Ottawa unveils national training and development strategy

Targets set but no cash or plan.

If the federal government has its way, all Canadian employers will increase their training budgets by one-third within five years.

The goal is one of several set out by Human Resources Development Canada and the Ministry of Industry in two position papers that comprise the long-awaited Innovation Strategy released jointly by the two ministries Tuesday.

The strategy puts forth HRDC taking a lead role in increasing the supply of skilled labour into the workforce to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses. Minister of HRDC Jane Stewart has called this the national skills agenda. And while the strategy outlines the goals of the strategy, there were no concrete plans for action. Rather, a series of consultations with key stakeholders will be held throughout the year to review the goals and create concrete plans of action.

HRDC came up with the one-third increase to training target because that is roughly how far Canada trails important competitor countries, said Peter Larose, associate director general at HRDC. Because the government is limited in what it can do to get employers to train more it will have to rely on moral suasion, he said. “We can’t force them to do it.” However, HRDC has been exploring a number of possibilities to encourage employers.

For example, they have looked at creating something tentatively called a skills development gold standard. Modeled roughly on the British Investors in People (see, the gold standard would recognize employers that deliver more than the average amount of training. Companies that receive the standard could use it to attract top talent, said Larose, since study after study has shown people look for employers that will provide them with good training offerings.

He also said they have considered tax breaks to motivate employers to offer more training. “We would like to talk to business and labour and look at possible financial incentives,” he said. “It is something we want to throw out for discussion.”

HRDC paper
Aside from the training target, the HRDC paper, Knowledge Matters: Skills and Learning for Canadians, sets specific targets for improvements to the education system and immigration system. For example, over the next decade, 50 per cent of 25- to 64-year-olds would have a post-secondary credential, up from the current 39 per cent, and over the same period, the number of apprentices would double. In terms of immigration, HRDC wants 65 per cent of adult immigrants to have post-secondary education by 2010, up from 58 per cent now.

Throughout 2001 HRDC and Industry Canada worked to come up with the innovation strategy. The process included a number of roundtables with labour, business groups and education and training providers. However the strategy was put on the back burner after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 when security issues became the top priority of the federal government.

Larose said last year’s roundtables were at the “diagnostic level,” and they enabled the government to come up with some definite goals and potential actions that need further discussion. Later this year, HRDC will hold at least five expert roundtables on the core themes of the HRDC strategy and approximately 10 best practice workshops. Industry Minister Allan Rock will also hold a number of regional and sectoral meetings. “These meetings will result in a National Summit in the fall of 2002, where we will put our strategy into final forum and concrete actions,” said Rock.

Industry Canada paper
The Industry Canada paper, Achieving Excellence: Investing in People, Knowledge and Opportunity, sets goals for more spending on research and development, and also pledges to create the right environment for innovation by overhauling business and regulatory policies. It also includes a scaled down version of a favourite goal of Rock’s predecessor in the Industry portfolio, Brian Tobin. Rock committed to ensuring Internet “high-speed broadband access is widely available to Canadian communities,” by 2005.

Rock was in Toronto to present the Innovation Strategy to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Tuesday. After eight years in social portfolios, health and justice, it was rumoured before the last cabinet shuffle that Rock coveted a cabinet position that would put him on the radar of Canada’s business leaders. Several times during the speech he pledged to keep corporate taxes in Canada competitive with other G7 countries and to create a business friendly environment by overhauling the legal and regulatory environment by 2010.

He also told the audience of business leaders that the standard of living in Canada has been dropping in recent years in part because productivity. And while the government has a role to play in creating the right environment for business leaders to thrive and be more innovative, the business community must also be prepared to make changes to be more competitive on the global stage.

“The government cannot do it alone,” said Rock. “In many ways we are the least innovative actors in this process.”

Dates have not been set for when the consultations would begin or who would attend but they will likely begin in April or May, said Larose. And while it will be up to Finance Minister Paul Martin to determine what, if any, government money would go to the innovation strategy, Larose said there is a good chance it will make it into the next federal budget.

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