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.
“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. 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.
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.
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.” In our consultations, CME stressed the importance of training workers while they are employed, noting that improved productivity requires well-trained employees. 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. 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.” 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.” 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.
In our consultations, unions underlined a lack of training opportunities, including on-the-job training for workers in low-skilled employment. 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. Lewchuk et al stressed that it was important for governments to recognize and give priority to training as an essential economic policy. 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.
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.”
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.” 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 know