Federal jobs strategy undermines local employment training

The new Canada Jobs Grant (CJG) program proposed in the recent federal Throne Speech represents a fundamental shift in funding for employment training in Canada. Provinces have opposed the changes because they fail to meet local employment training needs. Here in Manitoba, the CJG threatens to unravel successful programs in Winnipeg’s inner city.

Currently Manitoba receives $18 million per year in federal transfers through the Labour Market Agreement (LMA). This money funds successful employment training programs, helping hundreds of people with barriers to employment go back to school and find suitable employment. Although Manitoba’s unemployment rate is relatively low at 5.4 percent, compared to the national 7.4 percent rate, there are groups of workers who find it difficult to find work regardless of the low unemployment rate. Those who face multiple barriers to employment need to be brought into the labour force to meet the demand for workers.

A specialized approach is needed when working with people with barriers to employment. In addition to assistance to attain a high school diploma and advanced education and training, supports such as life skills; help securing reliable child care; and even help getting identification documents are required. Manitoba is fortunate to have innovative and successful programs that offer client-centred, wrap-around services like Urban Circle Training, BUILD and Taking Charge!

The federal CJG changes the funding formula for this important work. It is a cost-matching program: 1/3 federal, 1/3 provinces and 1/3 employers. The requirement for employers to contribute means that only those businesses with the fiscal capacity and motivation to contribute up to $5,000 per employee will do so. This is a substantial contribution for employers, and companies that do not have the capacity to contribute will not participate.

Worse still, by leaving it up to employers to decide who gets into job training programs, it is likely that those most in need of employment skills training will be left further behind. Instead of providing a leg up to those left out of the workforce, the program will largely subsidize larger businesses and their programs for existing employees.

The programs being funded by the LMA are not “training for the sake of training” as characterized by federal Minister Jason Kenney. They are providing certified training programs to a needed segment of the labour force and supporting people to build skills and gain employment. Premiers and Labour Market Ministers from across the country are opposing the CJG and asking Ottawa to reconsider this misguided program.