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Harper government to boost skills for trades

Considering options, including using federal contracts to increase apprenticeships.


March 1, 2013
by PLANT STAFF

OTTAWA — The Harper government is considering a number of options in its next budget to tackle Canada’s skills and labour shortages, including measures to increase apprenticeships that will involve increased partnerships with schools and industry.

Speaking at the Canada 2020 Conference on Skilled Trades in the Energy Sector in Ottawa Feb. 28, Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development, noted labour shortages and skills mismatches have become a “dominant policy concern.”

“Last fall, there were 268,000 unfilled jobs in this country, and this situation is likely to get much worse.”

She also noted a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey that showed two-thirds of CEOs ranked the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to job prospects.

The energy sector will be looking to fill 830,000 jobs between now and 2025, including 126,000 jobs in Alberta, she said.

A number options are under consideration, including:

• Helping Canadians make more informed career choices, including at earlier stages in their education.

• Working with partners, including other levels of government and employers, for new skills and training initiatives.

• Encouraging greater workforce participation of underrepresented groups, including youth.

• Increasing private-sector involvement in training and skills development.

But Finley said she is “seriously considering” six recommendations made by Polytechnics Canada, which represents 11 colleges and institutes of technology.

It suggests reallocating existing funding or making modest new investments to enable SMEs to generate jobs. Recommendations include:

1. Launching a pilot commercialization voucher program to allow innovative SMEs to partner with colleges and other applied research service providers to overcome the well-documented, private sector late-stage commercialization hurdle.

2. Through reallocation, increase funding by $15 million for the over-subscribed College & Community Innovation Program (CCIP) so that more SMEs will benefit.

3. Using federal tendering criteria for major government contracts to create more apprenticeships by requiring bidders maintain a minimum number.

4. Create an alternative to Employment Insurance (income bridge loans, micro loans, automatic savings programs) for mature Red Seal apprentices or those in the later years of their programs. This would encourage more workers to become qualified tradespeople by offering to them the same financial support available to other post-secondary students. (Currently, apprentices are limited to Employment Insurance, which creates a barrier for many potential and existing apprentices.)

5. Provide tax credits to employers when an apprentice achieves Red Seal certification in his or her trade. Employers say they are reluctant to release employees to finish their certification because they will then have to pay higher wages or risk losing the apprentice to poaching from rival firms that do not invest in apprenticeship training.

6. Target new Labour Market Agreement funds to increase the number of Pre-Apprenticeship Training Programs at colleges and polytechnics. This will increase awareness of, and facilitate new entrants into, professions in the skilled trades.

Finley, while acknowledging everyone involved in the skills issue must do more, noted employers have the primary responsibility for managing their labour forces.

“And shuffling our people from job to job without training them, or simply poaching skilled workers from other companies, only masks the problem instead of helping it.”