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Canada's Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks after he tried on a new pair of shoes during a pre-budget photo opportunity with children in Toronto, on March 14, 2019.

MARK BLINCH/Reuters

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is hinting strongly that Tuesday’s federal budget will announce new measures aimed at helping older workers upgrade their skills or train for new jobs.

Just days before he releases the Liberal government’s pre-election budget, the minister said Canadians who wish to take time away from full-time work to learn new skills should receive financial assistance from the federal government.

“And in our budget this year, that’s what we’re going to be thinking about: How do we help Canadians to take time off? How do we ensure that they can continue to live their life while they’re taking time off and how do they pay for their training?” he said.

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Such a move would be a significant departure from existing federal training programs, which tend to focus on young students or the unemployed. The new funding would be in response to concerns that the rapidly changing nature of work will increase the need for employees to update their skills and training throughout their career.

A similar program currently exists in Singapore and Mr. Morneau met with his counterpart to discuss the issue in November while attending a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff said he’s encouraged by the minister’s comments about what to expect in the budget. While the minister did not provide details on what the new measures might look like, Mr. Yussuff said it would likely be administered through the Employment Insurance program. He also said he’d like to see a legal requirement that an employer cannot terminate an employee who wishes to leave temporarily for short-term training.

“I think this is very positive. I would like to see what the details are, but I think it would certainly be a game-changer for workers across this country, recognizing that you don’t have to be unemployed to access training and of course to get access to tuition support to do that training," he said. "I think it’s important that the government recognize that job changes are going to come more frequently because of all kinds of issues that are happening with the economy and providing a legal requirement for employers to re-employ somebody when they have to leave [for training] is not an unusual thing. Other countries do it. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be doing it here.”

Mr. Morneau made the comments at his annual prebudget photo shoot, which traditionally involves purchasing new shoes for budget day. Instead, Mr. Morneau tried on shoes that he had repaired by a local Toronto shoe repair shop.

The minister said Lorena Agolli, the owner of Sole Survivor shoe repair, is an example of someone who changed careers and learned a new skill.

In an interview, Ms. Agolli said she left a career in management to enter the shoe business. She said she used her own savings to pay for her training, but that she would welcome a government program that would allow her take a short break from work to upgrade her own skills or for potential new employees to receive training in order to join her business.

“I think that would be a great idea,” she said.

Mr. Morneau has previously said that his 2019 budget will include measures related to skills and training, housing affordability for millennials, seniors and the cost of prescription drugs.

In a December, 2017, report, the minister’s economic advisory panel of outside experts warned that more than 10 per cent of the Canadian work force – or roughly two million workers – could lose their jobs by 2030 because of labour trends that are making many positions obsolete.

Dominic Barton, the panel chair and global managing director emeritus of McKinsey & Co., said the minister pushed the panel to focus on this issue.

Mr. Barton said that while the economy will also create new jobs, they will likely be in different areas than the millions that are expected to disappear.

“So how do we think about how to get employees or workers, companies and the government to think how we do that?" Mr. Barton asked. “We may see more in this next budget.”

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