Opinion: Canada needs a new training system for jobs that don’t require post-secondary education

The Canadian economy added 100,000 jobs in October, but there remains both a labor shortage and a shortage of skilled workers in the economy.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Janet Lane is Director of the Center for Human Capital at the Canada West Foundation

The Canadian economy added 100,000 jobs in October, according the latest Labor Force Report from Statistics Canada, and the national unemployment rate is at an all-time high. And yet, in Canada today, there is both a labor shortage and a shortage of skilled workers.

In many parts of the country, these shortages are combining to prevent businesses from filling jobs and meeting demand for their products and services. Of the one million job openings at the end of September, almost half had been open for more than 60 days. Businesses stagnate when they cannot find the workers they need. This in turn stifles economic growth.

Meanwhile, the lives of nearly a million job seekers are financially precarious and emotionally stressful.

For people and the economy to thrive, Canada needs to better connect people to jobs and jobs to people.

At least a quarter of available jobs require no more than a high school diploma. And there are more than enough people with no education beyond high school looking for jobs. Clearly, there is a skills mismatch, even in so-called low-skilled jobs.

There is a mismatch because even low-skilled jobs have specific requirements, including basic skills such as literacy, numeracy, problem solving, communication and collaboration. Many people, even those with a high school diploma, do not have a high enough level of these skills.

Within the federal government recent fall economic update, the Minister of Finance once again announced hundreds of millions of dollars for training programs. This is in addition to the billions of dollars the government already sends to provinces and territories for workforce development. Yet many of the training programs available do not allow their graduates to find jobs because the programs do not train people specifically for the jobs available in their communities.

The research led the Canada West Foundation to recommend an overhaul of the training system for many of the available jobs that do not require post-secondary education. The necessary changes can happen through these six strategies:

  • Develop a pan-Canadian competency framework. Competency statements provide a common language to describe the knowledge, skills and attributes of each competency. Competency-based job profiles use these statements to create job descriptions. A skills framework shows individuals and training program providers the skills and skill level required for each job and the skills pathways to and between jobs. While individual employers have specific needs, job profiles based on core competencies can and should be standardized for the industry sector. Sector councils, employer associations and training providers are best placed to create and link job skills profiles into frameworks.
  • Assess individuals for the skills they already possess and identify their skill gaps. No one enters the labor market totally unskilled, especially recent immigrants, but they are systematically treated as if they have no skills.
  • Individuals should also be assessed on their interests and abilities and given information about what the jobs entail – competence is only part of a good job match.
  • People who are matched and then hired into the job that best suits them then receive training while they are in the job. Modular vocational training programs can teach the required skills. A predefined curriculum and training that insists that all individuals start at the first lesson is a waste of time and money for individuals and employers.
  • Life skills and basic literacy, numeracy, problem solving and communication skills are extremely important and often what an individual’s skills lack most. They are taught more effectively and efficiently in combination with more technical job skills while on the job. Teaching adults these skills without providing context on how they are used in the workplace does not help them retain their learning.
  • Finally, employers must provide on-the-job training. Employers can no longer require job-ready candidates – they must be part of the training ecosystem. Some employers might consider the cost of on-the-job training too high, but it certainly outweighs the costs of job vacancies, high turnover, and low productivity from under-qualified employees.

A new system as described would help ensure that the billions of dollars transferred to provinces and territories for workforce training match people with jobs and jobs with people. This will improve outcomes for individuals, reduce the number of unfilled jobs and ultimately grow the economy.

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