Budget 2017 – Skills and Training a Priority

Today the Minister of Finance tabled the 2017 federal budget (http://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/home-accueil-en.html). While there is no mention of additional funds for adult literacy, the budget contains a number of items for those interested in adult learning and literacy as well as workplace training, workforce development and skills training.

I must say that this budget is chock full of social policy initiatives, the like I’ve not seen in 10 years. I was invited to the budget lockup with over 100 stakeholders. From the conversations around me, people seemed to like what they saw, felt they had been heard, but, of course, thought more could be done on their issue. The last chapter of the budget is a gender-based analysis of the budget measures – a welcome innovation. The budget contains so many placeholders for positive and progressive action.

Canada Job Fund replaced

The government is proposing to create Workforce Development Agreements. These agreements, to be negotiated with the provinces and territories, will consolidate into one agreement the Canada Job Fund Agreements (CJFA), the Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities (LMAPD) and the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers (TIOW). The idea is to give the provinces and territories greater flexibility and make everything simpler. $900 million will fund these new agreements over the next 6 years starting in 2017-18.

The budget does not indicate the final total amount available for the new Workforce Development Agreements. While the budget indicates that the $900 million is additional funds, the TIOW was scheduled to end March 31, 2017 and the CJF on March 31, 2020. Below is my best ‘guesstimate’ of how much money will be available for the Workforce Development Agreements.

$ millions

2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23
LMAPD 222 222 222 222 222 222
CJF 550 550 550
Budget 2017 200 300 400 550 625 Not provided
TOTAL 972 1072 1172 772 847 222

The new agreements will allow the provinces to provide labour market programming as they see fit. Funding like the Canada Job Grant could continue but there will be no mandatory targets according to officials. If the provinces and territories see value in a program like the TIOW, I’m certain they’ll advocate for that funding to continue along with the funds original budgeted for the Canada Job Fund.

As you know, I have been highly critical of the Canada Job Fund. It has resulted in fewer vulnerable people being served and became a vehicle for employers to pay for training their existing workforce. I’m optimistic that these new Workforce Development Agreements will better meet the needs of the unemployed and the low skilled, but of course, the devil is in the detail.

Labour Market Development Agreements

The government indicated its intent to undertake a serious reform of the Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs) following a consultation last year. The budget however does not give details about the nature of the reform. The budget proposes an additional $1.8 billion over the next six years. The LMDAs provide support to those who are EI eligible. As the number of EI eligible is far less than the total of unemployed, the Workforce Development Agreements are designed to fill that gap.

New Labour Market Stakeholder Organization

A new organization will be created 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

The organization will work in partnership with “willing” provinces and territories, the private sector, educational institutions and not-for-profit organizations. $225 million over four years will kick-start the organization with $75 million after that.

This is welcome news. After the demise of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre which did much of this work (and where I worked), the opportunity for stakeholder involvement in skills development and training was lacking. Having the labour market partners at the table will result in a better system. I encourage the government to ensure all stakeholders are there including labour unions, adult learning and literacy organizations, and indigenous organizations. And of course, I would look to this organization to take a leadership role on literacy and adult learning.

Support for Adult Learning and Training

A number of measures support adult learning and training:

  • The Northern Adult Basic Education program (NABE) has been extended for the next three years with $14.7 million.
  • Amendments would allow EI recipients to pursue self-funded training and maintain their EI status (today, you must be actively looking for work to maintain your benefits). ($132.4 million over four years, and $37.9 for each year thereafter).
  • Today, adults who take occupational skills courses below the post-secondary level (e.g. second language training, basic literacy and numeracy) at a college or university cannot claim the Tuition Tax Credit while those who go to a non-post-secondary institution can. The budget proposes to allow everyone to claim the credit regardless of where they take their programming.
  • A three-year pilot project will test new approaches to make it easier for adult learners to qualify for Canada Student Loans and Grants ($287.2 million over 3 years starting in 2018-19).
  • Support is also being provided for Pathways to Education Canada. This longstanding innovative program works in low income communities to help youth graduate from high school.

Support for Skills Development and Training for Indigenous Peoples

The Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) is a parallel program to the LMDAs, managed by indigenous organizations. The program will receive $50 million in the coming year while work is underway to renew and improve the program.

Other Items of Interest

  • The budget has funds set aside to improve the recognition of foreign credentials.
  • Work continues to provide high-speed internet for all Canadians no matter where they live. This is critical for ensuring access to online and distance learning in northern, remote, and rural communities.
  • Commitments are made for early learning and childcare which will help efforts to build strong literacy skills in the early years.
Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Canada Job Fund, Canada Job Grant, Federal Budget, Federal Government and Literacy, Labour Market Agreements, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills | 1 Comment

Broken Link…Matchup report

The link to the full report mentioned in my last post was broken. I’ve fixed the link on the post. Here is the new link: canada-west-matchup-a-case-for-pan-canadian-competency-based-frameworks-feb-2017

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills | Leave a comment

Matchup: A case for pan-Canadian competency frameworks | Canada West Foundation

Janet Lane who many of you will remember from her time as Executive Director of Literacy Alberta, has co-authored a report advocating for a competency based approach to skills shortages. The report contends that the skills mis-match experienced across the country is due to:

“01  Formal education and apprenticeships do not teach all, or even the right, skills and competencies to the right levels needed by employers.

02  Unrecognized skills: Many people have skills and competencies that their official credentials do not address. They also may not be able to articulate the skills that go beyond official credentials that they possess, or their value. Therefore, unsurprisingly, employers may not be aware of the varied and specific skills that people have.

03  Employers are not sure what skills and competencies they need, or are unable to articulate what they are.

04  Foreign credentials, which are otherwise adequate in terms of skills and competencies, are not recognized.

One ambitious solution – a competency-based, pan-Canadian qualifications framework – would help to eliminate the mismatch problem by addressing all of these issues.”

You can read the Executive Summary here: Matchup: A case for pan-Canadian competency frameworks | Canada West Foundation

I’ve also uploaded the full report: canada-west-matchup-a-case-for-pan-canadian-competency-based-frameworks-feb-2017

I’ve always liked the idea of hiring based on what people can do rather than on a credential earned years ago. Such an approach would definitely improve outcomes for those whose skills have been developed over time through a combination of education, training and on-the-job experience. How one moves to such a system without it becoming very bureaucratic, i.e. requiring testing or other proxies to determine skill competencies, is one consideration.

Let me know what you think…

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Literacy and Essential Skills, Skills | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Citizenship, social cohesion and literacy

I ran across an article from some time ago making the case for a link between literacy levels and active citizenship. Given some of the conditions being faced in the world today, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the findings.

“Active citizenship and non-work related aspects of PIAAC” was published in Elm, European Lifelong Learning Magazine, on March 28, 2014 (http://www.elmmagazine.eu/articles/active-citizenship-and-non-work-related-aspects-of-piaac).

While much of the focus placed on Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) related to information about labour market and employment outcomes, this article outlines the impacts of lifelong long learning. First, it reminds us of what PIAAC said about citizenship and democracy:

Trust is the bedrock of democracy. Without trust in others and in the rule of law, all relationships, whether business, political or social, function less efficiently. The foundations of trust are established on three complementary levels: trust as an individual trait, trust as a relationship, and trust as a cultural rule (Sztompka, 1999). For an individual, certain skills may lead to trust in others. For example, key information-processing skills may enable people to understand better the motives and aspirations of others and the conditions under which these may be shown. Skills may also enable people to forge trust by fostering lasting relationships with the aim of accomplishing mutually rewarding outcomes” (OECD; 2013, p. 237 f)

PIAAC found that those with lower proficiency in literacy are less likely to trust others. In addition, those with lower proficiency levels say they have a low level of ‘political efficacy’ or the belief that they can make a difference.

Second, there appears to be a relationship between PIAAC skills and social cohesion. The authors state, “proficiency in skills may influence social (in)equality, social in- or exclusion and social cohesion, through the role of building trust in others who are or who are not like them (such as highly- or low-skilled person). “

Third, higher literacy skills are associated with civic engagement such as volunteering. The authors reference other studies that relate an increase in racial tolerance and a greater likelihood of voting with participation in adult education.

The authors conclude, “Participating in learning activities and increasing skills can provide a stable time framework, a community, a chance for re-orientation, a safe place, a new challenge, social recognition, and end up being an important tool for empowerment. Especially in times of crisis, literacy skills are necessary for tackling economic and societal challenges.”

This article makes the case for more, not less investment in adult education and lifelong learning, not just for economic or labour market objectives but to help foster a strong sense of social cohesion, community engagement, and active citizenship. Certainly a theme worth raising with public officials.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | Leave a comment

More PIAAC research documents

Thanks to Suzanne Smythe, Simon Fraser University and Gabriela Lopez, RESDAC for bringing two more PIAAC related research papers to my attention.

RESDAC, COFA, Statistics Canada and Employment Ontario sponsored further research into the situation of Ontario’s francophones.

Posted in Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | Leave a comment

Diving deeper into PIAAC

When PIAAC was first released, the federal government shared with the literacy field a list of topics that would be explored in more depth. These topics included:

  • Skills and the Labour Market
  • Skills of Immigrants
  • Official Language Minorities
  • Skills of Aboriginal people
  • Health and Social Outcomes
  • Postsecondary Education and Skills

Many provinces and territories have used the PIAAC data to understand better the literacy situation of their populations. I’m certain that some academics have also used the data in their work and I recall that Essential Skills Ontario did PIAAC data analysis prior to closing its doors.

I decided to go searching for any secondary analysis done on PIAAC and published by the federal government and/or CMEC. Here’s what I found:

  • Government of Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC). “Postsecondary Education and Skills in Canada: Findings from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).” PIAAC Thematic Report Series.
  • Government of Canada. “What is the role of education in developing literacy and numeracy skills in the territories? In Focus: PIAAC in Canada. #1. August 2016.
  • Statistics Canada. “The association between skills and low income.” Andrew Heisz, Geranda Notten and Jerry Situ. February 24, 2016.
  • Statistics Canada. “Literacy and numeracy among off-reserve First Nations people and Métis: Do higher skill levels improve labour market outcomes?” Paula Arriagada and Darcy Hango. May 18, 2016.
  • Statistics Canada. “The literacy skills of New Brunswick francophones: Demographic and socioeconomic issues.” September 19, 2016.
  • Statistics Canada. “University graduates with lower levels of literacy and numeracy skills.” Darcy Hango. November 4, 2014.

In Focus: PIAAC in Canada published one volume so far, while the federal government/CMEC PIAAC Thematic Report Series has also published one volume. Five of the publications were issued in 2016.

If anyone is aware of other publications, please let me know.

Posted in Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Policy, Federal Government and Literacy, International Literacy Surveys, Literacy and Essential Skills, PIAAC, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | Leave a comment

Quebec increases literacy funding

Finally some good news on the literacy front. Last month, Quebec’s Minister of Education, Sébastien Proulx, announced an additional $20m for literacy programs.

Community-based literacy is funded through PACTE: « Programme d’action communautaire sur le terrain de l’éducation ».

$9m of the new funds will go to PACTE for community groups working in adult literacy, drop-out prevention and return to school programs, ongoing training and street schools. At this point, it’s not clear which specific sectors or organizations will receive the additional funds.

PACTE will have a budget of $27.3m as a result of the increase in funding.

Other funds are targeted at companies to provide employee training and for the Quebec Literacy Foundation to set up a new help line for parents.

Literacy Quebec is monitoring the situation and I’m sure will keep us up to date as more information is provided by the government.

To read more about these new funds, please see:

« Soyons tous mobilisés autour de la réussite » – Sébastien Proulx

Quebec announces $20 million for literacy. Montreal Gazette, December 2, 2016.

Literacy Quebec blog

Posted in Literacy and Essential Skills, Provincial/Territorial Budgets, Provincial/Territorial Governments and Literacy | Tagged , | 3 Comments