Ottawa takes lead on training

The B.C. election campaign that’s about to get underway will feature lots of talk about skills training.

VICTORIA – The B.C. election campaign that’s about to get underway will feature lots of talk about skills training. It will be everyone’s top priority, along with a dozen other top priorities.

But since elections are no time to deal with serious issues, don’t expect much frank discussion about ways to redirect our increasingly soft, urban society toward useful work. Somebody might be offended.

The B.C. Liberals see lots of skilled, technical jobs on the horizon, but they cut their skills training budget and many of their MLAs are also looking at a career change. The B.C. school system, like that of other provinces, still pushes kids to university programs that lead to coffee-serving jobs and the need for another round of training.

This has been going on since the 1970s, and it’s not confined to B.C.

The B.C. NDP apparently expects to coast to victory with the same empty rhetoric about “income inequality” and student debt that they’ve been using for years.

Their only discernible intent is to return control over how many apprentices can be on a job site to industrial unions, which severely restrict it, squeezing out small business. This team’s ideas are mostly left over from the last industrial revolution.

Fortunately there is a mid-term federal government that has acted. Last week’s federal budget launches new programs that the next B.C. government will have to go along with.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government didn’t claw back post-secondary funds from B.C. and other inept provinces, as some had feared. What we got from Ottawa was social engineering, Conservative style.

The centrepiece is the “Canada Job Grant,” a $5,000 grant to employers willing to match it and train an unemployed person. To qualify, the province has to match as well, for a total $15,000 commitment to one worker who will have a job to go to.

Delta-Richmond East MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay was one of the Conservatives out to promote the budget. She said when the Canada Job Grant is fully rolled out, it will fund training for 130,000 people a year. Some will be young people, but there will also be older workers whose skills need upgrading.

“If they’re willing to look at the jobs that are available and understand that that’s their best shot at making a living and being able to support their own families some day, we want to be sure that the opportunities are there,” Findlay said.

The difference is that it has to be what an employer needs, not what the student might prefer. It’s a public-private partnership, as we have seen with modern public works.

Findlay acknowledged that even with a big push on training, Canada will still need to import foreign workers.

In B.C. we are bracing for an unprecedented resource boom, much of it in the B.C. Interior and north. That’s one reason for a $241 million increase over five years to the federal Income Assistance Program for aboriginal reserves. The new money is available only if the community leadership commits to a mandatory training component. They didn’t call it Idle No More, but that’s the gist of it.

Of course, no worker or province or band council is required to participate. They have the option to leave the federal money on the table. But the NDP should note that the Canada Job Grant applies to union-run apprenticeship schools as well as those in community colleges and technical institutes. Saying no isn’t much of a choice.

Whatever grand promises the B.C. Liberals and NDP have written into their yet-to-be-released election platforms, they will need to find the money to participate.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca