Federal budget to address growing demand for highly skilled workers
|Toronto Star 18 Mar 2017 at 05:39|
Measures to better align education and training with the burgeoning demand for highly skilled workers will be front and centre when Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveils the Liberal government’s second budget in Ottawa Wednesday.
“We expect some policy shifts in the right direction” said Ben Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, a group that helps high-growth Canadian technology firms scale up globally.
He said the budget will likely advance the Liberal government’s broader innovation agenda that aims to foster high-potential firms and help them access the talent needed, whether domestically or from abroad.
Bergen said the budget will probably offer “some definitions” of government criteria for allocation of $800 million earmarked over four years in the 2016 budget to support business clusters, incubators and accelerators.
Colleges and Institutes Canada president Denise Amyot said the government’s typical procedure is to launch some form of competition to select the most deserving recipients.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said in September that Ottawa will proceed with an expression of interest to help identify the “innovation networks” drawing on established areas of expertise that will receive funding. Universities Canada president Paul Davidson said he is hopeful the criteria will require that universities be involved.
Morneau said last week that innovation will be key in the budget as the government attempts to encourage development of technical skills in emerging areas such as self-driving vehicles and as they apply in more traditional sectors of the economy. Bains had earlier loosened immigration rules to greatly shorten the time required to obtain work permits for skilled foreign workers.
“I’m confident that we’ll help Canadians get the skills they need in a challenging economic environment,” the finance minister told reporters in Ottawa.
“We’ll be thinking about not only how we can grow the economy, but how we can ensure that Canadians are prepared for the exciting and good opportunities that will come out, not only for this generation, but for the next generation as well.”
Davidson, whose organization represents 97 institutions, said he expects the budget will provide details and possibly more funding to support work experience for post-secondary students, notably in fields such as computer programming where acute shortages persist. He said all university students should have access early in their academic careers to co-op internships, preferably paid, compared to the 55 per cent of students that he said currently take part.
Ottawa had committed $73 million over four years to fund co-op placements for students, particularly in high-demand fields such as science, technology and engineering, and Davidson said the budget should focus on ways to find more co-op experience for young people, including indigenous youth.
He said a challenge is getting the private sector to offer internships, suggesting that the budget could announce vouchers and tax incentives for businesses to promote internships that he said trigger a “virtuous cycle,” as students are able to bring the benefit of their work experience back to the classroom.
Amyot of Colleges and Institutes Canada, which represents publicly supported colleges, institutes and polytechnics in Canada and internationally, said she hopes for new incentives in the budget to advance essential skills training and retraining, adding that colleges and institutes should receive a greater share of federal research allocations.
Amyot also said she would like to see an expansion of funding for adult basic education programs in northern and rural communities.