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How Ottawa can help ensure more inclusive post-pandemic recovery

This op-ed was initially published in the Hill Times on April 8, 2021.

 

With its upcoming budget, the federal government has an opportunity to set in motion a truly resilient recovery for Canada. We believe the foundation of this effort must be helping the many Canadian workers displaced in a job market that was turned upside down by the pandemic. In times like these, the critical role of Canada’s post-secondary system – helping Canadians adapt and develop the skills they need to succeed – becomes more important than ever. 

The government recognized this in its last Speech from the Throne and went so far as to promise the “largest investment in Canadian history in training for workers”. Consequently, expectations are very high in the post-secondary sector. But what should this upcoming investment look like to ensure that its effects will be felt quickly?  

The job market was already evolving before the pandemic, with advances in technology threatening traditional employment and an aging population requiring that growth and services be maintained despite a smaller workforce. COVID-19 has compounded all the challenges and disruption we were facing before, creating a new sense of urgency. 

 That is why we believe the government’s investment promise needs to support reskilling and upskilling to get Canadians back to work and address employers’ skills shortages. 

Ideally, this would be achieved mostly through a renewed Employment Insurance program to increase access to training for unemployed, self-employed and gig workers, as well as a redesigned Canada Training Benefit. While that program showed promise when it was announced in the last federal budget, its effects were never going to be felt immediately as it required people to save over several years to really benefit. Steps should be taken to help Canadians who need it access that funding immediately. These programs must include all learning experiences such as increasing apprenticeship training and internship opportunities 

At the same time, we can’t miss the opportunity to contribute to a sustainable recovery by supporting green skills modules for technical and trades training that would support climate change adaptation and mitigation in key industries. Innovative offerings like Lethbridge College’s Wind Turbine Technician program produce necessary workers to support sustainable green energy in one of the world’s fastest growing technology sectors.  And moreover, it is supporting laid off oil and gas workers to put their skills to work in this area of high demand.  

To ensure we maximize the benefits of federal support, allowances also need to cover training and prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) costsThis willhelp learners save time and money by granting them credit for competencies they already have. It is already common practice at colleges and institutes, 95% of which offer PLAR services, and could easily be expanded to support a quick return to the labour market for newly upskilled Canadians. 

COVID-19 has also forced us all to rethink education delivery by making online-learning the new normal. While the efforts of colleges and institutes have been nothing short of miraculous, transitioning tens of thousands of courses online and supporting students throughout the process, the current crisis has also exposed significant gaps.   

Access to broadband internet remains uneven across the country and security concerns are still a challenge for both institutions and students. Upgrading Canada’s digital infrastructure should be a cornerstone of any stimulus package and recognize the particular needs of colleges and institutes, which we value at about $1.4B. To effectively address the skills and training needs of Canadians, our post-secondary system must be supported by the digital infrastructure for anytime/anywhere learning. 

Ensuring everyone can participate in online learning is not just a matter of fairness but will ensure that efforts to support the economic recovery will have the desired impact all across the country 

In particular, Indigenous communities across Canada need access not just to the physical learning spaces colleges and institutes provide across the country, but to the digital learning options they have launched. Inclusive economic growth relies on precisely investments of this nature – all Canadians with access to culturally, and industry, relevant skills.  

Every day, Canadians count on one of the best post-secondary systems in the world, supported by a strong network of colleges and institutes that deliver accessible and responsive programs to meet the needs of learners, employers, and their communities.  

With over 95% of Canadians living within 50km of a college or institute, leveraging this network as a key partner in economic recovery will go a long way to ensuring future investments reach Canadians where they are, with programs that can help them get back to work quickly and prepare for the future, whatever it may hold.  

 

Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada

Paula Burns, President and CEO, Lethbridge College, Chair of the CICan Board