But provincial parochialism could kill it before it even starts
Article credited to www.troymedia.com
Canada has a skills mismatch. Unemployment remains high while right across the country jobs go unfilled because employers can’t find people with the right skills.
In the last budget the federal government announced a program (the Canada Job Grant) that was supposed to address the issue by creating a partnership between employers, provincial governments and the federal government. Good idea, right? Maybe not.
The program would use money collected from Employment Insurance (EI) premiums to address skills gaps and prepare workers for available jobs. Employers seem to be in favour of it – anything that helps them get the skills they need to be competitive.
Unfortunately, the program was unanimously rejected by the provincial premiers at the recent Council of the Federation meetings in Ontario. Opposition from Quebec’s separatist government was predictable (it rejected it out of hand without waiting to see even the sparse details in the budget), but the attitudes of some of the other provinces is puzzling and disheartening. The program seems doomed, at least in its current form, and frankly, that’s not good for the Canadian economy.
The provinces currently control skills training, with part of the funding for that training transferred to each province from the EI program. The Canada Job Grant program will presumably mean reallocating some of these EI funds, along with matching funds from the provinces and employers, to up-skill existing workers and new hires to meet the needs of employers. The program will also require the provinces to account for the way EI money gets spent, which is not required under the current labour market agreements.
But accountability isn’t the only issue that irks the premiers. They also reject the program because it would direct how they can spend the money when it comes to skills development. The premiers seem to be conveniently forgetting, however, that the EI money isn’t theirs in the first place. As far as that goes, the money isn’t the federal government’s either. EI contributions come from employers and workers (for every dollar that workers contribute, employers put in $1.40). The case can be made that there’s a moral (if not a legal) obligation to use those funds for the benefit of the contributors.
While it’s true that provincial governments are responsible for education and training, the outright rejection of the new program doesn’t benefit workers, the unemployed, or employers.
Don’t the provinces and territories understand that a concerted approach to skills development is needed? Canada is one labour market, not 13. A piecemeal approach to skills development isn’t in the best interest of Canadians.
But maybe they don’t care. The current, piecemeal, approach, after all, does allow province and territory politicians to retain control of the money, letting them decide how to best use the money to meet their own agendas. This kind of petty parochialism has to stop.
Sure, the Canada Job Grant money might wind up being spent to prepare workers in one part of the country for jobs in another part of the country. But is it better to keep workers home, on the dole and dependent on the government? If Canadians want to see reduced unemployment, and fewer temporary foreign workers (and polls suggest they do) then programs that address the skills mismatch, and provide funding to address it, should be welcomed with open arms.
The Canada Job Grant program may be imperfect, and the government’s approach on the file (no consultation with the provinces, take it or leave it, and advertising it on TV before it was approved) comes across as both clumsy and heavy-handed. But at least it represents an attempt to address the skills mismatch.
The sort of short-sighted parochialism that’s been typical of the way we’ve approached skills development in the past clearly hasn’t worked, and the piecemeal approach that the provinces seem to favour will only result in less competitive industries and a lower standard of living for all of us. That’s unacceptable.
It’s time for Ottawa and the provinces to drop the rhetoric and get serious about skills. It’s our money, and we deserve better than what we’re getting.
Jeff Griffiths is a Certified Management Consultant, and co-owner of Griffiths Sheppard Consulting Group, a Calgary-based firm specializing in workforce development.
Article credited to www.troymedia.com