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Ottawa to work with provinces to aid students’ career choices

Canada's Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Friday June 20, 2014 in Ottaw.a


The Conservative government wants to pair provincial records on postsecondary education with federal tax data in order to give students the clearest picture yet of how much they will earn based on what they choose to study.

Employment Minister Jason Kenney will ask provinces to share the information when he attends next month's gathering of employment and labour ministers in Charlottetown.

The goal would be to include the information as part of a fall relaunch of the federal Job Bank website.

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It will include a "career choice" option that would illustrate the higher pay that can be earned by training for in-demand jobs like skilled trades.

Mr. Kenney made the announcement Wednesday at a "Skills Summit" in Toronto that was organized by his department.

"I am very focused on getting the best system of labour market information that taxpayers can reasonably afford," he told reporters.

The need for better labour market information is a rare point of agreement among labour policy experts. That lack of reliable information is partly why there is fierce disagreement over the simple question of whether a skills shortage exists in Canada.

It is a debate with major ramifications on government policy, including Ottawa's decision last week to dramatically curtail the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

On one side, national business groups insist that real job shortages from coast to coast are holding back Canada's economic performance.

But many other voices, including academics and senior bank economists, say the available evidence doesn't support those claims.

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Mr. Kenney convened both sides under one roof Wednesday to hash out their issues.

Few minds appear to have been changed. Mr. Kenney won praise for his recent pledge to spend about $14-million on two new Statistics Canada surveys, but it was also noted that the spending comes after cuts to Canada's national statistics agency.

Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, expressed his support for merging postsecondary data with tax records.

But he cautioned policy makers not to sacrifice the importance of broad-based education in the push to address job shortages in trades.

Mr. Davidson said he was pleased to see Ottawa increase funding for Statscan after cutting the agency's funding.

"We don't know what we had until it's gone," he said. "We need it back in force."

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Mr. Kenney also said Wednesday that he wants to make sure skills training helps reduce unemployment, particularly among youth and aboriginals.

"If we get this thing right, we could help to largely resolve our country's biggest social problem – which is the economic marginalization of our aboriginal people – while at the same time addressing one of our greatest economic challenges, future skills shortages," he said.

The message from federal Conservatives has gradually moved away from warnings of a national skills shortage.

Mr. Kenney now says there are regional job shortages that will worsen in the future as Canada's baby boom generation retires.

On Wednesday, he noted that Skills Canada has said there will be a need for one million skilled trade workers by 2020.

But even those longer-term projections raise red flags with some.

Derek Burleton, vice-president and deputy chief economist of Toronto-Dominion Bank, said people need to be aware that long-term forecasts are based on assumptions that might not be accurate.

"It's just a very murky game," Mr. Burleton said.

"One of the challenges with these big forecasts of a million shortages is they tend to be built on logic that's a little bit shaky."

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