The federal government committed $12 million in new funding for a program promoting the skilled trades and is moving ahead with the creation of a Canadian Learning Institute to improve workplace learning.
The moves are part of Ottawa’s Innovation and Learning Strategy to improve the skill level of the Canadian workforce and stave off widely expected harmful shortages of skilled labour.
“The Government of Canada is committed to working with partners in the apprenticeship community to advance the goal… to double the number of Canadians completing apprenticeship programs within a 10-year period,” said Jane Stewart, Minister of Human Resources Development Canada, while announcing the funding for the Promoting Skilled Careers and Apprenticeship Trades project.
In 2000, just 18,249 apprentices completed their training; the government wants that to rise to 37,000 per year within a decade.
The funding will be used to come up with a new marketing strategy that will be tailored to meet unique regional demands, said Keith Lancastle, executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum — Forum Canadien sur l’apprentissage (CAF-FCA), which is partnered with Skills/Competences Canada (S/CC) to manage the project.
Eventually there will be a mass advertising and media relations campaign with considerable grass roots promotion, said Lancastle.
Online job board Workopolis reported last month the greatest increase in job postings in 2002 was for skilled trades positions. Canadian companies are struggling to find people to fill these jobs, said Kim Peters, president of Workopolis. “Meanwhile, we have a generation of young workers who are overlooking the real opportunities in this sector.”
The shortage of skilled labour is already hurting companies and it is only going to get worse unless changes are made, said Lancastle.
There are two goals for the project. One is to affect a fundamental change in attitude about the skilled trades — to convince young people to think about a skilled trade as a first career option instead of something you do when you can’t go to university.
“We need more young Canadians to choose skilled trades and technologies career paths,” said Steve Goodwin, executive director of S/CC. “There are terrific opportunities out there, but we need to make sure that our young people know about them.”
“We have a societal bias that devalues the trades,” said Lancastle. “We don’t see the trades as an option that we would want our young people to pursue.”
The other goal is to encourage employers to provide opportunities for those people who do elect to pursue a career in the skilled trades. Employers have to make some changes if they hope to meet the future demand for skilled labour. Too many employers are unwilling to recruit apprentices because they are hoping to get someone who is fully qualified, he said. “We want to encourage industry to make opportunities available, meaningful and lasting training opportunities.”
The first task for the project team will be to consolidate research and figure out how best to complement the work being done by other skilled trade stakeholders so they “don’t reinvent the wheel,” said Lancastle.
Meanwhile the government also appointed two leading workplace and learning experts last month to lead consultations on the creation of the Canadian Learning Institute. Shirley Seward, chief executive officer of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre, and Benjamin Levin, a professor of education and former deputy minister of advanced education in Manitoba, will lead the consultations.
The consultations are the first step in gathering feedback on how the institute should operate. But the institute will provide information about the effectiveness of skills and learning investments, explained Seward.
“Much more needs to be known about the adult learning side of this, particularly in the workplace,” said Seward.
This will not be just another academic exercise, she said. The institute will share information, best practices and concrete examples of what works when it comes to skills and learning.
Their report will be released shortly and Seward is confident the government is committed to making the institute a reality.
“We have been told that there will probably be a strong signal in the budget. Therefore we are assuming there is the momentum there to move the organization ahead.”
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