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

Thank you Peter

Canada lost a staunch literacy advocate yesterday with the death of Peter Calamai. Peter wrote the publication, Broken words: Why five million Canadians are illiterate. A special Southam survey, in 1987. This landmark survey marked the first time that literacy was seen as an activity of daily life and not a function of education levels.

The writing of Broken Words ignited in Peter a lifelong interest in literacy. Peter didn’t just put into prose the data in the survey. According to John Willinsky in The Construction of a Crisis: Literacy in Canada

To prepare for this series, Peter Calamai sat in on literacy classes in Ottawa, joined railway workers and their labourer-teacher on the CPR line in Alberta, spoke to literacy students in Newfoundland, and interviewed innumerable experts. His reporting brings the percentages and other numbers to life, as he moves between the poignant and the sensational aspects of the story.

While some have critiqued Southam’s creation of a ‘crisis’ over literacy, I can attest to the fact that without Broken Words the federal government would not have created the National Literacy Secretariat, endowed it with a generous budget nor played an active role in International Literacy Year and in future surveys of literacy skills.

Peter went on to serve on the ABC Canada Board of Directors and was honoured for his literacy work with ABC’s Peter Gzowski Literacy Award of Merit and with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for their contribution to improving literacy and skills levels of adult Canadians while raising awareness about literacy across the country. He cared deeply about fostering solid research and communicating clearly and effectively.

Thank you, Peter, for putting literacy on the national agenda.

Peter Calamai (1943-2019): Award-winning journalist 'just wanted to know how the world worked'

Posted in ABC Canada, Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, National Literacy Secretariat (NLS), Public Opinion on Literacy | Tagged , | 3 Comments

REVISED – 2017-2018 Projects Funded by OLES


Last week I posted the federal government’s spending for the Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program managed by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES). The only way I know to find this information is to wait for the annual Public Accounts report since neither the OLES website nor the ESDC site provide up-to-date information.

The Public Accounts list provides the name of the organization and the project title. The amount of money listed reflects how much was provided in the fiscal year. It is not necessarily the total amount and it is difficult to ascertain the future length of the project. Nevertheless, the information is useful to see what is happening in the world of adult literacy and essential skills.

One final note. OLES has not issued a call for proposals since 2015. From conversations I’ve had with organizations, funded projects are either the result of unsolicited proposals or of OLES reaching out to a small group of organizations to request proposals.

Organization Total Amount
Actions interculturelles de développement et d’éducation $            330,184.00
Alberta Rural Development Network $            436,008.00
Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne $            150,000.00
BioTalent Canada $            209,522.00
Bow Valley College $            371,891.00
BuildForce Canada $        1,211,547.00
Canadian Apprenticeship Forum|Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage $            150,000.00
Canadian Career Development Foundation|Fondation canadienne pour le développement de carrière $            249,700.00
Canadian Shareholder Association for Research and Education $            149,209.00
Coalition ontarienne de formation des adultes $            101,784.00
Colleges and Institutes Canada, Ottawa, Ontario $            745,487.00
Community Business Development Corporation, Restigouche $            759,086.00
Community Economic Development and Employability Corporation, Montréal $            204,759.00
Construction Foundation of British Columbia Society $            148,713.00
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia $            138,361.00
Environmental Careers Organization of Canada $            426,679.00
Excellence In Manufacturing Consortium of Canada $            403,896.00
Futureworx $            133,950.00
Government of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick $        2,500,000.00
Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment and Training Services $            777,770.00
LearnSphere Canada Inc. $            403,347.00
Mining Industry Human Resources Council $            168,352.00
Mothers Matter Centre $            244,708.00
Native Education College $            200,437.00
NorQuest College $            315,858.00
Nunavut Literacy Council $        1,340,569.00
Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre $            490,345.00
Pathway to Possibilities Adult Learning and Employment Programs $            131,890.00
Raising the Roof|Chez Toit $            150,000.00
Saint John Learning Exchange $            315,348.00
Skanehionkwaioteh Incorporated $            196,192.00
Skills Canada $            210,193.00
Social Research And Demonstration Corporation $            201,776.00
Workplace Learning Prince Edward Island Inc. $            200,000.00
Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation $            340,487.00
Young Women’s Christian Association of Canada $            804,790.00
Transfer payments under $100,000 (1 recipient) (Grants) $              98,960.00
Transfer payments under $100,000 (3 recipients) (Contributions) $              92,038.00
TOTAL $      15,312,838.00
Posted in Employment and Social Development Canada, ESDC, Essential Skills, Federal Government and Literacy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) | Leave a comment

Implementation of the New LMDA and WDA Agreements: Some Insight from British Columbia

Donna Wood shares information about BC’s approach to the LMDAs and the new Workforce Development Agreement.


The Welfare State Matters....

ASPECT (the Association of Service Providers for Employability and Career Training) has been the voice of BC’s community based training and workplace development service providers for over 30 years. Their annual fall conference provides an opportunity for people employed in the workforce development sector in British Columbia to come together, share perspectives, and re-energize for another year of helping the unemployed back to work. Participants at the November conference came from across BC, ranging from government officials, to executive directors of employment service agencies, to colleges, to front-line counselling staff.

 I was pleased to present the findings from my new book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015 alongside my colleagues Norma Strachan, the previous executive director of ASPECT and Valérie Roy, the current executive director of AXTRA in Québec. We had a good audience and insightful questions about the different governance choices that four…

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HEQCO makes questionable and problematic claims after completing pilot featuring OECD’s Education and Skills Online

Christine Pinsent-Johnson provides an insightful commentary about the recent study of literacy levels among post-secondary students. Worth a read.

Policy Problems

The Higher Education Quality Council (HEQCO) recently proclaimed that one-quarter of graduating students score below adequate on measures of literacy, numeracy  This was quickly mimicked in a Globe and Mail headline: One in four Ontario postsecondary students lacks basic literacy, numeracy skills, studies say. HEQCO came to the conclusion based on the results of their pilot study using OECD’s Education and Skills Online (ESO) assessment.

One of the main problems with the conclusion and the overall aim of the project—to ensure postsecondary institutions are producing productive workers—is that the determination of adequacy and minimal proficiency is based on a lie.

iStock_000003325294XSmall Credit: iStock

In their summary Harvey Weingarten, the president and CEO, and his team write the following:

HEQCO has identified Level 3 as the minimum required proficiency level for Ontario’s higher education graduates.

The project’s aims are also hooked into the very dangerous conceptualization of social worth and…

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