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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for that kind welcome.
It is a great pleasure to be here this morning, to discuss with you an issue of the utmost importance to all of us: the role of education and training in building success—for you in business and for Canada as a whole.
In the time allotted to me this morning, I propose to talk about the learning landscape in Canada—today, and for the foreseeable future. And I’ll describe some of the key challenges we face as a nation in a highly competitive, globalized world.
And so I will talk about some potential solutions, and the role that various sectors can play in achieving them.
Sectors that include, most notably, yours.
Business is the principal beneficiary of a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. And so it is vital that you be engaged in this issue. That you fully understand how the challenges will affect you, and how you can become part of the solution.
I will also leave time at the end of my remarks for your questions, in case you want to get into more detail on specific issues.
But before I get to all that, permit me to speak for a moment about my organization, the Canadian Council on Learning, and on what we’re doing to facilitate this urgent transformation to a culture of lifelong learning.
Funded through an agreement with Human Resources and Social Development Canada, CCL is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that promotes learning at all stages of life, from early childhood through the senior years.
CCL was created, not as the brainwave of an academic or public servant sitting in isolation—but as the result of a demand from ordinary Canadians from all walks of life.
Aware of the need for their families, their regions, their country to acquire the tools for success, Canadians called for a national body that would report on the state of learning across the lifecycle—an independent organization that could identify more effective approaches to learning at every stage of life.
During its brief existence, CCL has been doing just that.
Like the great railways of the 19th century, CCL approaches learning as a unifying force for Canada in the 21st century.
We are assisted in this by our partners in our multi-sectoral Knowledge Centres, which are located across the country and focus on five areas: early childhood learning, adult learning, health and learning, Aboriginal learning and work and learning. This last Knowledge Centre was created to help ensure that Canadians continue to learn both from work and at work, as well as to improve their opportunities for a successful and fulfilling career.
Jointly led by the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and the Canadian Labour Congress—and composed of more than 100 consortium members—the purpose of the Work and Learning Knowledge Centre is to seek out strong evidence about learning initiatives in the workplace and place it in the hands of people who can use it to make better decisions, such as employees and their employers.
Together, CCL’s five Knowledge Centres have rolled out a variety of new vehicles that deliver vital information about learning to educators, governments, business, learning advocates and the public.
Our groundbreaking Composite Learning Index, for example, is an innovative new tool that assesses Canada’s performance across the full spectrum of learning—in school, in the home, the workplace and the community. The first of its kind in the world when it debuted in 2006, the results of the second version of the index will be released in Calgary next week.
Our Lessons in Learning series feature in-depth examinations of issues of vital importance to Canada. Just last March, for example, we published one on the economic impact of workplace learning.
We’ve also begun publishing comprehensive overview reports on matters of great importance to Canada. Last December, for instance, we released the first Canada-wide study on the state of post-secondary education, calling for a national approach to increase the effectiveness of this crucial sector.
And, earlier this year, we issued our first-ever report on the State of Learning in Canada, which examines Canada’s progress in learning through all ages and stages of life.
And what we’ve learned, from that study and others, is that there’s no room for complacency.
By international standards, Canada has done relatively well in terms of education, but our record is much less strong with respect to workplace training. But we cannot content ourselves by peering backwards; we need to focus on the future, and prepare for the challenges ahead.
The challenges are vast, both in terms of what we’re doing, and the context in which we’re doing it.
Let me start with the context.
A decade ago, we were fretting about high unemployment. Now, we talk of growing labour shortages as baby boomers head into retirement.
In fact, on closer examination, it turns out that the problem is less the shortage of people than the shortage of the skills needed by the increasingly globalized, knowledge-based, technology-driven workplace.
Between 1991 and 2003, the number of “high-knowledge” businesses in Canada rose by 78 percent, while the number requiring unskilled workers actually shrank. It is estimated that, by 2013 more than two-thirds of all jobs will require some type of post-secondary education. Currently, however, only 44 percent of Canadians have post-secondary credentials—and many of these are baby boomers who are approaching the end of their careers.
Although post-secondary attainment rates have increased for younger Canadians, they will not be sufficient to fill the pending labour shortage.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to any of you.
More than six years ago, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business was already reporting that up to 300,000 jobs were vacant due to a lack of suitably skilled workers. Even then, the Conference Board of Canada was projecting a shortfall of nearly one million workers within 20 years.
At present, labour shortages are most pronounced in highly skilled trades such as construction and mechanical trades—but it is increasingly being felt in numerous other fields as well, like engineering and health services. Much work is needed if we are to address this shortfall in qualified apprenticeships and highly-skilled graduates.
The impact of this supply-side shortage is reflected in the concerns of today’s employers. Skills shortages currently rank among the top-five concerns of Canadian managers, while more than half of all private-sector managers anticipate occupational shortages within the next two years.
To a large extent, we will have to rely on new Canadians to help make up the shortfall in domestic labour. But whether we’re talking about new Canadians or established ones, we need to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential. And that means continuous access to learning throughout their lives.
And so, when it comes to lifelong learning, how are we doing?
The answer, unfortunately, is mixed.
By international standards, we’re actually doing quite well with our formal education system. Canadian teens, for instance, score among the top industrialized nations in reading, math and problem solving.
And yet, there are worrisome signs.
Our high school drop-out rate may be at a record low, but it’s still twice as high as some other countries, notably Norway.
We have some world-class post-secondary institutions, but not everybody has equal access to them.
Moreover, there appears to be a growing disconnect between the academic and industrial sectors, to the extent that we can’t be sure that students are graduating with the skills and knowledge demanded by contemporary society.
We also know that Canadian adults are better educated than ever before. Our workforce has the world’s third-highest proportion of people with post-secondary education.
And yet, 9 million adults in Canada lack the literacy skills required to flourish in contemporary society. That represents more than 40 percent of the working-age population, hampered in their ability to get good jobs. Even their health and quality of life are apt to be affected.
So if our record is mixed in terms of formal education, what about those long years of life that come after school? Once people hit the workforce, does the training and learning continue?
The answer, it seems, is “not nearly enough” – at least by international standards
Fewer than 30 percent of Canadians workers took part in job-related education and training in 2002, compared to 44 percent in the U.S. In fact, we now lag behind almost all OECD countries, which have increased their investment in literacy, numeracy and other adult skills.
Norway, for instance, instituted an innovative new apprenticeship scheme that has improved the supply of trained workers, while dramatically cutting the high-school dropout rate.
In the United Kingdom, an independent public body called the Adult Learning Inspectorate monitors and reports on the quality of education and training offered in the private sector, NGOs, public sector institutions and training agencies. It also offers employers specific recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of their training.
Here at home, it is especially disheartening to note that the people who need training the most are the least likely to get it. That includes people with low literacy skills, older workers and immigrants.
For example, only 18 percent of today’s workplace trainees have a high-school education or less. By contrast, more than half already have a university degree. Put another way, just 2.2 percent of all the money spent on workplace learning goes to basic skills training. The bulk is invested in professional, management and technological priorities.
What’s more, the trend lines are all wrong. In terms of the priority that employers place on worker training, Canada slipped from 12th place in 2002 to 20th in 2004.
Now, it’s true that some workers decline to take training, mainly for reasons of cost, or a shortage of time. But the fact is that nearly three in 10 workers say they would take further training if it were offered.
That translates into 1.5 million Canadians with unmet training needs.
As you listen to me reel off these numbers, you’re probably thinking, “Training costs a lot, and just when I get somebody trained, they will start looking for a new job.”
Fair enough; your reservations are entirely understandable.
But consider this: a survey on attitudes toward learning that CCL published last fall revealed that the two most common reasons workers give for wanting more training are to learn new things and to improve their on-the-job performance. About 70 percent say so—more than twice the number hoping that training will result in higher wages, or a better job elsewhere.
In other words, workers themselves feel they would be more valuable to their employers.
And the data certainly bear them out.
In fact, OECD studies have shown that, when it comes to a company’s long-term productivity, investment in human capital brings three times the rate of return associated with capital investment. For example, manufacturing firms in the UK that spent more on staff training enjoyed almost 50 percent better productivity than their competitors. And a recent report published by CCL’s Work and Learning Knowledge Centre, called Connecting the Dots...Linking Training Investment to Business Outcomes and the Economy, examined a formula for calculating the return on investment in workplace training at the firm level.
Skilled staff enhances a company’s competitiveness by introducing innovation in technology, processes and corporate organization. Better-educated workers also tend to be healthier, and more likely to comply with safety rules. For the employer, that translates into lower costs due to illness, injury and absenteeism.
I believe the evidence is overwhelming: We need to strengthen adult learning and workplace training. And we cannot afford delay.
Our work at CCL over the past three years has suggested five principles that we believe should guide these efforts.
First, we need to develop a comprehensive approach that engages all players including government, educational institutions, NGOs, individuals and, most important, you in the private sector.
Second, just as the responsibility for ongoing learning is shared, the costs must also be equitably borne. For example, government, employers and workers could share in the cost of paid training leave, as well as mechanisms to pool training resources and expertise for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises.
Third, in order to demonstrate value for money and effort, we need to put in place systems to assure the quality of training programs, and to measure their results.
Fourth, we need better certification processes to recognize and validate the achievements of individuals who take part in training.
And finally, we need to get creative—because as you all know, one size rarely fits all. We need to create a well-stocked “toolbox” of validated practices that have been shown to increase employer investment in workplace learning.
I also alluded earlier to another urgent consideration: To break down the jurisdictional walls in post-secondary learning, and to come up with a national framework that would bring consistency, coherence and comparability to higher education.
Australia, the UK and 30 other European countries have established national goals and benchmarks for post-secondary education, especially in relation to student employability and their eventual impact on economic innovation, productivity and economic growth.
In the same way, a pan-Canadian approach to setting goals and measuring and reporting on progress would help Canada achieve its social and economic objectives. Among other things, it would address issues of post-secondary quality and access, the portability of credits, recognition of prior learning, human resource planning, and research, development and innovation.
Meanwhile, we at the Canadian Council on Learning are also doing our part to support the search for solutions. Our knowledge centres for work and learning, adult learning and Aboriginal learning are collaborating with experts from across Canada in the areas of labour, business, research, government and education to address many of the issues I have talked about today.
For example, we are exploring how to smooth the transition from school to work and examining how to improve access to training by under-represented groups. We are also looking at barriers to adult learning, and measures to assess the quality and effectiveness of workplace learning practices.
In another important initiative, we are gathering information on effective practices, so that employers, employees, labour unions, educators and policy makers can learn from the experiences of others.
More recently, we have launched a series of five private-sector roundtables in cities across Canada, aimed at creating linkages with and among private-sector partners, and listening to what people like you have to say about the lifelong learning—both the challenges and the solutions.
I was delighted when I learned that the theme of this gathering is “Education and Training are the Keys to Success.”
The success, I submit to you, of individuals, of enterprises such as yours—and of Canada as a whole.
All the evidence, from Canada and around the industrialized world, underlines the truth of this statement.
It has become crystal clear that every investment in furthering the skills and knowledge of workers pays off handsomely in terms of enhanced productivity, innovation and competitiveness.
As such, training is—or should be—a critical component of every worker’s ongoing development. Which means it should also be a critical part of any business plan.
By international standards, we’re not yet delivering. Sure, the private sector endows scholarships and finances educational infrastructure—all vital to our educational system.
But more is needed. Business and labour are direct beneficiaries of the products of Canada’s education system. And so they must be fully engaged as creative agents of a learning society, along with governments, communities, families and individuals.
It’s not too late, but we have no time to lose.
Thank you for your attention.
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