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Canada will experience a significant employment shift over the next few years. In 2017 alone, 3.6 million executive leaders intend to retire, threatening the onset of a significant skills gap in the Canadian work force, according to executive recruitment firm MRNetwork. The government has identified the need for employer-led skills training programs in order to develop younger employees and equip them with the core competencies required to sustain and develop the Canadian economy.

The Canada Job Grant is a clear example of the government focusing on work force development. Since its 2014 inception, the joint federal-provincial funding initiative has helped thousands of businesses access additional cash to support third-party training of their employees. This government incentive is split up into provincial variants, each with its own eligibility factors and funding focuses.

The Ontario-specific variant is known as the Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG) and supports up to two-thirds of eligible third-party training costs in the form of government grants. One important thing to keep in mind regarding government funding programs such as the six-year Canada Job Grant initiative is that multiyear funding programs evolve, and so their eligibility rules and their focus change over time. Training that was a clear fit for the 2014 iteration of the COJG may no longer align with the updated funding criteria. It is important to be aware of changes to this program in 2017 for both new and existing applicants.

The evolution of the Canada-Ontario Job Grant
The Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG) launched as a six-year initiative in 2014. Typically, a government funding program is the most flexible in its infancy. The evaluation criteria changes as it becomes better known and its effectiveness with various project and company types is evaluated. The COJG is a typical example of this approach.

After launching in 2014, the program shifted to a "tiered" application-evaluation approach in the fall of 2015, which is still used today. This approach ranks submitted funding applications based on the intended effects of the training on employees' employability, timelines, and trainer details. Tier 1 applications have the highest likelihood of being funded due to their ability to meet all of the primary program focus areas. These tiers have been streamlined and polished since their introduction in 2015; however, further changes were announced to COJG in 2017.

While the program is of obvious benefit to those seeking jobs and careers, employers have a lot to gain from them as well.

"The training phase of our technology adoption project needed to happen, but wouldn't have without COJG. I'm not sure it would have happened in that timeline – or at all – without the support of funding," said Martin Boeykens, vice-president of administration and finance at Alpha Poly Packaging Solutions in Brampton, Ont.

2017 updates to the Canada-Ontario Job Grant
The COJG has implemented several changes for the 2017/2018 fiscal year, effective April 1, 2017. First, although the program still covers up to two-thirds of third-party training costs to a maximum of $10,000 per trainee, employers with fewer than 50 employees will be able to receive up to 100-per-cent funding for unemployed individuals they will be hiring and training, up to a maximum of $15,000 in grants for each new hire toward the training costs included in the funding application. This additional funding will help offset the orientation costs of bringing on a new employee.

Second, while the program will continue to support training-related costs such as textbooks, software and other training materials, these costs will now be capped at a maximum of $500 in funding per trainee. Travel will also be capped at $500 in funding per trainee and only supported if the required distance travelled is more than 24 kilometres each way.

There are other subtle changes and reinforcements announced by the COJG for the 2017/18 fiscal year. The program will only cover training spanning 52 weeks or less in areas that relate specifically to the trainees' current or future roles. The time limit is being enforced to highlight the program's objective of addressing immediate skills gaps within Ontario organizations. Business owners and individuals with a controlling interest in the business are ineligible to participate as funded trainees.

When submitting an application, employers must submit funding proposals involving more than 25 trainees directly to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. All other training proposals are to be submitted to local service providers, each with their own pool of funding. In order to ensure these service providers are effectively supporting their local businesses, the COJG funding body strongly suggests submitting applications to service providers within 35 km of the employer. Also, note that business submitting funding requests over $25,000 total or $700 per day will be asked to provide two alternative quotes to confirm the competitiveness of the trainer's offerings.

How to approach government funding
Businesses considering government-funding programs need to take the time to properly research the funding details to ensure that their business and project are aligned with the program's details. There are three components to evaluate when researching a funding opportunity for your business: (1) the eligibility factors of funding, (2) the timeline of funding and application review, and (3) the required effects of funding on the business's proposed project.

The COJG is an excellent example of an evolving government funding program; even if a business has accessed COJG funding in the past, they should still perform their due diligence to ensure they are up-to-date on the funding incentive's advancements. There are a few resources online to help find funding and stay up-to-date on changes, including and Businesses are also encouraged to reach out to each funding program's contact directly.

Chris Casemore is the director of client management and development at Mentor Works Ltd., specializing in strategic planning through customized funding approaches. Mentor Works helps businesses discover and leverage Canadian business funding to optimize their growth plans.

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