Opinion

Opinion: More Workforce training needed at post-secondary institutes

Over two years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic caused a drastic restructuring of the Canadian labour force. Businesses across sectors continue to contend with labour shortages as well as widening skills gaps.

According to a recent Statistics Canada report, 56.1 per cent of businesses say their workforce is not operating at the level of proficiency required to effectively complete their tasks. Of the businesses surveyed, 60.3 per cent reported that the existing skills gaps within their workforce have negatively impacted their business activities.

So, what can be done? Plenty.

If Canadian businesses intend to maintain a competitive edge in a quickly shifting market, it is crucial that our governments prioritize workforce development and training. Effective long-term solutions to these pressing human resource concerns can be provided by post-secondary institutions, specifically industry focused institutions like polytechnics.

A recent survey conducted by Leger in collaboration with Polytechnics Canada has promising news with implications for the economy: a whopping 90 per cent of Canadian employees believe skills development is important, with 78 per cent of employers and 72 per cent of workers saying they would like to receive more information about mid-career training opportunities available to them.

Almost all employers indicated they would like to provide their employees with regular training.

In other words, Canadians are ready and willing to learn, to upskill and reskill. And employers are onside.

So, where’s the logjam?

Cost and lack of time are the main reasons workers cite for not pursuing training. But there’s a silver lining here too. In the survey, almost all workers asked (96 per cent) were unaware of federal funding programs, like the Canada Training Benefit, intended to offset the cost of professional development.

That’s low hanging fruit for both provincial and federal governments who should more widely promote – and augment — existing funding programs for industry-driven post-secondary training.

Where time is concerned, the majority of employees said they want to complete a course in under six months (53 per cent) – and at a cost of $2000 or less (58 per cent). That’s feasible and reasonable – and post-secondary institutes should take note.

So where should they go for training?

The Leger survey found that the majority (78 per cent) of employers are interested in using an external provider to train employees. Employees too, (80 per cent), are interested in receiving training from an external provider other than their employer. They both ranked post-secondary institutions as training providers they trust most.

Employers cited occupation-specific skills development as being the biggest need within their organizations, followed by technology, software and digital literacy skills. And they ranked polytechnics as their most trusted training providers. Employees also listed polytechnics as the external training provider they find most appealing.

However, the survey did find one conflict among employers and employees: Canadian employers prefer to send their employees for full-time, in person training, whereas workers prefer to receive training that is part-time and online.

The survey should be both a relief and a wake-up call to both employers and governments that Canadians know they need — and want — upskilling and skill development; but they need it delivered in a time, place and price that works with their busy lives.

One of the most visible impacts of the pandemic is the how it has shaped, and continues to shape, the Canadian labour force. We have witnessed thousands of lay-offs and resignations across the country as businesses grapple with the “new normal.”

As businesses contend with these changes and continue trying to find their footing in the coming years, the services and education provided by post-secondary institutes, particularly polytechnics, will go a long way in preparing the labour force for what comes next.

Sarah Watts-Rynard is CEO of Polytechnics Canada, a national association of the country’s leading polytechnic institutions.

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