What Budget 2019 means for skills training in Canada?

Last Tuesday’s budget, Investing in the Middle Class, focuses on a number of different priorities like affordable housing and pharmacare - however, its most notable investments were in skills training, taking steps to move Canada towards a system of lifelong learning. Building off of many of the promises first made in the 2017 Innovation and Skills Plan, this budget spoke directly to the skills component of the plan and particularly the needs of workers to engage in upskilling.

Specifically, this year’s budget made two major investments worth noticing, the $781M expansion of ‘work integrated learning programs’ and the $710M investment in a new Canada Training Benefit. These two investments send a clear message that the current government means business when it comes to helping Canadians upskill and retrain for work in our rapidly changing labor market. Like any big government initiative, success or failure will be determined through the program details and execution. But with so many policymakers, educators and companies  talking about the need for upskilling and retraining, we want to offer our perspective on what these investments mean for organizations developing and implementing upskilling programs.

How do you construct a program that results in a high demand job as the outcome? How do you ensure it is affordable and accessible for adults that have to balance the demands of everyday life with pursuing new training? This blog will discuss these questions and how we answer them in the wake of Budget 2019.  

Work Integrated Learning

At Palette we are constantly looking at models for training and skills development across Canada and internationally that have shown success. Work integrated learning has proven to  be a well established model for preparing students to enter the workforce. Students like it because it gives them the coveted work experience that employers look for when making hiring decisions. And employers like it because it provides a consistent pipeline of talent and allows them to test out workers in a live environment before they make a job offer. That’s why Palette incorporates a job placement into its upskilling programs for mid-career workers - nothing accelerates skill development and increases the odds of stable labour market attachment like a job. And unlike students, our workers can be hired straight out of their placement to provide an uninterrupted talent pipeline. A government supported WIL system helps incentivize more employers to develop systems and cultures that are open to integrating job placements and co-ops.

These new measures help socialize the concept of job placements with Canadian companies and help build a more robust culture of bringing in outsiders.

This year’s budget recognizes the value of these programs and invests $631.2 million over five years in the Student Work Placement Program to create 20,000 work-integrated learning opportunities, along with $150 million over four years to foster partnerships with innovative businesses. These new measures help socialize the concept of job placements with Canadian companies and help build a more robust culture of bringing in outsiders. While our programming doesn’t currently fall under the umbrella of the government supported WIL program, mid-career workers will still benefit from an expanded pool of employers open to engaging in these types of placements.

Making training affordable & impactful

As we prepare to launch our first training cohort, we regularly run into the question of pricing and cost. This is a key consideration for policymakers and training providers looking to design retraining and upskilling programs that prepare Canadians for entry into a new sector or industry. To answer this question there are two major issues we think about, both through the lens of ensuring programming is financially accessible. First, we ask ourselves what is a reasonable and fair price to charge participants? Second, our programming is intensive and full time, which we know is the fastest path to a job, but how will participants sustain their cost of living during a multi-week program?

The introduction of the Canada Training Benefit in this year’s budget is a strong step towards helping address both challenges.  The learning accounts will provide participants with access to funds that will offset the cost of training and the changes allowing workers to tap into EI will help alleviate the pressure of supporting living costs while training. One detail that we will be paying close attention to however, is what kinds of programs are eligible to be recognized for Canada Training Benefit support. As of right now it appears fairly restricted to the existing post-secondary system. There are increasing numbers of innovative private skills training programs, bootcamps and other initiatives that are being developed to deliver nimble, intensive and rapid skills training that mid-career workers uniquely need. It would be a shame to construct a system that did not provide space for those kinds of innovative players.

There is a lot of talk in Canada and around the world these days about the need to build a culture of lifelong learning, but you can’t build that culture without the right tools and supports in place.

At the end of the day, learning accounts and EI access alone are not enough to help adults upskill and transition into new sectors, particularly those who are being displaced by automation. Programs designed specifically to support this need is essential. However supports like the Canada Training Benefit provide a vital ingredient to ensuring that these kinds of programs are financially accessible and available to the workers who need them most. There is a lot of talk in Canada and around the world these days about the need to build a culture of lifelong learning, but you can’t build that culture without the right tools and supports in place. Budget 2019 took an important step forward to ensure that Canadians, at any age, have the right supports in place to pursue their skills training needs.