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.
|Budget 2017||200||300||400||550||625||Not provided|
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.