Ahead of federal budget, hopes high for boosting high-tech job skills, expertise
|Toronto Star 14 Mar 2017 at 13:37|
OTTAWAâExpectations are running high that next weekâs federal budget will provide a more detailed federal strategy â and perhaps more cash â to help post-secondary students land real-life work experience in emerging, employee-starved fields.
Specifics have yet to be released, but the government plans to launch the program this year â and advocates will be watching the March 22 budget for signs of a framework.
âStudents today want to get their hands dirty as part of the university experience,â said Universities Canada president Paul Davidson, noting there have been good discussions about work-integrated learning over the past year.
âThere might be some amplification of it in the budget; there might be an extended commitment to it.â
Tory says fedâs commitment to fund Toronto job program bodes well for budget
Last year, the government set aside money for new co-op placements and work-integrated learning in anticipation of a program to encourage participation in âhigh-demand fields,â such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics and business.
The feds billed it at the time as part of a broader plan for a so-called âinnovation agenda,â a strategy to foster the growth of young, high-potential firms in Canada and encourage talented graduates to stay in the country.
The government is counting on that strategy to help drive Canadaâs long-term economic growth.
Finance Minister Bill Morneauâs second budget comes amid growing awareness that a wide range of todayâs jobs will eventually be replaced by the rapid advance of new technologies, such as automation and artificial intelligence.
The Liberal government has spent more and more time in recent weeks talking about the need to address the evolving labour market, as well as the importance of finding ways to increase participation in the workforce.
Job skills will be âone of the key areas of focusâ in the budget, Morneau said last week.
âIâm confident that weâll help Canadians get the skills they need in a challenging economic environment,â he said.
âWeâll 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.â
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he hopes Ottawaâs efforts will also acknowledge and help the more informal skills-boosting approaches relied upon by small- and medium-sized companies.
Thereâs rarely any government support for those firms that enlist existing staff members to show young or inexperienced workers the ropes, such as teaching them to use a piece of equipment, Kelly said.
Ottawa does, however, provide considerable support for formal skills training through the Canada Job Grant, through employment insurance measures and by way of transfer payments to the provinces for university and college funding, he added.
Canadaâs smaller firms â 75 per cent of the countryâs companies have fewer than five employees, Kelly noted â are often ill-equipped to take advantage of federal grants because thereâs so much paperwork.
âIf there are some budget measures to facilitate informal, on-the-job training, we would certainly be a cheerleader for that.â
However, there are growing calls for the government to first figure out precisely what credentials the job market is looking for.
Otherwise, Canada could find itself with too many people with skills that the market doesnât need, said Nobina Robinson, CEO of Polytechnics Canada, a national organization representing public colleges and polytechnics.
âI certainly believe that we should have more education that leads to employment â work-integrated learning helps that, no question,â Robinson said.
Robinson said she wants to see improvements in Canada labour-market data, something the federal governmentâs influential advisory council on economic growth pushed for last month in its latest recommendations.
The council, led by McKinsey & Co. global managing partner Dominic Barton, has already helped guide Ottawa in shaping policies.
âGovernments, academics, and others have long recognized the need for more timely and reliable labour market information,â said the Barton report, which described the data as âdisorganizedâ and a challenge for policy-makers.
Davidson, whose organization represents 97 institutions, said only about 55 per cent of university students have some form of co-op or internship and heâd like that number to reach 100 per cent.
Heâs also expecting work-integrated learning to emerge as a priority when a federal panel of youth-employment experts release their findings in the coming weeks.