The Budget and Labour Market Training

The Budget (see pp. 214-215) promises $500 million per year for a new Labour Market Training Transfer to the provinces, starting next year (2008-09) and lasting for at least six years.  The money will be divided between the provinces on an equal per person basis, and transferred under the terms of bilateral framework agreements which are to be negotiated with each province over the coming year.  The money is to be used to support training of workers who are not eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) Part II training – that is, training for employed workers, and training for unemployed workers who are ineligible for EI training, such as persons on social assistance.

The Budget is vague, but mentions possible funding for programs targeted to under-represented groups (i.e. recent immigrants, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal Canadians), as well as support for employer-provided training, literacy and basic skills upgrading, and workplace-based skills upgrading.

The level of funding for the new transfer is just a bit less than the $3.5 billion over six years which the Liberals had committed to Labour Market Partnership Agreements (LMPAs) with the provinces in the 2005 pre-election Economic Statement.  The purposes of the new program are a bit vaguer than the LMPAs, but cover basically the same ground.

In addition, the Budget envisages a full devolution of EI Part II training to the provinces.  This is already the case for most provinces, but British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador currently have co-managed agreements where the federal government plays a bigger role.  Also, the Budget envisages devolution to the provinces of about $500 million per year of current federal government labour market programming for youth, older workers and persons with disabilities (but not including aboriginal programs.).

The Budget does not speak to a legitimate federal government role in training – such as identifying and helping resolve current and emerging national skills shortages, and portable skills and credentials.  It does not seem to expect anything of the provinces other than some reporting that the money is being spent in the general area of training.  Currently, the provinces report only in a very limited way on how they spend EI Part II funds (and devolution has often involved a major shift in funding to private trainers and away from public training institutions.)

As the labour movement argued to the Liberal government, unions should be part of the discussion when it comes to the terms and conditions of federal – provincial training agreements.  Provinces should be asked to establish labour market forums which include the labour movement, to ensure that programs reflect the needs and priorities of workers and not just employers, and to promote effective workplace- based training plans.  Also, the federal government should be actively promoting high quality, portable training, such as Red Seal apprenticeship programs.

It should also be noted that the Budget creates a Foreign Credential Referral Office housed within Citizenship and Immigration Canada, rather than the promised Foreign Credential Recognition Office housed in Human Resources and Social Development.  New immigrants will not have their credentials assessed and recognized by the federal government, but will be referred to private and provincial agencies.  Also, the Budget promises to promote the British Columbia – Alberta (TILMA) approach to credentials recognition, which is basically about mutual recognition but no minimum standard.  In short, there is a very clear deferral to provincial jurisdiction in training, and another significant shift towards full devolution despite an increase in federal investment.

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