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.


Wendell Dryden said...

The Labour Market Agreement led to an expansion of basic education programs in New Brunswick (though not an expansion of adult literacy programs). The field accepted - or, at least, did not speak out against - the claims that our economic problems were rooted in low levels of education because that looked like the path to funding. At the same time, we turned a blind eye to the redefinition of the term "literacy" so that louder, more influential voices could take on our language and, the hope went, make our voices louder.

If it all goes bad now, we'll be a decade or more untangling ourselves from panicked workplace essential skills programs claiming public dollars and attention. and restoring the 1980's notion that it's worthwhile to run programs to help adults learn to read and write a little better.

[The] Department has intentionally created a high profile... and substantial publicity. ...Therefore, when economic woes befall the country... government and public alike will tend unjustly to accuse Manpower programs of failing to alleviate problems.
Harish C. Jain et Robert J. Hines, Current Objectives of Canadian Federal Manpower Programs
Relations industrielles, vol. 28, no. 1, 1973, p. 125-149.

Tannis Atkinson said...

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?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

risky mouse said...

I know Wendell. We do not seem to learn this lesson. We keep making these GDP-based "sky-is-falling" arguments despite the fact that they have never garnered secure funding but have served to support initiatives that diminish our work and narrow education equality.

As soon as I read that IALsS statistic that shows up in every single literacy public relations communication, I lose the will to carry on reading. It is so reductive and pointless. We all know that it means nothing at all and we all go on citing it into the wind.