A.    Training While Employed

The downturn has highlighted the vulnerability of workers who are no longer essential to production processes due to either low skills, or “old skills”. In the future, communities will need to build a more skilled workforce which is less expendable, more adaptable to change and better able to transfer within and between economic sectors. This will require investing in generic skills and lifelong learning through broad based strategies that support the attraction, integration and upgrading of talent. 

However, it is not enough to just invest in the supply of skills. Employers also need to address the organisation of their workplaces so as to better harness the skills of their workers, and create more sustainable employment opportunities in the future. The economic downturn has raised awareness of both the vulnerability of modern economies, and a rising inequality in our labour markets.[562]

“The demise of the traditional career ladder” caused by the disappearance of middle level jobs has been identified as one of the contributing factors to the current labour market situation in Canada and Ontario. The rising inequality referenced above has manifest itself in increasing polarization of work into one of two categories: entry level jobs with little opportunity for promotion or high skilled knowledge jobs. While entry level jobs have increased, these jobs are no longer, as they once were, a pathway to higher wage, more secure, middle level positions. Instead workers frequently become trapped in less secure, lower paying positions.[563] There has also been an increase in knowledge level jobs; however, they are accessible only to those with specialized levels of skill, experience and/or education. Progression up the ladder from entry to middle to knowledge jobs is no longer the norm. In the face of the economic downturn and an increasingly global and competitive market, employers are less likely to invest in workers in lower skilled positions through training and promotion. Put another way, businesses have less attachment than in the past to lower-skilled employees, who increasingly find themselves without the requisite education, skills and work experience to access higher-level positions.

To boost “productivity potential and future earnings”, the OECD has emphasized the importance of better training and education for lower-skilled workers.[564]

Over the past two decades, the trend to increased education attainment has been one of the most important elements in counteracting the underlying increase in wage inequality in the longer run. Policies that promote the upskilling of the work-force are therefore key factors to reverse the trend to further growing inequality.[565]

Employers’ and workers’ organizations have recognized this phenomenon and prioritized it on their agendas. In Business Results Through Workforce Capabilities, Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) noted that “our workforce began some time ago to shift away from unskilled labour towards skilled and semi-skilled positions. This trend has continued to accelerate, and now even semi-skilled labour is rapidly becoming redundant.”[566] In our consultations, CME stressed the importance of training workers while they are employed, noting that improved productivity requires well-trained employees.[567] In association with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, CME provides training on literacy and essential skills in the health and safety context through a program known as Innovations Insights.[568] In another initiative, at the Centre for Workplace Skills, the CME works in partnership with the Canadian Labour Council “to encourage better participation and investment in skills development in Canada’s workplaces. The Centre promotes and facilitates the exchange of knowledge to address key workplace skills development issues.”[569] The Centre is engaged in:

  • Identifying effective and innovative practices in work-related learning, and…[sharing] these with people who can use the information in their own work-related learning decisions
  • Engaging employers, unions, workers and other workplace stakeholders in the search for new approaches and solutions to critical workforce skills issues
  • Supporting the Roundtable on Workforce Skills, a body of labour, business and government leaders who will explore emerging workforce trends and identify actions to address labour market challenges.[570]

The Centre has developed a best practices database and has produced reports on workplace learning. As an example, the Centre’s report for the Conference Board of Canada, Investing in Skills: Effective Work-Related Learning in SMEs, examines “effective work-related learning programs implemented at 45 Canadian and international small to medium-sized enterprises” setting out best practices to respond effectively to the needs of employee training.[571] Recognized best practices include assessing learning needs aligned with organizational goals, making learning flexible, forging partnerships, supporting informal learning, recognizing achievements and sharing with other organizations. Other reports produced by the Centre identify the need for learning that is worker accessible, voluntary, builds on workers existing knowledge, reflects diverse needs and learning styles, is sensitive to gender, race, ethnicity and culture and involves workers in planning and design.[572]

Supporting the notion of training workers while they are still employed, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) noted that many laid-off workers believed that training during their employment would have improved their chances of securing decent work after their layoffs.[573] One of the challenges, however, for precarious workers is recent evidence suggesting “that less skilled workers, who tend to have poor quality employment, are also unlikely to participate in training.”[574] In particular,

workers who are female, are immigrants to Canada, have low-tenure or non-standard employment status, have lower education, are not covered by a collective agreement and/or are not in a managerial/professional occupation sometimes appear to be less likely to access training from their employer.[575]

In our consultations, unions underlined a lack of training opportunities, including on-the-job training for workers in low-skilled employment.[576] They reported that workers’ training opportunities outside the workplace were often difficult to access. Even where cost was not prohibitive, vulnerable workers often did not have time to dedicate to training opportunities due to irregular schedules and long work hours.[577] Lewchuk et al stressed that it was important for governments to recognize and give priority to training as an essential economic policy.[578] This sentiment is echoed in the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services’ report, Public Service for Ontarians: A Path to Sustainability and Excellence (Drummond Report).

A highly educated and skilled workforce is a key determinant of healthy and sustainable long-term economic growth. With the rise of the knowledge economy and rapid technological change, there is growing demand for highly skilled, adaptable workers. The government plays an important role in helping meet this demand. Studies have demonstrated the need for, and benefits from, government investment in education and training…Equity arguments for government intervention include the promotion of equal opportunity, social mobility and more equal distribution of economic rewards…Ontario’s aging population, slower labour-force growth and increasing global competition, among other forces, have made skills development, workplace training and lifelong learning more important. For example, literacy needs have evolved and increased over time as a result of fundamental changes in the economy. In addition to reading and writing, many people today require analytical skills, numeracy, and technological and computer literacy to do increasingly complex work.

Employment and training programs are important tools to ensure that workers have skills that are relevant for available jobs and to facilitate job matching. Effective government training programs help reduce the skills gap for many of these displaced workers and can increase their re-employment earnings.[579]

Drummond identified youth, recent immigrants, Aboriginal persons, female single parents with young children, older workers and persons with disabilities as having particular labour market challenges: “[t]he persistent lack of employment opportunities for these groups, as well as media reports of skill mismatches and unfilled vacancies, shows that the existing program delivery structure needs significant improvement.”[580] 

Increased investment in workplace training was the subject of several Drummond Report recommendations suggesting that management of Ontario’s 25 Workforce Planning Boards be decentralized to the regional level and that the boards be directed to encourage “employers to increase investments in workplace-based training.”[581] Workforce Planning Boards are funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities with a mandate to help improve labour market conditions at the community level through partnership development, research and planning.

Another model for encouraging workplace training is known as the “1% law” implemented by Quebec that requires employers to devote at least 1% of their payroll to training or invest 1% of the value of their payroll into a public fund supporting workplace training.[582] While the Quebec law was originally directed at a broader range of enterprises, as of 2004 it is applicable only to businesses with a payroll of $1,000,000 or more.[583] One study found that the initiative, as it was until 2003, improved workplace training participation with more companies actively planning and implementing training and promoting adult learning through the cooperative efforts of employers, governments, unions and community groups. However, Canadian Policy Research Networks suggests there is mixed evidence for the effectiveness of this type of scheme that raises questions about its future usefulness as a policy initiative.[584]

Working Without Commitments emphasized the importance of formally recognizing the skills of workers employed through a series of short-term contracts with different employers.[585] Lewchuk et al favour more effective employment support networks possibly through sectoral councils reaching out to workers through electronic bulletin boards and regional job fairs. The authors suggest that sectoral councils could play a greater role in developing skills certification that would enable broader recognition of skills learned on the job.[586] 

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada describe sector councils and the Sector Council Program as the following:

Sector councils are national partnership organizations that bring together business, labour and educational stakeholders. Operating at an arm’s length from the Government of Canada, sector councils are a platform for these stakeholders to share ideas, concerns and perspectives about human resources and skills issues, and find solutions that benefit their sector in a collective, collaborative and sustained manner. 

Through the Sector Council Program, the Government of Canada is working with the private sector to enhance adult workers’ skills through activities such as: increasing employer investments in skills development; and promoting workplace learning and training.[587]

In our view, another possibility for developing skills certification would be to maximize the expertise of the new College of Trades which is currently phasing in its operations. The College is being put into place as a regulatory body for the skilled trades to “encourage more people to work in the trades and give industry a greater role in governance, certification and training.”[588] The Drummond Report has recommended an expanded role for the College taking on the non-classroom administrative aspects of apprenticeship programs.[589] From our point of view, it may be possible to build upon the College’s mandate to develop skills recognition criteria for a broader range of workers including workers who have developed on the job skills through employment at serial short-term contracts with different employers. A form of certification could pave the way for industry-wide recognition of skills learned in more diverse working relationships.

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


44. The Ontario government engage the College of Trades (perhaps in partnership with sectoral councils, colleges and unions) to develop skills recognition criteria for a broader range of workers, including workers employed through a series of short-term contracts with different employers.


45. Ontario work with the federal government to utilize the expertise of sectoral councils operating in Ontario to develop

a) a system of accreditation for industry skills learned on-the- job; and

b) greater capacity as employment agencies through electronic bulletin boards and job fairs.

B.    Employment Ontario 

Working Without Commitments identified: 

…a need for policies and programs to assist workers looking for work by retraining them for new positions and helping them to keep jobs once they find them. Such programs would include employment counseling to more effectively link individuals’ abilities and aspirations with available or emerging jobs.[590]

The issue of more effectively linking individuals’ abilities with available or emerging jobs was addressed by Drummond who recommended developing “stronger local linkages and broaden[ing] community and regional planning for economic development” by “transferring responsibility for Workforce Planning Boards to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ regional offices”.[591] 

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities operates Employment Ontario, which is responsible for employment and training policy direction and delivery of services, labour market research and planning, as well as programs that support workplace training including apprenticeship, career and employment preparation and literacy skills.[592] Through these programs the Ontario government seeks to address emerging challenges facing unemployed individuals in the labour market. With a budget of about $1 billion annually and serving approximately one million clients annually, Employment Ontario is an integrated, provincial employment and training network of service providers that offer a range of employment related services to employers, laid-off workers, apprentices, older workers, newcomers and youth.[593] Employment Ontario’s Employment Service consists of five components: client service planning and coordination; resource and information; job search, job matching, placement and incentives; and job/training retention.[594]  

Ontario Job Creation Partnerships (OJCP) support community generated projects focusing on work experience placements for EI eligible individuals providing opportunities to improve long-term employment prospects and benefit local communities or local economies. The Literacy and Basic Skills (LBS) program provides services at no cost to eligible individuals to improve their reading, writing, numeracy and essential skills.[595]

One of the most promising training programs offered by the Ministry is Second Career, a program to re-train out of work individuals for high demand occupations. Laid-off workers who have since taken temporary or contract jobs or become self-employed to make ends meet are also eligible. The Program provides up to $28,000 in financial assistance for tuition, books, transportation, and a basic living allowance.[596] Launched in 2008, the program exceeded its three-year goal of 20,000 participants within only 16 months.[597] It is now a permanent program and, as of January 2012, Second Career has trained 53,366 individuals.[598]

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has recommended the Ministry review the Program’s eligibility criteria and ensure adequate funding for Second Career. The OFL believes that the threshold of means testing for determination of eligibility for Second Career is too low for many participants as it is based on family rather than individual income.[599] The OFL has voiced concerns about the Ministry’s decision to fold a previous program, the Skills Development Program, into Second Career. According to the OFL, the Skills Development Program provided upgrading, language and literacy refreshers to address the short-term needs of laid-off workers and this program should be reinstated as a complement to Second Career.[600] While all the details of Second Career’s 2010 evaluation are not publicly available, the Ministry advises that 95% of participants have completed their skills training program and 63% of surveyed participants found work after completing their skills training program.[601] What is not clear is the degree to which participants found work that was stable, high-quality and/or in a skilled field. In our view it is important to ensure that employment programs translate into secure, sustainable employment rather than any type of job. Consistent with this perspective, the Drummond Report called for improved program evaluation, better data collection and tying employment and training programs to measured outcomes.

Ontario must improve how it tracks outcomes. Most program measures focus on service indicators (e.g., clients served, satisfaction) as opposed to outcomes. While client satisfaction and throughput are important, they are no substitute for measures of success such as employment duration, wage level and growth, and so forth. Key success indicators should be chosen based on best practices in other jurisdictions and from current literature…Regular evaluation of program performance using the collected data should be undertaken to inform future changes that will continually improve effectiveness.[602]

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


46. a) Second Career and other training programs be assessed for their ability to reduce precarity through increased credentials that translate into increased wages, benefits, hours, duration of employment and other key measures of employment security; and

b) programs that demonstrate measures of success based on these criteria should be expanded.

Our consultations revealed a need for better data collection to improve labour market projections linking individuals with existing and future labour needs. On a similar note, the Drummond report indicated the need for an improved understanding of employment gaps to make employment and training services more effective.[603] Among other suggestions, Drummond recommended the development of a labour-market policy framework to strengthen the link between employment and training services with economic development initiatives.[604] 

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


47. The Ontario government develop ways to more closely track present and emerging labour market needs linking these with employment and training initiatives.

As noted earlier, a significant portion of Employment Ontario’s funding is tied to federal funding arrangements and employment insurance eligibility. In this way, the federal government is able to direct the funding to specific targeted populations based on its own forecasting and priorities. Ontario, however, conducts labour market forecasts that identify the province’s specific future employment needs. In our view, Ontario must have the flexibility to determine the direction of its particular employment needs such that program delivery is targeted at those who need the programs most rather tying programs to employment insurance eligibility. The Drummond Report made the point very clearly:

The patchwork of federal-provincial labour-market agreements that targets various groups of clients not only creates challenges for Ontario’s “one-stop shop” vision of employment and training service delivery, but also leads to fragmented and distorted policy-making, based on federal notions of labour-market priorities as opposed to responsiveness to local conditions.

The differing program and client eligibility requirements contained in these agreements limit Ontario’s ability to maximize the benefits from providing an integrated suite of labour-market programs and services.[605] 

The Report recommended a harmonized system of labour market agreements with the federal government, 

Recommendation 9-3: Advocate for a comprehensive training agreement to replace the patchwork of federal-provincial employment and training funding agreements currently in place, many of which are about to expire, with a single arrangement.

This new arrangement should:

  • Include residual federal training responsibility for youth and persons with disabilities, in addition to areas already covered under current agreements;
  • Provide Ontario with enough flexibility to fully integrate these services under the EO banner, identify and respond to its fluid labour-market needs, and innovate using small-scale pilot projects; and
  • Not be tied in any way to EI eligibility. [606] 

We support and adopt this recommendation.

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


48. The Ontario government should implement Recommendation 9-3 of the Drummond Report by negotiating with the federal government for a comprehensive training agreement not tied to Employment Insurance.

Our consultations revealed that, for workers in lower skilled positions, it was most effective to provide training in basic literacy, workplace and digital skills. While the Ontario government funds a number of apprenticeship programs, there appears to be a gap in government programming in the area of other types of employer-government partnerships for on-the-job training for workers in lower skilled positions that facilitate placement into better, more secure jobs. This type of initiative would be highly consistent with the current government’s stated focus on partnering with business to create jobs.[607]

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


49. The Ontario government:

a) develop employer-government partnerships for on-the-job-training in real jobs for individuals working in lower skilled positions that facilitate placement into better, more secure jobs;

b) continue to support self-funded education initiatives including those that provide upskilling for certification; and

c) increase bursary and loan programs for self-funded education, where possible.


C.    Programs for Women

The Ontario Women’s Directorate funds provincial programs specifically tailored to women. Low-income, underemployed and unemployed women in Ontario are eligible for the Women in Skilled Trades and Information Technology Training Program. The Skilled Trades stream of the program offers “employability and workplace preparation to help women prepare for a predominately male work environment as well as to make them aware of employer expectations”, while the Information Technology Stream focuses specifically on preparing women for entry into that field.[608] Both programs also provide gender sensitivity training to employers and monitor work placements. Nine programs were funded by the Ontario Women’s Directorate between 2009 and 2011, preparing women for positions as electricians, horticulture technicians and general carpentry, as well as occupations in information technology applications and technical support network administration, web design and development, and  IT business analysis and applications development.[609] OWD is also currently funding ten training programs for victims of domestic violence.[610] The programs are offered through partnerships between “a women’s organization that provides violence against women prevention and support services; a training organization (e.g., college or community agency); and a minimum of two employers” and range from multi-sector programs (i.e., the Multi-Sector Training Program) to those tailored to specific industries (e.g., the Women in Transportation Project).[611]

Given the over-representation of women in precarious work, these types of initiatives are important and should be evaluated for their impacts on reducing precarity and expanded where appropriate. 


D.   Recent Immigrants 

Studying the effectiveness of strategies to reduce precariousness, Goldring and Landolt found that immigrants whose initial jobs in Canada were in precarious work tended to remain in such work.[612] Therefore, to ensure better long term outcomes, newcomers must enter into less precarious work at the earliest opportunity, preferably within the first year. Based on these findings, government sponsored education and employment initiatives aimed at recent immigrants within the first months are crucial. Goldring and Landolt’s research also identified three strategies that were most effective in reducing precariousness for immigrants: individual investment in continuing education leading to certification; employer supported on-the-job training; and English-language competence.[613] Current government thinking is evidently in line with these findings as demonstrated by the menu of programs that are on offer emphasizing post-secondary education, literacy skills, retraining and apprenticeships. Consistent with the research on the importance of early employment success, many of these programs provide both employment and immigration support simultaneously. 

Through our consultations, we learned of the availability of many social supports for immigrants. Ethno-racial-religious service providers are numerous.[614] These groups are specifically tailored to meet the needs of certain communities. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council stated that English as a Second Language training was a crucial “key to reducing vulnerability” and unions reported that workers conditions improved after attending ESL courses.[615] Some groups noted the significance of the lack of specific supports. For instance, the only mentoring program raised in the consultation process was designed for high-skilled immigrant workers.[616]

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


50. The Ontario government:

a) prioritize the provision of education and training programs for targeted communities of vulnerable workers including women, racialized persons and recent immigrants;

b) focus its training and education programs for immigrants on individual investment in continuing education leading to certification; employer supported on-the -job training; and English-language competence prioritizing entry into programs within the first months after arrival; and

c) focus literacy skills education on providing a high degree of literacy skills that are transferable to the Ontario labour market.

At the government level, responsibility for integration and immigration are shared among the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, the Ministry of Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Government Services.[617] Ontario’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration offers six key initiatives for newcomers to the province: Ontario Bridge Programs, Global Experience Ontario, English and French as a Second Language Services, Opportunities Ontario: Provincial Nominee Program, Newcomer Settlement Program and Language Interpreter Services.[618] Access to employment is a strategic direction in Ontario’s Immigration Policy Framework.[619]

A recent TD Economics Report, Knocking Down Barriers Faced by New Immigrants, suggests that the vast offering of current immigrant integration programs must be better coordinated through the adoption of best practices and, for language services, a standardized curriculum. The success of Manitoba’s Entry Program is highlighted for providing a single point of access for information for immigrants, such as language training and credential recognition. The TD Report promotes pre-arrival services offered by the Canadian Immigration Integration Program providing newcomers from certain countries with information about Canadian social values, the type of documentation required, where to access services and language assessment and training. TD Economics supports similar integration services for immigrants once they arrive.[620] 

Observing the need for better coordination, Drummond suggested that integration and settlement programs for newcomers, among others, be streamlined and integrated with Employment Ontario’s employment and training programs.[621] In his view, not only would this achieve efficiencies, it would also improve client access to services. We agree. 

The Law Commission of Ontario recommends that:


51. The Ontario government improve coordination and integration of integration and settlement programs for newcomers with other Ontario programs including Employment Ontario’s employment and training programs.


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