By R.Bruce Striegler

Although the federal government has recently concluded Labour Market Agreements with the provinces to provide funding for skills training, the new agreements are still being discussed as provinces work to implement them.

Businesses with a plan to train Canadians for an existing job or a better job will be eligible to apply for a Canada Job Grant. The Grant will provide a federal contribution of up to $5,000 per person towards training at eligible training institutions. Given that Labour Market Agreements require matching funding from employers as well as the provinces and territories, federal dollars would be leveraged by a factor of 3, meaning that each Grant could cause another $10,000 of funding to be made available by the provinces/territories and private employers for employee training.

Pierre Nolet, Media Relations spokesperson, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) stated “The Government of Canada’s top priorities are creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. Through Economic Action Plan 2014, the Government of Canada is helping connect Canadians with in-demand jobs by helping them get the skills they need. This includes introducing the Canada Job Grant, creating opportunities for apprentices and supporting groups that are under-represented in the labour market, such as youth and Canadians with disabilities. ESDC does not provide direct support for training in marine transportation. However, through our Grants and Contributions Program, ESDC funds thousands of organizations that provide skills training in a number of fields. As such, ESDC may fund projects that indirectly support the marine transportation industry.”

How British Columbia funds training in the transportation sector

A spokesperson with B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training gave us an overview of how skills training is organized at a provincial level. “This year we signed the new Canada-British Columbia Job Fund Agreement with the federal government. It is providing a new focus on employer-led skills training through the Canada Job Grant, administered by the provincial government.”

Projections of B.C.’s transportation sector jobs for the next decade show they’ll be distributed throughout the province, but to some extent will depend on the location and timing of new major transportation infrastructure projects, and the impact of liquefied natural gas (LNG) development. “We anticipate that the number of job openings as a result of retirements will be greater in the south, while new jobs as a result of economic expansion from industries like LNG, will be in the north.” 

“Government works closely with the transportation industry, including private sector employers in order to understand labour market needs and develop skills training services and programs to address these needs.  For example, funding from the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement has assisted the shipbuilding sector to implement the human resource strategy developed by the Premier’s B.C. Shipbuilding and Repair Workforce Table,” says the Ministry.

Job opportunities in resource development and transportation

B.C. launched a transportation-heavy infrastructure agenda in 2005 with some projects focusing on improving connectivity to B.C. ports. They include $17 billion improvements to the Trans-Canada Highway and the new Port Mann Bridge, the South Fraser Perimeter Road, and up to $50 million as part of an overall $200 million investment to improve capacity at Deltaport where phase one of the Terminal Road Rail Improvement Project is underway. The B.C. Government is also investing up to $90 million in the Prince Rupert Road Rail Utility Corridor, expected to be completed later this year. British Columbia is also spending on upgrades at Port Metro Vancouver to handle increasing traffic and the government is expanding crucial transportation corridors such as the recently-completed South Fraser Perimeter Road, Trans-Canada Highway 1 east of Kamloops, and the Cariboo Connector through the province’s interior.

The resource industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs in British Columbia and those jobs require skilled workers, which led to the Memorandum of Understanding signed in March 2014 between the governments of B.C. and Canada. B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training says the goals of the plan are to gather the best possible workplace information in order to track and project job needs, and harness existing capacity of the education and training sector to increase the number of skilled trade workers and professionals for the resources industry.

Other objectives are to increase training and opportunities for aboriginal people and additional groups under-represented in the labour market. The idea is make training funds responsive to employer’s needs, to remove barriers to labour mobility and recognize foreign credentials for workers who choose to move for jobs in the resource industry.

Over the next decade, B.C. anticipates significant increases in demand for trades and technical jobs. In fact, of the one million jobs the province anticipates will be created over the next ten years, as much as 43 per cent of that demand will be in skilled trades and technical occupations.  Starting near the mid-point of the 2010-2020 period, key occupations in transportation and warehousing are expected to start experiencing strong demand for workers. “For example, truck drivers, bus drivers and subway operators as well as other transit operators and material handlers are all expected to be in greater demand.”

Taking action now for future growth and employment needs

Specific to the transportation sector, the Pacific Gateway Transportation Strategy 2010-2020 will create up to 17,000 additional jobs. “Starting this fiscal year, we’re targeting over $160 million to ensure B.C. has the trained workers needed to fill in-demand jobs in transportation and other key sectors. In four years, this will reach nearly $400 million annually. And over the span of the ten year plan, represents about $3 billion redirected towards training for high demand occupations. ”

The Province says it is committed “to make the most effective use of our existing resources and future investments in education and training.” Some of those actions are to double the number of ACE-IT spaces to 5,000 over the next two years. The Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training program is the in-class component of a high school apprenticeship. Students are youth apprentices registered with the Industry Training Authority. ACE IT programs are usually offered as partnerships between school districts and post-secondary institutions with onsite training at either location. Students who successfully complete the ACE IT program earn credit towards both high school graduation and a post-secondary credential.

By 2017/2018, B.C. intends to target $270 million annually to post-secondary operating grants towards in-demand jobs, investing $185 million in infrastructure targeted at skills and trades training, and investing $6.6 million in critical trades seats. The province proposes to reform the Industry Training Authority so that B.C.’s trades training system is ready to meet the growing demand for workers and using up-to-date industry-validated data to drive programming decisions, while at the same time increasing apprenticeships in high demand areas.

Canadian apprenticeship programs and availability under scrutiny

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives recently released a paper authored by the well-known American professor of economics Dr. Robert I. Lerman. The paper examines the concerns about a rising “skills gap”, along with high unemployment, as an emerging key competitiveness issue in both Canada and the United States.

In both countries, companies report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to match job openings to available applicants. In an Accenture survey of large Canadian companies, 59 per cent of responding executives expressed concern about the availability of needed skills over the next two years. In the United States, that number was 46 per cent. Dr. Lerman argues that expanding the availability of apprenticeships would yield significant economic and social benefits for Canada. It would provide young people with more pathways to rewarding careers, better align worker skills with employer needs, increase career opportunities for those who learn best by doing rather than through classroom study, raise income levels for workers in “middle-skill” jobs and, potentially, reduce youth unemployment.

In addition, the white paper notes a more robust apprenticeship system would relieve some of the pressure on governments to increase spending on colleges and universities. That is because it is generally far less expensive to educate and train workers through apprenticeships than it is to keep them in school full-time. Of course, there is a strong financial incentive for apprentices as well, since they are not required to forego earnings while acquiring new knowledge and skills. Apprenticeship combines learning and the production of goods and services in ways that lower the overall cost of training. Finally, the gains for firms can be significant, including possible increases in incremental innovations.