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Canada falls short in key skills: Conference Board

Prompt improvements in post secondary education sector.


TORONTO — Canada may have a good track record for producing highly educated graduates, but there are signs of deficits in key skills needed to sustain and enhance economic performance and social well-being, says a Conference Board of Canada report.

Fifty-three per cent of Canada’s population has a post-secondary credential and another 12% hold trades certificates, but the report says literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of Canadian adults are less impressive.

The report, Skills – Where are We Today? The State of Skills and PSE in Canada, shows the proportion of students graduating with degrees in engineering, physical and life sciences, mathematics, and computer and information sciences has stagnated over the past 20 years. Canada is also producing too few people with advanced degrees (particularly PhDs), especially in key science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Canada is far behind international peers in productivity growth and innovation – earning C or D grades for productivity and a consistent D grade in innovation – over the past few decades in The Conference Board of Canada’s How Canada Performs report cards.

The Conference Board says to improve innovation and productivity performance, Canada will need more people with knowledge and technical skills in the sciences, engineering, and computer and information sciences; more PhD graduates with advanced research skills to contribute in non-academic settings; and graduates with better innovation skills – including problem-solving, creativity, risk assessment and management, relationship-building, entrepreneurial savvy, and business management skills.

Employers are also concerned about the essential, innovation, and employability skills of graduates. A recent Conference Board of Canada survey found that more than 70% of employers observed gaps in job candidates’ and recent hires’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Between one-third and one-half also said that they are seeing deficits in literacy, communication (writing and speaking), and teamwork skills among recent graduates and job candidates.

At the same time, the report says opportunities for adult learning and education to maintain and enhance skills, including workplace training, are limited, declining and of questionable impact.

In 2009, only 31% of Canadians aged 25-64 participated in some form of non-formal job related education – slightly higher than the OECD average of 28%, but well behind leading European countries such as Sweden (61%), Norway (47%), Finland (44%), as well as the US (33%).

Canadians received just 49 hours of instruction – lower than the OECD average of 59 hours and less than half the hours (105) provided to adults in Denmark, the leading performer.

Canadian employer spending on training and development decreased by nearly 40% from 1993 to 2010.

Participation in the apprenticeship system has increased markedly over the past 20 years and more apprentices are completing their training, achieving certification and reaping the benefits. Yet completion rates remain a challenge and it’s not clear that Canada’s apprenticeship systems have achieved the right scope of occupational coverage.

The report concludes further attention to actual skills is needed in order for the PSE sector to sustain and enhance its performance as drivers of economic growth.

1 Comment » for Canada falls short in key skills: Conference Board
  1. Peter Landreth says:

    As a CET with education in UK I find the system in Canada is lacking in proper education for skilled trades. There has to be more emphasis on “hands on” training and problem solving skills.
    New skilled trades in general lack “hands on” training and tend to be more “theory” orientated.
    The Government needs to subsidize apprenticeships more with an emphasis on funding the college and/or schooling costs. This will make the jobs more attractive to school leavers who are deterred because of what they have to pay when only receiving a low wage.

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