Canada Jobs Grant could reduce adult education opportunities

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Educationally Speaking, By Rob MacLellan

Community-based adult education organizations may not qualify for new grants

I’m very concerned about the near future for basic adult education programs. 

Back in late 2008, the federal government began transferring a pot of money to the provinces under the title: Labour Market Agreements (LMA). This financial commitment was to last for six years. This money was intended to fund programs that would provide Canadians facing barriers to employment with the skills, knowledge and training they need to become more fully engaged in the workforce. 

Here in Nova Scotia, this money has been put to great use by many organizations and, based on what I have seen and heard, these programs have had great success.

As of the end of March 2014, the six-year funding commitment comes to an end. The good news is that LMA funding will continue for 2014-2015, but its availability for the most part will undergo a transformation. 

Of the $500 million allotted annually, by 2017-2018 fully $300 million of this amount will be available through a new program called Canada Job Grants. It’s the federal government’s intention to “directly connect skills training with employers and jobs for Canadians with the Canada Job Grant (http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/initiative/canada-job-grant).

The remaining $200 million “will continue to be transferred to provinces and territories to support delivery of critical employment services, such as counselling and job search assistance, and administration.”

There isn’t a lot of detail about this new program yet, but what we do know is that access to this money starts with eligible businesses that have a plan to train people for existing jobs or a better job. The training is to take place at eligible training institutions. Federal grant maximums will be set at $5,000 per person, to be matched by the provincial government and the employers to a total of $15,000 per person.

For a lot of people, basic training to get a decent job often begins with the need to improve their essential skills, key among those are reading, writing, math and —increasingly — technological skills. Many people seeking to upgrade these skills turn to local community-based adult education organizations and/or the community college.

While I can’t speak for the community college, I do know the community-based adult learning organizations throughout Nova Scotia have come to rely, to varying degrees, on receipt of LMA funding to be able to offer the number and type, as well as the breadth and depth, of programs that adult learners in their communities require in order to become sufficiently skilled to enter the workforce or to gain a better job.

Central to the concerns of the community-based adult education organizations is the term ‘eligible training institutions’, as it will affect the community-based organizations’ ability to continue to provide adult learners with the education and training they need. While there’s little doubt the Nova Scotia Community College likely fits that description, there is huge doubt as to whether the federal government will recognize the community-based organizations in a similar manner. 

If this turns out to be the case, the community-based organizations will no longer be able to access the LMA funding and they will not be permitted to educate/train individuals who are being sponsored by a Canada Job Grant.

The way it stands now, in order for an individual to benefit from a Canada Job Grant, the application process must be initiated by the business employer and this employer must make a financial contribution equal to that of the federal government, as must the provincial government. It has to be a three-way agreement and financial commitment.

Last summer, the provincial and territorial governments voiced their unanimous opposition to the proposed Canada Job Grants program. In the face of such opposition, on Christmas Eve, Jason Kenney, the federal minister of Employment and Social Development, sent a revised version of the Canada Job Grants plan to the provinces and territories, which they’re now in the process of costing out. Although the provinces are remaining mum on the new plan, it reportedly includes no additional federal money.

The other major sticking point is the business employers, as they must make a financial contribution and initiate the Canada Job Grant application process. 

Last July, the Association of Nova Scotia Community Learning Organizations (ANSCLO) sent out a survey to the businesses in the province asking them questions related to the new Canada Job Grants program. By October, ANSCLO had received 96 responses. Key among the findings from this survey:

“two-thirds of companies surveyed do not believe or are unsure that the Canada Job Grant will benefit them, and three-quarters of companies surveyed are either unsure or unwilling to hire individuals who do not have the required skills even if government funds for training are available.” 

This isn’t an encouraging indication the business community is going to respond well to this new funding program.

You can access the full ANSCLO survey summary at this link: http://anscloblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/ansclo-business-awareness-survey-summary-of-findings-october-6-2013.pdf.  

On a positive note, the rolling out of the Canada Job Grant program doesn’t mean the community-based learning organizations will have to close their doors. They’ll still be there providing great education and training programs, as they do receive provincial funds to do so. However, it’s likely the diversity of programs and the number of seats available for adult learners will decrease.

If you don’t like the sound of this new Canada Job Grants program, then I heartily suggest you share your concern and/or displeasure with your local MLA and MP.

Rob MacLellan is an advocate of adult education, an advocate of non-profit organizations, and a resident of Alton. He can be reached at: phone 673-3269 or e-mail rob@nsnonprofitconsulting.com.

 

Organizations: Canada Jobs Grant, Nova Scotia Community College, Association of Nova Scotia Community Learning Organizations

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Alton

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