Horse's Mouth

Well you don't have to take my word for it - as if you would :) Or Juliet Merrifield's.

Here is Rona Ambrose, Federal Minister of Public Works and Status for Women, talking about how the Canada Job Grant program will serve the needs of employers.

“It will transform the way we do skill training. The problem here was the taxpayer has been funding $500 million for every province, to the tune of almost $3 billion in skills training that’s delivered through the government. What employers have told us is that skills training that people are taking through the government are not to fill the jobs that they need."

“What we’ve done is something really bold, that the Chambers of Commerce have asked us to do, and employers have asked us to do. We’re going to offer the grant directly to the employer. The Government of Canada will pay $5,000 in job training grants if it’s matched by the employer. The province can then match another $5,000, for a total of $15,000. The province doesn’t have to participate but if they want, they can use their existing Skills Training Fund that they have."

“We’re going to work with them over the next year to see if we can align these programs but that job grant will still be available from the Federal Government and the employer. It just won’t be the maximum $15,000; it’ll be $10,000.”

We decided to take this out of the hand of government, out of the hands of bureaucrats, and give that money directly to employers so they can dictate the training they need.”

thanks to @Brigid_Hayes

You might assume that I would be okay with taking education out of the hands of bureaucrats but how about putting at least some of in the hands of educators and learners.

I wonder how unemployed workers will access this program, especially those who are currently in literacy programs. (In Ontario, literacy programs get 22% of their funding from the Labour Market Agreement funds that are being allocated to the Canada Jobs Grant program.) Will employers be encouraged to make these programs accessible to people who need to upgrade reading and writing skills as well as job skills? How will the government ensure that access to this program is equitable? For example, how will Ms. Ambrose in her role as Minister for the Status of Women, ensure that women have equal opportunity in this program? Quotas? Daycare? A Women in Non-traditional Trades program?

Hmmm. Maybe we need the bureaucrats after all.

In this Centre for Policy Alternatives Fact Sheet, Fast Facts: Literacy, Women and Poverty, Margerit Roger writes about how "many of the women living with lower levels of literacy and low incomes are also single parents" and "Not part of the workplace perspective or economic agenda, low-income women are at risk of being forgotten in literacy programming."
"It is important to distinguish labour's conception of literacy from corporate conceptions of literacy for workers. As far as corporations are concerned, worker literacy is defined in the context of corporate goals regarding productivity and profits. Where the production process, and more recently, the participatory management process, requires workers to use literacy skills to follow instructions, say, or fill out reports, then corporations may be interested in worker literacy.... This corporate conception of literacy is a narrow one. It is based on a limited understanding of the worker and of the worker's need for literacy in terms of his/her role as a cog in a workplace."
 Seeds for Change, Jean Conon-Unda

"Important as work-skill acquisition is, we do our society a huge disservice if we do not value personal, family and community health as much as increased employability or income. Unfortunately, literacy programs aimed at producing productive employees are exponentially more common than programs designed for people who are farther removed from the economy and labour market. Since 2006, the national literacy agenda has shifted so significantly towards work-focused programming that literacy for family, social or political participation has all but disappeared from our educational discourse. We have become so accustomed to measuring success in economic and statistical terms that we are seriously at risk of forgetting that literacy is also about individuals being able to “read their world”, inform themselves about choices, engage in community projects, or just help their children with homework."

The Centre for Policy Alternatives blog post,  New Shoes and a Haircut: Budget 2013 not so pretty for women in Canada, points to the ways the 2013 Federal Budget leaves women out of the Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! agenda. Are women being remembered in the Jobs Grant program? What about other groups of workers that face discrimination in the workplace?

And I guess we can give up any hope that the federal government is going to fix the problems the Temporary Foreign Workers program is causing for permanent, domestic workers - here is Ms. Ambrose again:

“There’s a new program through Immigration Canada that going to allow for employers, provinces and territories, to pick from a pool of (immigrant) skilled workers,” the people they need to match job requirements.

“That gives them much more control over the kinds of immigrants that they need to fill their labour market need. We’ve been working on this for some time and there is still work to be done but I think this is something that will be really welcomed by *Alberta businesses.”

*She was speaking in Alberta.

I told you so.

Okay this is weird.

A link to another endorsement of applying the theories of Karl Marx, Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World, just showed up on a social media site I frequent  -- but this time from Time Magazine's Business Section!

 "With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. 'Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,' Marx wrote.

... Marx would have predicted ... As the proletariat woke to their common class interests, they’d overthrow the unjust capitalist system and replace it with a new, socialist wonderland. Communists “openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” Marx wrote. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” There are signs that the world’s laborers are increasingly impatient with their feeble prospects.

... That leaves open a scary possibility: that Marx not only diagnosed capitalism’s flaws but also the outcome of those flaws. If policymakers don’t discover new methods of ensuring fair economic opportunity, the workers of the world may just unite. Marx may yet have his revenge."

Draw your own conclusions

We have spoken about learning the language of the economists -- that this is something that literacy workers need to have in our toolbox in order to understand policy and to speak to policy makers. I think Richard Wolff is an economist who would agree.

I think he also agrees with those who speak the language of literacy - observe your reality, discuss your reality, read about it, analyse it and finally, transform it. In other words, get your critical thinking, transformational mojo on.

There are many economists who speak a language that is very close to the language of literacy workers.

In this extended interview with Richard Wolff from Democracy Now, he discusses how his parents fled Hitler and immigrated to the United States from Germany during World War II, and how he "grew up convinced that understanding the political and economic environment I lived in was an urgent matter that had to be done, and made me a little different from many of my fellow kids in school who didn’t have that sense of the urgency of understanding how the world worked to be able to navigate an unstable and often dangerous world."

If you would rather read this interview, click on the Democracy Now link to read the transcript.

Here is the Democracy Now interview with Richard Woolf about the American economy - Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work. Click here to read the transcript.

We live in a country that says it goes to war around the world to bring democracy and that its central, most important political value is democracy. If you believe that—and I am a fervent supporter of democracy, and obviously you are—you’ve named your program that way—then we ought to have democracy in the place where we as adults spend most of our time. Five out of seven days we go to work. We walk into a place where we use our brains and our muscles eight or more hours, five out of seven days. If democracy is an important value, it ought to be right there, first and foremost. But we don’t. We basically have a situation where, for most of us, we go to work in a place where the decisions that are made are made by a tiny group of people. The major shareholders who own the block of shares in our system select a board of directors, 15 to 20 people, and they make the basic decisions: what to produce, how to produce it, where to produce it, and what to do with the profits. The rest of us must live with the results of that decision. ... Let’s build an option, a real choice for Americans, between working in a non-democratic, top-down-organized capitalist enterprise or in what, for lack of a better term, we can call "cooperatives," workplaces that are organized democratically. I think we’ll have less inequality of income, we will have less pollution of our environment, and we’ll have less loss of jobs out of the country, if those decisions were made by the people, as they should have been from the beginning, who will not make the kinds of decisions that got us into the mess of economic crisis that we’re in now.

Flaherty will get you nowhere.

The name of this post is one of my father's favourite jokes. So that will tell you a little about the sense of humour around our place.

A couple of weeks ago I quoted from someone just as estimable - Juliet Merrifield's 1998 NCSALL report, Contested Ground: Performance Accountability,
"The customers of adult education began to be defined as employers, interested in the “product” of skilled employees."
Jim Flaherty's 2013 budget reinforces this notion. In it he proposes to change the Labour Market Agreements (LMAs) yet again. In 2014 he will launch the Canada Job Grant program, a wage subsidy scheme that would see the federal government provide business with $5,000 per worker for training if the provincial government and business agree to match the funds per worker. I think what this means that a business would identify a worker to be trained in a specific set of skills and pay $5,000 towards the training of that worker and two levels of government would subsidize that training with $10,000.

One of the things that IALSS told us was that participation in employer-sponsored training is not equal across groups of workers, and workers with the least education are also least likely to participate in training. So asking employers to pony up is a good thing, right?


The Canada Job Grant takes $300 million-per-year from the current $500 million Labour Market Agreements. This could mean a reduction in other types of training, opportunities not requested by employers.

For example, the Canadian Labour Congress reports:
Current training spending through LMAs and LMDAs meets this critical labour market need. Adequate literacy is one key skill that many Canadians lack. The LMA is the sole source of government funding for workplace literacy training. .... For example, in Ontario 70% of literacy training funding is provided through the LMDA and LMA. Literacy and numeracy training enables Canadians to take on higher skilled, in demand job training, such as construction trade apprenticeships.
And David Macdonald at The Progressive Economics Forum says:
There is also a large change in how unemployment training is provided. The federal government devolved the unemployment training to the provinces in 2007. Now they are taking $500 million of that back through a new “Canada Job Grants” program. ... The requirements are few and the control is in the hands of employers. Basically if employers are running any training programs right now, they’ll be able to claim them through this program and get funding for what they were already doing. The dead-weight loss will be significant.

However, we already know that Canadian employers spend much less on training than other countries, like the US. Canadian CEOs love to complain about the so called ‘skills gap’ while at the same time doing little to train their own employees to fill it, or hire new ones and train them. Given this lack of interest from employers this program at most will provide $500 million, but if provinces or employers don’t buy in, it could provide substantially less than that. All of this funding, or lack thereof, will be taken out of current training programs for the unemployed.
In their analysis of the budget, Citizens for Social Justice 
...remain concerned about their single-minded focus on labour market solutions. Such focus communicates a decided lack of understanding of the broader social needs of Canadians (as well as a refusal to acknowledge the damage done by the systematic erosion of federal financial resources brought on by far-reaching tax cuts). Better aligning jobs and training will not address the situation of people working in precarious, low-wage jobs that don't provide enough for them to make ends meet. Nor will it respond to fundamental issues of human well-being – which go far beyond financial well-being.

Others wonder about the evidence for the oft-cited skills and labour shortages. We hear that that Prime Minister Harper is peeved and that Conservative "insiders" claim "There’s a general feeling there are too many kids getting BAs and not enough welders," but is this more than a feeling?

Andrew Jackson, Professor of Social Justice at York University and Senior Policy Adviser to the Broadbent Institute, asks whether "the federal government prefers labour market policy to be guided by employer opinion, or by accurate labour market information." In a Globe and Mail article, Does Canada have a labour shortage or a skills shortage? he says that
With the national unemployment rate at 7.4 per cent – well above the pre-recession level of about 6 per cent – and with 5.2 unemployed workers for every available job opening reported by employers, it would seem that Canada is not suffering generalized labour shortages.
It is true that some sectors report a skills shortage and can back that up with evidence that in these occupations "unemployment is almost non-existent and wages are rising rapidly" but that "a planned Statistics Canada Workplace Survey which would have obtained very detailed information on job vacancies, has been cancelled for 2012, an apparent victim of spending cuts. That leaves us with a very limited survey of job vacancies which provides no information at all on vacancies by occupation, nor on what measures employers have taken to try to fill reported vacancies."

Don Drummond himself made this point about lack of accurate labour market data on last Sunday's CBC program The House.

Why would employers report skills shortages that do not exist?

Jackson says
Employers have a very strong tendency to complain that they cannot find the workers they need at the wages that they want to pay, [emphasis mine] whereas most economists want to see evidence of genuine shortages in the form of a low unemployment rate and wages rising at well above the average rate.
That seems a little harsh. There must be some data to support the claims of skills and labour shortages.

The Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity reports
...our research shows that growth in employment in the skilled trades has been slower than growth across all other occupations. Moreover, the unemployment rate for the skilled trades matches that of all other occupations – the major exceptions being during the recession of the early 1990s, where skilled trade unemployment exceeded all other occupations by about 2 to 3 percentage points, and during the current recession.

But these national statistics smooth over regional disparities. While growth in eastern Canada has been nil, it has been very buoyant in the west – home of the resource industries. Furthermore, unemployment among the skilled trades was particularly low in western Canada just prior to the current recession. These findings suggest that strong economic growth in the west may have strained the available supply of trades people, leading to temporary labour shortages there.

Still, if there was a shortage, we would also expect to see wages growing faster among the trades than among all other occupations. Our research, however, finds that growth in compensation has been slower among the skilled trades than among all other occupations. While wages are higher than the average for all occupations, they’re not growing any faster. Andrew Sharpe of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, in his analysis of reported skilled trades shortages in manufacturing, argues that shortages in that sector are partially driven by the inability of manufacturers to attract workers at wages they can competitively sustain. Thus, the observed lack of wage growth may still coincide with shortages, at least in that sector. This isn’t just a problem of labour shortages, but of unsustainable business models.

On balance, it would appear that strong economic growth in western Canada may have created temporary trades person shortages. With the current economic slowdown, the issue has been made less pressing.
Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates,  seems to agree in this Globe and Mail article, Really, a skilled-labour shortage? In truth, we need arts grads:
So where do these notions of skills shortages and uber-successful plumbers come from? Mainly from Saskatchewan and Alberta, where skill-shortages do in fact exist thanks to the ongoing resource boom. But skill shortages in these provinces are not limited to skilled trades: though they hardly figure in recent policy discussions, they are at least as acute in the health sector as they are in trades.
So despite the Prime Minister's peevishness and Conservative feelings about the ratio of welders to BAs, it seems that this situation is specific to a certain region of Canada and, as Usher says
Given the regional nature of the shortages, it’s not entirely clear how the federal government has much of a role to play.
Thomas Walkom at the Toronto Star, Joe Friesen at the Globe and Mail and researchers at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report on the ways that the Temporary Foreign Worker program may be having an impact on the perceived skills and labour shortages.

Friesen says:
The rise of temporary foreign workers, who now occupy one in 50 jobs, has become a source of controversy as the economy sputters. Critics of the program argue that it depresses wages and fosters unsafe work conditions. Employers say it provides a reliable stream of labour and fuels economic growth.
CCPA would be listed among the critics:
Since 2006, the number of “guest” workers has surpassed that of economic immigrants who can become permanent residents and ultimately Canadian citizens. This policy shift not only increases the vulnerability of these workers, but also undermines wages and conditions for all workers in Canada.
as would Walkom:
Employers don’t train workers because most don’t have to.

They expect government to train workers at public cost. And if that doesn’t work, businesses expect government to let them import from abroad workers who are already trained.
If the federal government has a role to play in ensuring a good match between Canadian workers and employment opportunities, perhaps it is less in directing training initiatives and more in rolling back changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program
Rather than respond to long-standing violations of migrant worker rights, Ministers Kenney and Finley recently announced that employers seeking highly skilled workers can now get their applications processed swiftly, and they can also pay these workers up to 15% less than the average rate of pay for those occupations.
and Employment Insurance eligibility
The changes to the system emerged because it was argued that ‘overly generous’ EI benefits discourage people from working while inhibiting labour market flexibility. However, a report published by the OECD actually found that “reforms that reduce the generosity of unemployment benefits are likely to reduce the aggregate level of measured productivity”. Providing unemployed workers with the time and resources to find jobs that match their skills results in increased overall economic efficiency.
But the silver lining is that Jim Flaherty's new program has shone a light on the issue of skills and labour in Canada and now we might better understand what literacy workers, tasked with preparing students for jobs, mean when they ask, "What jobs?" Especially if they are working outside of Alberta or Saskatchewan.

Community Literacy of Ontario has prepared a round up of what others in literacy (with a focus on Ontario) are saying about Budget 2013 - download the PDF.

An Economy of Skills

The other day John Ivison of the National Post wrote this article, Ottawa set to cancel $2-billion in EI training transfers to the provinces, in which he outlines Ottawa's plans to return
  • the $2-billion it currently transfers to provinces to train those who qualify for Employment Insurance and 
  • the  $500-million it transfers under labour market agreements to train those not eligible for EI 
to federal coffers to fund a federal training program.

Such a move could be hard on Ontario literacy programs. In 2012-13, approximately 22% of the funding for Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) programming will come to Ontario through the federal labour market agreement.
"Mr. Flaherty’s argument is said to be that the provinces are producing uneven results that do not address the skills shortages identified by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as the number one barrier to competitiveness in this country. He has already lined up supporters for his new initiative from all sides of the political spectrum."
One supporter of this funding reversal might be Don Drummond whose report is quoted in the article:
"In his comprehensive report on reforming Ontario’s public services, former TD bank chief economist Don Drummond said the province had to improve the way it tracked outcomes. While it measured the number of clients served and how satisfied they were, there were few statistics about subsequent employment duration or wage levels."
And there is the rub.

In the last few years, the Ontario government moved LBS to Employment Ontario and implemented
part of an overarching strategy designed to create a cohesive set of policies and improved processes throughout the Employment Ontario system so that programs can better work together to address client needs. Employment Ontario intends to transform the way MTCU delivers training and employment programs to achieve more effective and efficient services and better results.
The ABCs of CIPMS, Community Literacy of Ontario

While LBS still supports five goal paths to meet three possible goals (Upgrading your education or training, Getting a job, Becoming more independent), all of these initiatives have served the Objective and Function of fostering closer links between literacy training and employment best.

More and more literacy programs are being asked to report on employment outcomes as well as educational ones. Some see these initiatives as privileging the goal of "getting a job" above the other stated possible goals but, I guess for Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Drummond, this is not enough.

Today Mr. Ivison published another article, Tories will need solid data to justify clawing back $2.5-billion in training transfers. Here he reports:
No one has any doubt Canada has a problem. As report after report has highlighted, there is a growing divide between have and have-not occupations.

Benjamin Tal at CIBC World Markets noted that on one hand skilled jobs are going unfilled, while at the other end of the labour market spectrum there is a surplus pool of workers who can’t find jobs.

This two-speed labour market is driving up wages in sectors like oil and gas extraction, where salaries have risen 36% in the past five years, and in the utilities industry, which has seen pay go up 21% in the same period. The government has responded by overhauling the federal skilled worker program to admit more immigrants who can help fill the skills gap.

Yet for workers in areas like the clerical sector, food services and sales, real wage growth has been frozen and people thrown out of work.
Is this a problem for literacy programs to solve? I know that we have heard recently that we need to learn the language of the economists but are we to actually become economists? Is it time to admit that human capital theories that disregard the role of the the larger economy are not that useful in proposing solutions to skills shortages and/or surpluses? Is it time for literacy workers and learners to go back to being accountable for educational outcomes and leave accountability for economic outcomes to those that might have some power over them?

Because, as Ivison also reports, there is this:
Yet as Hays, the recruiting consultancy, noted in its 2012 global skills index, a bigger contributor to the talent mismatch than skills training is Canada’s education system, which is not producing graduates with the relevant degrees that employers require. If the same logic holds that Ottawa knows best, what’s the point of a decentralized federation? The feds should just cut education transfers and guide policy for the country’s schools, colleges and universities from Parliament Hill.

Policy Implementers

This picture is one from "the opposite of what America does" meme.

Teaching conditions have been an enduring concern for North American teachers for over a century.
In What’s so important about teachers’ working conditions? The fatal flaw in North American educational reform, Nina Basciaa and Cindy Rottmann trace how teaching conditions have been understood by decision makers and in educational research over time.

Their paper draws on historical research on the formation of mass public education systems to consider why the conditions teachers identify as critical to their work have been so persistently ignored by policy makers and researchers.

Basciaa and Rottmann review the major ways that teaching conditions have been understood to matter in educational research, focusing first on psychological understandings about the relationship between working conditions and teacher motivation and then on the organizational factors teachers identify as critical to their sense of efficacy and job satisfaction. These two conceptualizations, however, are limited in their explanatory power because they are embedded in a bureaucratic framework where teachers are understood primarily as implementers of policy decisions made by their organizational superiors. Attempting to understand the full power of teaching conditions requires a more comprehensive understanding of teaching and learning processes closer to the ground. The authors provide descriptions of teachers’ work emerging from a recent study in order to demonstrate the close and reciprocal relationships between teaching conditions and students’ opportunities to learn. 
paraphrased from paper's abstract
Journal of Education Policy, Volume 26, Issue 6, 2011

Here are what Canadian literacy workers have to say about working conditions in Literacies Fall 2007: Working in literacy

More on the bureaucratic framework where teachers are understood primarily as implementers of policy decisions made by their organizational superiors:

In this article, Kozol writes about class and race inequity in the US education system. He also discusses the effect a curriculum designed to produce 'productive citizens'  has on students and teachers.
"Forcing an absurdity on teachers does teach something," said an African-American professor. "It teaches acquiescence. It breaks down the will to thumb your nose at pointless protocols to call absurdity 'absurd'."
See the "Rubric for Filing" and the "Multi-Modal Pumpkin Unit." 

Plus ├ža change...
Contested Ground: Performance Accountability by Juliet Merrifield at the Center for Literacy Studies, University of Tennessee NCSALL REPORT #1 July 1998
Click here to download the full PDF:
The customers of adult education began to be defined as employers, interested in the “product” of skilled employees. The Business Council for Effective Literacy was started in 1983 “to encourage business and industry to join in the fight against adult illiteracy” (Harman, 1985, p. i), with a particular focus on providing information and resources for businesses wishing to upgrade their workforce skills. Japanese management practices gained adherents in the U.S., and firms began to demand that education pay similar attention to quality control, results, and customer demands. (p. 6)
In Canada, ABC Canada, now ABC Life Literacy, 
...was launched in 1990 – International Literacy Year – by a group of business, labour and education leaders concerned about the social and economic effects of wide-spread literacy challenges among Canadian adults. (from here)

Becoming Policy Literate by Joseph Lo Bianco (PDF) at the Centre of Literacy for Quebec, June 2004
It is sometimes alienating for insiders in a field of practice to encounter reconstruction of their lived encounters and professional practices for purposes that will ultimately impact on their field of activity. (p. 6)
Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in ABE by Deborah D'Amico
Click here to download the PDF (Chapter 2) :
It can be said that the marginalization of the field has its source not only in the low status of learners (as seen by mainstream society) but also in the low status of most practitioners. As noted in [Jenny] Horsman (2001a)*, practitioners often take on the struggle of dealing with funding limitations, poor working conditions, and long hours because they are aware of how well off they are in comparison with learners. (p. 41)
*Creating Change in Literacy Programs by Jenny Horsman
When literacy workers imagined the possibilities of shifting discourses and creating spaces for new practices in adult literacy, they often spoke of constraints within their own institutions and within government discourses. They struggled with the limitations that could not be moved unless they could shift the frames of their work at the highest levels. Teachers might feel the constraints from the administration, but administrators were clear that they were limited by provincial or state constraints and policy change was needed at that level. (p. 34)