May 13, 2015 | By Andrew Galley
This report examines federal support for employment skills training in Canada and highlights the disconnect between the design of programs and today’s needs.
Many Canadians rely on government-funded programs to help them to upgrade or update their skills when they are out of work. Today’s system was largely designed in a different time for the markedly different labour market of the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that a substantial share of government skills training support is built into the Employment Insurance (EI) system leaves many of those in need of assistance ineligible for training (because they don’t qualify for EI).
Having a decent job is necessary for Canadians’ financial security and to be a part of the community. The purpose of skills training support is to help Canadians, within their ability, remain consistently part of the labour force and have control over their career. Skills training programs exist to help Canadians get good jobs, overcome barriers to entering the labour market, and recover from setbacks such as layoffs.
Two target populations are most in need of support from federally-backed skills programs: new labour market entrants and those facing long-term unemployment or underemployment. Those new to the labour market or returning after a long absence (such as youth, newcomers to Canada, Aboriginal Canadians, and those living with disabilities) may need support to overcome challenges to finding their first, stable employment and to establishing careers. Workers who have had their careers upended by large-scale, disruptive economic forces may need training to help them shift careers.
In some important ways, our current programs diverge from these objectives. The linkage with the EI program directs a significant share of skills training investments to those who qualify for EI, which may exclude many from these target populations who are most in need of government skills training support. Recent funding shifts towards targeting more job-ready candidates with employer-based training could make things even harder for those with weak attachment to the job market.
Who does what?
Government skills training programs in Canada are generally funded and delivered in partnership between the federal government and provincial governments. However, over the past twenty years, the federal government has generally shifted management of these programs to provinces. While the federal government still provides a large share of funding and sets some overall policy objectives, as of 2011, only ten percent of the training and employment programs funded by the federal government were actually delivered by the federal government. In the last two years, however, the system has been undergoing some transition, with the federal government reasserting a more prominent role with the 2013 introduction of the Canada Job Grant program and recent federal interest in making changes to the Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDA), which gives provinces responsibility for the training funded through the federal EI program.
The 2015 federal budget also featured further changes, including expanding access to student grants to short duration post-secondary programs.