI has the potential to introduce new sources of economic growth, bring significant benefits to our societies and help address some of our most pressing challenges.

The commitment to ensuring that all workers have access to skills and education is a positive one as is the commitment to lifelong learning. I’m not so certain what “market-driven training and education” means. It could mean a responsive training and education system, or it could mean a ‘for-profit’ system.

Opportunities to engage employers and improve access to training have been at the heart of workplace education for the past 30 years here in Canada. One can only hope that G7 governments understand that workplace training and education must be built on a foundation of strong literacy and essential skills. Otherwise efforts will merely provide additional training to those who already have strong skills leaving many workers behind.

You can read the whole communiqué at: https://g7.gc.ca/en/official-documents/charlevoix-g7-summit-communique/

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Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Workplace Literacy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

More PIAAC analysis

In my earlier post, I wrote about a PIAAC study commissioned by the federal government and the Council of Ministers of Education, CMEC. I wanted to let you know about three other papers.

The first is another of the PIAAC thematic reports, “Post Secondary Education and Skills in Canada” (Postsecondary Education and Skills in Canada). This large report looks at those with post-secondary credentials in relation to literacy, numeracy and problem solving in a technology rich environment (PS-TRE).

The executive summary lists the key findings as:

  • Having a postsecondary credential tends to be associated with higher levels of performance in all three skills.
  • While skill levels of Aboriginal populations remain below those of non-Aboriginal populations, the gap narrows and even disappears for Aboriginal people with postsecondary credentials. In literacy, Aboriginal Canadians with all types of postsecondary credentials perform as well as non-Aboriginal Canadians with similar credentials; in numeracy, those with college and university credentials perform at the same level.
  • Across Canada, official-language minority populations with college or university credentials fare as well as their official-language majority counterparts in the same jurisdictions.
  • In comparison to most OECD countries, Canada has a high proportion of immigrants, and this needs to be considered when looking at results. At the college level, native-born Canadians score at the OECD average in literacy and foreign-born Canadians score below. At the university level, the former score above the OECD average in literacy and at the average in numeracy, while the latter score at the average in both domains. Finally, foreign-born Canadians with postsecondary non-tertiary qualifications score at the OECD average in both literacy and numeracy, while native-born Canadians score below.
  • The skills of immigrants are not just correlated with their foreign birth; they are also associated with where they received their postsecondary credential and how long they have lived in Canada. Those who have received their credential in Canada, as well as those who have resided in Canada for longer periods of time, display higher skills.
  • Certain sociodemographic characteristics, such as age, gender, and socioeconomic background, tend to be associated with lower skill levels. This association is weaker, however, among those who possess a postsecondary credential than among those who do not.
  • High skills and postsecondary attainment together are associated with the best employment outcomes, as Canadians with both these attributes are the most likely of all to be employed.
  • Postsecondary education and high levels of skill tend to be associated with positive social outcomes, including self-reported good health, trust in others, and having influence on government.

Another report in the series, “Skills Proficiency of Immigrants in Canada”, (Skills Proficiency of Immigrants in Canada) found that the foreign-born population had lower proficiency levels than native-born Canadians, but it performed better than the foreign-born population average in OECD countries.

Finally, I came across a brief report from August 2016, “inFocus: PIAAC In Canada – What is the role of education in developing literacy and numeracy in the territories?” (inFocus: PIAAC in Canada). While not part of the thematic series, this policy analysis shines a spotlight on literacy skills in the north. Its main finding is, “in the three territories, higher levels of educational attainment, participation in adult education and training, and parental education all contribute positively to skills performance for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations.”

These reports all demonstrate the centrality of literacy, numeracy and PS-TRE skills to our lives and their influence on social, health, economic and community well-being.

The thematic reports may be found at piaac.ca as well as at cmec.ca which is also where you’ll find the inFocus report.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, CMEC, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC | Leave a comment

PIAAC Report – Health and Social Outcomes

The federal government and the Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC) committed to a series of thematic reports based on the 2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Recently I received a copy of “The Health Dimensions of Adult Skills in Canada”. The report looks at how literacy, numeracy and problem solving in technology-rich environments skills influence health and social outcomes. (PIAAC 2012 Health and Social Dimensions Canada – Executive Summary and PIAAC 2012 Health and Social Dimensions Canada)

The key findings are:

  • Health and social outcomes are unevenly distributed within Canada.
  • Higher skills are associated with better health and social outcomes.
  • Skills are associated with health and social outcomes independently of education.
  • Indigenous peoples tend to report poorer outcomes—but skills may narrow some gaps.
  • Immigrants’ outcomes vary with length of residence in Canada.
  • Skills are not enough to show an improvement in health and social outcomes for unemployed Canadians, the unemployed with higher skills actually show a decline in self-reported health.
  • More research is needed on the skills, health and social outcomes of workers in precarious employment.

While many of these findings will not surprise those working in the literacy field, having the evidence from this report will help better make the case of why literacy matters to policy makers.

You can read this report and others at piaac.ca.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, CMEC, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC | Leave a comment

Evaluation of the federal government’s literacy and essential skills program

The latest evaluation of the work of the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) has been posted (a shout-out to the Saskatchewan Literacy Network for finding and publicizing the report; the report is not on the OLES website but rather on the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Corporate website). Here is a copy of the report Evaluation Literacy and Essential Skills.

The evaluation covers both the Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program (ALLESP) and the Employment Insurance Part II – National Essential Skills Initiative (NESI), both of which are administered by OLES. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the EI Part II initiative has been included in the evaluation.

The evaluation covers fiscal years 2011-12 to 2015-16. The last summative evaluation was in 2012 with a formative evaluation in 2010. (see Summative Evaluation of ALLESP – 2012 and Formative Evaluation of ALLESP 2010). No indication is given of which firm conducted the evaluation.

In light of limited information from OLES, the evaluation is helpful in that it positions the work of OLES within the mandate of ESDC:

Employment and Social Development Canada is committed to the development of a skilled, adaptable and inclusive labour force and an efficient labour market. The Office contributes to the achievement of this strategic outcome by supporting Canadians to improve their literacy and essential skills to help them better prepare for, to get, and to keep a job and to adapt and succeed at work.[1]

The evaluation indicates that in 2015-16, OLES “shifted its focus to systemic change by encouraging the integration of literacy and essential skills into labour market programming, services, and policies.”[2] I would contend that the shift happened well before 2015-16.

The evaluation findings reinforce the importance of literacy and essential skills and the need and a role for the federal government. The evaluation is critical of the effectiveness of the current effort citing issues with communications, knowledge sharing, delays in funding and lack of performance measures.

The evaluation confirms my research on the underspending by OLES over the past years, although my numbers and those in the evaluation report are not quite the same.

Table 1: Budget for the Office’s Grants and Contributions Programs – 2011-12 – 2015-16[3]

Program Expenditures 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
ALLESP – Budget $21,509,000 $21,509,000 $21,509,000 $21,509,000 $21,509,000
ALLESP – % of budget spent 80.5% 56.7% 69.1% 56.5% 39.9%
NESI – Budget $13,200,000 $13,200,000 $4,200,000 $4,200,000 $4,200,000
NESI – % of budget spent 89.8% 69.4% 88.7% 16.1% Not available

The evaluation only reviewed 13 projects which it said were funded during the evaluation period. In fact, far more were funded. But the evaluation seems to have only looked at projects that resulted from two calls for proposals: the 2012 call which saw 44 proposals of which 12 were funded and the 2013 call which saw 106 proposals and only 1 funded. The 2015 call for concept papers is referenced in the report but no outcome is presented. I’m not sure why the evaluation only focused on the 13 projects – very peculiar.

While the evaluation was positive regarding the role the federal government plays, it recognized concerns about the lack of flexibility in programming, i.e. the strict focus on the nine essential skills. The end of core funding was more negatively perceived by the organizations affected than by those who were not. Grants and contributions operations are no longer housed within OLES but in a central office; however, the evaluation found that project recipients still found the process complicated or very complicated (82%). Opportunity exists in working with the provinces to development a common plan of action and to integrate literacy and essential skills into the Labour Market Transfer Agreements.

The evaluation makes 3 recommendations:

  1. Consider working with provinces, territories and partners to develop formal partnership strategies to support stakeholder network development and the sustainability of effective approaches;
  2. Continue to improve communications with provinces and territories, partners and stakeholders; and
  3. Update the performance measurement information and related tools to reflect recent changes.

Management agreed with all three recommendations. Its response outlined four initiatives to deal with recommendation #1:-

  • Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Literacy and Essential Skills Network (Fall 2016)
  • Learning Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) Advisory Committee (June 2017)
  • Essential Skills and Apprenticeship Community of Practice (June 2017)
  • Government of Canada Federal Network on Essential Skills (Spring 2017)

However, each of these initiatives only involve provinces and territories and not other stakeholders.

To deal with recommendation #2, a communication strategy is being developed and the project database on the OLES website was to be updated as of fall 2017. However, I can attest to the fact that the OLES database has not been updated since 2010. The ESDC database only has information on 2017-18 projects.

Several responses were listed under recommendation #3. The most ‘interesting’ in the sense of challenging and potentially alarming is:

Include a stronger focus on outcomes measurement (e.g. skill gain, psycho-social indicators), data collection and reporting (to be developed in collaboration with the Program Operations Branch)[4]

I would suggest OLES consult with the province of Ontario on its efforts to track learner gains and why it abandoned that effort.

The evaluation findings are not new nor are they surprising. Much work is needed to reinstate the federal role, to support provincial/territorial efforts, and to create and sustain a network of partners.

[1] Employment and Social Development Canada. Evaluation of Literacy and Essential Skills, Final Report. October 3, 2017. Page 4

[2] Ibid. Page iv.

[3] Ibid. Page 6.

[4] Ibid. Page vii

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | 4 Comments

Ontario signs Workforce Development Agreement

One province has made it official by announcing it has signed a Workforce Development Agreement with the federal government. On May 2, 2018, Ontario announced $6 billion over six years (https://bit.ly/2rxgiF2). The $6 billion breaks down between the Workforce Development Agreement (WDA) and the Labour Market Development Agreement (LMDA). In the first two years, Ontario will receive $593 million through the WDA and more than $1.37 billion through the LMDA.

The WDA combines the Canada Job Fund, the Labour Market Development Agreement for Persons with Disabilities and the Targeted Older Worker agreements. The federal government will add $900 million over the next six years to the existing allocation of $722 million, which is a tremendous increase in funding.

Ontario’s press release indicates the WDA money will be used for:

  • the Youth Job Connection program, which offers training, incentives and supports to youth who face barriers;
  • skills training for people on social assistance to participate in skills training through Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program; and
  • free adult education classes that help students improve reading, writing, math, computer and other essential skills to prepare them for education, training or better jobs.

It is not clear from the Ontario press release just how much would be used for each element.

The guidelines for 2018-2019 are the old Canada-Ontario Job Grant guidelines – there doesn’t appear to have been a change in title (see COJG – 2018-2019 Guidelines Training Deck). Two key changes for this fiscal year are:

  • Access will be expanded by providing higher levels of support for small businesses by decreasing the contribution requirement from 1/3 to 1/6 and eliminating the “in -kind” contribution requirement.
  • Contribution requirements will increase for large employers (100 or more employees) from 1/3 to 1/2, to offer a more balanced approach to cost-sharing between government and employers who have greater capacity to invest in their workforces.

I’m sure other provinces/territories have signed agreements, but I’ve not seen any public announcements yet.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada Job Fund, Canada Job Grant, Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Federal Budget, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy, Workforce Development Agreements | Leave a comment

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) | 4 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