An internal federal government report has praised the effectiveness of provincial job training programs, a finding that undercuts Conservative criticism and is sure to add heat to the debate as Ottawa and the provinces sit down for the first time on Friday to discuss the Canada Job Grant.
The Human Resources and Skills Development report is dated March 31, just 10 days after Ottawa shocked the provinces with a budget that promised a new national job training program. Ottawa plans to pay for the Canada Job Grant with $300-million taken from a $500-million annual transfer for provincial training programs.
The transfers are called labour market agreements, and the internal federal report is based in part on surveying 7,000 participants at least 24 months after they used provincial programs. The report said 86 per cent were employed two years later.
"A strong and continuing need exists for LMA programs and services," the report states. However, the report also notes that it did not compare the outcomes of participants with those of Canadians who received no training. Another issue is that the survey was taken in the fall of 2012, and it is possible the numbers were high because the economy had improved since the deep recession that hit in late 2008.
The goal of the grant is to involve employers in deciding what type of training is offered so tax dollars will be more effective at training Canadians to fill labour shortages. As proposed, Ottawa would contribute up to $5,000 a trainee, and a province and an employer would contribute up to $5,000 each, for a potential maximum training grant of $15,000.
Many employer groups have praised the idea, but provinces say Ottawa needs to find new money to pay for the program.
The $500-million transfer for LMAs is currently used to train "under-represented" groups who are not eligible for Employment Insurance, including immigrants, persons with disabilities, aboriginal people, youth and older workers.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney – who will meet his provincial and territorial counterparts in Toronto on Friday – told reporters on Thursday he is prepared to be flexible in his discussions as he seeks to win provincial support.
"The information is mixed, quite frankly," he said when asked about evaluations of existing programs. "The consensus is clear that there's not adequate information to make a kind of general assessment of the effectiveness of the programming except to say this: I think that some of the programs that are funded through the LMA funding are good and effective and others are not. I think it's a mixed bag."
Mr. Kenney said too many training programs are focused on basic skills such as resumé writing rather than training for specific jobs.
"We want to get maximum bang for the taxpayers' buck, and the idea of a job grant is that the people who take the training benefiting from the grant would have a guaranteed job at the end of it and we would be increasing the private sector investment in job training," he said. "We think those are very worthy objectives. … We're going to be flexible in our discussions with the provinces [on Friday] and in the months to come on exactly how we implement that."
Serge Buy, the CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges, said even if people are finding jobs in the existing system, the job grant would more likely help people get good, well-paying careers.
Career colleges could be part of the job grant program by providing the training for employers who need IT specialists, welders, pharmacy assistants or many other specialized skills.
"The status quo can't be maintained. I think that's very clear. What I have seen is employers coming to us saying, 'We have a desperate need to hire people,' " he said. "And we look at the number of unemployed people and we're saying there's a complete mismatch between the demand and the availability of skills, and we need to do something."