Let’s Talk Future Skills podcast series

The Future Skills podcast series explores the impact of technology, new business models, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors on workforce trends and emerging in-demand skills. Hear Future Skills Council members and invited guests share ways to take action to help Canadians get training and develop the skills they need to succeed and to support business growth now and in the future. Discussions include priorities and action areas to help build a skilled, agile, and inclusive workforce.

Let's talk future skills

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The published podcast episodes are edited versions of the recorded conversations.
Council members’ tenure ended June 30, 2021.

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Episode 1: What is Future Skills

Part 1: Why Future Skills is important

Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada and Future Skills Council member, and Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, explain Future Skills and why skills development is crucial in a context of rapid change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. They discuss the roles of the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre and how they work together.

Duration: 15:04 minutes

Transcript of Why Future Skills is important

Pedro Barata

Instead of playing Chicken Little—I think there’s too much of that, and that’s all we hear about some days. What if instead we turned that question around and talked about the amazing things that can happen if we do act, even in these toughest of times?

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. Given the social and economic upheaval over the last 12 months, including the loss of jobs and the evolution of the post-pandemic economy, it is more important than ever to address the current and future opportunities for Canada’s labour force. So the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre are working on a plan and a course of action to meet this head on. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Rachel Wernick, a Future Skills Council Member and the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada, and Pedro Barata, the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre. Together, they discuss the retooling of Canada’s workforce.

Rachel Wernick

Thanks for having me today. My job in the federal government: I’m leading the skills and employment branch in Employment and Social Development Canada, and as the name suggests, the work that we cover is all of the skills and employment programming related to an effective, efficient labour market. So it spans from Employment Insurance through apprenticeship and skilled trades, youth employment, pretty much everything that you think of, what you think of skills and employment programming in the federal government. It’s a great job. It’s always interesting. Never a dull moment.

Pedro Barata

I’m the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, and my team works as part of a consortium that also includes Ryerson University, the Conference Board of Canada and Blueprint. And together, we’re thinking about what the future of work is going to mean for all of us here in Canada and what skills we will need to succeed in this changing labour market, where technology, rapid change, collaboration, ongoing learning will be increasingly the reality. And so, our job is really to design, to test and to learn what kinds of systems and programs need to be in place to best equip Canadians for success in this new future context.

Rachel Wernick

What we see with the Future Skills Centre, as Pedro said earlier, I would think of it as—often we talk about, in the private sector—R&D, research and development. It’s an innovation hub. It’s about prototyping, testing, evaluating innovative approaches to skills assessment and development. The Government had the foresight to say, you know, it’s hard to do that in our day-to-day, running programs. Let’s create a dedicated space that can step out of the current, look ahead and sort of get ahead of things by testing things to get us ready and inform our policy and program and service design through this sort of innovation hub. So that’s fundamentally what the Centre is all about. And Pedro could do a much better job going into detail on that.

Pedro Barata

Our mandate is really to help Canadians navigate a future economy, and our particular focus is on ensuring all of us can have access to the skills we’re going to need to contribute to our shared prosperity. So, as we’ve mentioned, we are looking at, number one, what is this future of work and how is the economy and the necessary skills change—how are those changing? Number 2, we are then responding to those changes by working with partners in business, in community, in post-secondary to really prototype and test approaches that can provide some breakthroughs in terms of how we approach skills development and really anticipate what some of the challenges are going to be and to learn from those and to learn what works as we make this shift. And, number 3, our job is to ensure that all of that experimentation and all of that learning doesn’t just sit on the proverbial digital shelf, but that it actually is embraced and understood and adopted by the broader ecosystem. So our knowledge mobilization, our engagement with the ecosystem and our active proactive partnerships are very important to the work that we do. And I’ll add one piece, which is that we put a real premium—we’re obviously here for all Canadians because we’re all going to be impacted by these changes—but we are putting a premium on figuring out how we can better include Canadians that have been disadvantaged by, you know, where they live, maybe in rural or remote communities, or because of their gender, their race, their ability, or even because of systemic discrimination facing Indigenous peoples. So that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is very central to the work that we do. And, in fact, most of our innovation partnerships across the country have a real focus on ensuring that nobody gets left behind.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

For the benefit of those listening, Rachel will now explain the role of the Future Skills Council.

Rachel Wernick

What we have with the Council is, well, how can that centre be informed, how can it be connected to what experts, practitioners and representatives from all sectors of Canada say is important to work on and to innovate and to figure out for the future? So the Council is fundamentally this amazingly diverse group of individuals that reflect a huge diversity of perspectives, of sectors, of voices and expertise, lived experience, and they’re coming together in this unique way at the Council table to talk about these issues and to work together to find what are the common priorities that we all agree on. What are some recommendations we can make to the Minister of Workforce Development and the Government of Canada about, you know, where we should prioritize action? And Pedro—and the Council—have been intimately involved and heard all of these discussions and has that report and that can help inform his sort of forward planning about priority areas. So that’s how they complement each other. But together, they’re fundamentally about preparing Canada and helping Canadians, helping our economy and our society work towards a better future.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

So when we hear the term “future skills,” what exactly is meant by that? And why should Canadians care?

Rachel Wernick:

I think sometimes when people hear “future skills,” you know, what jumps into their mind are robots and some kind of a very futuristic, you know, science fiction movie we’ve all watched. And while we all know that technology is rapidly changing and that’s a big part of what we have to adapt to in terms of skills requirements, I think Future Skills really is about looking to the future and making sure that we are developing skills that allow us to embrace the opportunities that are coming and to drive that future. So skills that will allow us to drive the economy and society where we want it to go as a country rather than to be passively receiving it. Skills are what help you secure employment and make a living. Skills are what allow you to interact effectively in your community and be an engaged citizen. Skills are linked to health and all sorts of different things. I mean, fundamentally, and this is so important because at its core, it’s about quality of life and being able to live the life you want to, and aspire to, and that’s why I’m so passionate about skills, because they really are at the core of avoiding poverty and all of the negative sides of things that can come out of life. They really do make us more resilient and able to succeed.

Pedro Barata

I loved Rachel’s positive take on this, and I actually, I’m going to, I’m going to build on it and instead of playing Chicken Little—I think there’s too much of that and that’s all we hear about some days. What if instead we turned that question around and talked about the amazing things that can happen if we do act, even in the toughest of times?

Rachel Wernick:

We have a great opportunity, and I say that in all humility, not to minimize the difficulty, but that everyone is going through. But we do have an opportunity to accelerate some things we’ve talked about for a long time and to think about as we put in place new programs and new approaches and build towards recovery. How do we do that in a way that is building for the long term? And that’s what made Future Skills so prescient and so timely, is that before the pandemic hit, this is the kind of work that we were looking at, is how to take a look at the future and what would be a way to improve in a sustained way the skills system in Canada.

Pedro Barata

Well, obviously, as we’ve all seen, we need to act for the short term. Canadians expect that, and we’ve seen public policy work and really step up when Canadians needed it most. And so that has been really, really important. And that sort of short-term work—that immediacy around the crisis—needs to remain, of course. At the same time, as Rachel has mentioned, we also need to create space within this crisis to start to proactively plan and build a playbook for the long term. And that’s really the space that Future Skills provides. It’s not about, you know, taking our focus away from the real challenges that Canadians are facing now. It’s about adding a dimension to that so that we’re learning in real time. We’re thinking about the acceleration of a lot of things that we thought might take a while longer to come to terms and how it is that we prepare ourselves for the future. So while there’s this totally justified and crucial focus that we need to have right now, we also need to respond and step up for the long-term recovery. And one of the ways that’s really brought that to focus for us at Future Skills has really been in the hardest-hit sector, which has been hospitality. And we were able to work with the hospitality industry starting in Ontario to really look at the crisis and to build a strategy and work very closely with the industry and with OTEC [Ontario Tourism Education Corporation] to reach out to mass displacement of workers. But at the same time that we did that, we also took the opportunity to implement a new skills survey to really take stock of what skills displaced workers bring to the table, which we didn’t have before. And that kind of labour market information, adding that to the mix, is really crucial in terms of future planning, whether it’s in reskilling for the industry or for adjacent industries or even for other industries that may be, you know, paths to recovery. We’ve also invested in a new digital platform that brings together both employers, small, medium enterprises, some of the bigger employers, as well as displaced workers and those that are in the field. So that we’re all learning and seeing the same information in real time and that digital platform during times of a lot of disruption can become a go-to place to get information to find out about emerging opportunities, to craft a shared path for recovery. And we’re also using that as also a platform for some rapid prototyping as a sort of fog begins to lift on the future of the hospitality industry. What are some of the emerging opportunities to even link with adjacent sectors like agriculture? And how is it that we can prototype some of the reskilling initiatives, really learn from them and start to build models that can take us to scale both in hospitality as well as in other industries that are shifting. So what we’ve seen is that the crisis does call on us to respond to the immediate needs of Canadians, and certainly we’ve done that through the hospitality outreach to displaced workers. But to also, you know, leverage that to pivot and start to think about, what are the building blocks that we need to put in place for the future? So it’s been a time for pivoting and for changing our speed, which is the reality, I think, for all of us. But it’s been a challenging time. At the same time, it’s been a time where we’ve really looked for opportunities to accelerate some of the things that we knew were going to happen anyway. They just got here a whole lot faster than what we originally thought.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Join us for part 2 of this podcast where Rachel and Pedro delve into ESDC’s Future Skills report entitled Canada – A Learning Nation: A skilled, agile workforce ready to shape the future. You can download the report from our website, Canada.ca. Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 20.8 MB) Why Future Skills is important

Part 2: Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Rachel Wernick, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada and Future Skills Council member, and Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, talk about the Future Skills Council report and 5 priorities to drive change to better prepare Canadians for the future of work. They discuss what is meant by a learning nation and the call to action for all sectors to help Canadians seize emerging opportunities.

Duration: 14:25 minutes

Transcript of Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Rachel Wernick:

Really, what this learning nation is about, it’s about a mentality, but it’s about a reality. So hopefully the call to action, everybody says: Hey, what can be my part in contributing to that learning nation?

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. On today’s podcast, we’ll pick up where we left off with Rachel Wernick, a Future Skills Council Member and the Senior Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch at Employment and Social Development Canada, and Pedro Barata, the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre. The Future Skills Council’s report was launched in November 2020. Rachel now explains how the report came to be and identifies the key priorities and the concrete areas for action.

Rachel Wernick

I think it is important to underscore the extensive consultation that was behind the report. The council is representative of the private, the public and the not-for-profit sectors, all geographic regions. And so what they were tasked to do in the very early days is to undertake a consultation and engagement on some of the key priorities, issues, challenges—and this represented hundreds of Canadians and over 150 organizations that were consulted. This looked at both domestic and international practices and expertise. So the report is not the personal opinions of the 15 people, though I’m sure they’re factored in. It really represents the sectors that they come from and a very robust engagement to inform the work that the Council did and deliberated on, whether it’s from the perspective of the different regions and parts of Canada. We had Indigenous representatives from Métis Nation, First Nation and Inuit. So we really had a diverse representation, like I said, also practitioners, academics. And the consultations, I think it really does matter because the purpose of this council was to tap into as broad a perspective and as many lived experiences of Canadians as we could, so that that would be reflected in its recommendations. So Priority 1 is helping Canadians make informed choices. So we hear this, and I’ve heard this for many years, job seekers, workers, employers, everybody is hungry for easy to use, easy-to-access information and tools. They want to know, you know, where the jobs are, what kind of skills are needed for those jobs, what is the quality training that they could take to acquire those skills. And so, this priority really taps into that hunger for information and the ability to make informed choices. Priority 2 is about equality of opportunity for lifelong learning. So I think the pandemic has really shone a light on some of the structural and systemic barriers that many people face. And so the report, again, has put a big priority on ensuring that those barriers are removed and ensuring access for all Canadians in training and skills development. Priority 3 is dedicated to Indigenous self-determination. It’s skills development to support Indigenous self-determination. And we’ve learned that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are the best placed to design and deliver strategies that are most adapted to their communities. And so this priority looks at how we can apply that understanding to training and skills in Canada. Priority 4 is new and innovative approaches to skills development and validation. So we’ve talked about that and how rapidly changing job demands are where we need skills assessments and skills development approaches that keep up with that change and provide new and flexible ways to meet both workers’ and employers’ needs. And finally, Priority 5 is skills development for sustainable futures. And this kind of comes back to what I said a little bit earlier about not only thinking about the here and now and the skills that we might need for the jobs of today. But how do we create that sustainable future, and how do we support that approach? Whether it’s to have the skills required for a clean, zero-emissions economy or other areas that we know this change is part of what we need to do to have a sustainable economy and society. So that’s the 5 priorities.

Pedro Barata

I really liked how you’ve laid that out, Rachel, in terms of the highlights of the report and how the Council is not trying to oversimplify what is really a complex issue and pretended that somehow there are these silver bullets. It’s very intellectually honest. I also—to an earlier point that you made, Rachel—I really like that, it’s—the report—especially the process, does not try to leapfrog the current ecosystem and surrounded itself with science fiction thinkers and writers that are detached from the reality of our ecosystem. And in fact, you know, the people who were at the table are the educators, the employers, the labour leaders, the community practitioners that are both driving the system now, but also understand that change needs to happen. And how that report is pointing to how current players need to be the drivers of change for tomorrow, I think shows that it’s grounded in a realistic and very sound theory of change. And as you’ve noted, you know, sometimes when we move really fast and when we’re thinking about the future, some things get compromised. And this report certainly does not compromise the importance of equality, of opportunity, of Indigenous self-determination and the systemic barriers that are put in place. Most of all, I’m quite impressed by, you know, the process for modelling consensus across different stakeholders. This is not easy to achieve. But this is what’s going to move us forward, right? When you get different voices, different perspectives to force ourselves to think about the win-win-win and to match that with a call to action that lays out a pretty comprehensive agenda for the recovery. So kudos to the Council for all of the work and for, and for getting this, this roadmap.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

So if Canada is to become a learning nation, what are the next steps?

Rachel Wernick

We all, whether we know we’re doing it or not, are constantly learning new things and adapting. The question is: Do we want to make that easier on ourselves? Do we want to equip ourselves better? Do we want to have supports and information? Do we want to break down the barriers that make it harder for us to engage in that learning, whether it’s, you know, the systemic barriers or the cost of child care, I mean whatever it is, this report is saying, look, lifelong learning and having to adapt, and it’s here, it’s now and it’s going to continue. So where can we prioritize our efforts to support workers, support employers, to support governments, to support the voluntary sector? Basically, how do we help everybody navigate this kind of constant learning and requirement to adapt? And so I think that’s really what this learning nation is about. It’s about a mentality, but it’s about a reality. And so hopefully the call to action, everybody says: Hey, what can be my part in contributing to that learning nation?

Pedro Barata

You know, I think Canadians are increasingly likely to face change during their professional careers, so their career path is not going to be about being really good at what you already know, but increasingly about this desire for lifelong learning that Rachel talked about. And to get that right, really encourage anybody to think about the balance of skills between technological, cognitive and social-emotional skills. We’re going to need all 3. And often it is that last part, it’s the social-emotional skills, that’s a little bit harder to grasp. So our partners at the Conference Board of Canada have developed some great tools. They’ve brought in, you know, the best understanding and some assessment tools that have been used internationally that can really help people better understand that side of the equation and also better understand where they sit and what some of the strengths and gaps might be. And I would encourage anybody who’s thinking about this in their own career paths to visit the Conference Board of Canada’s website and make use of those tools. We would also encourage Canadians who are interested in skills development and especially those who are working in the field of skills development and trying to figure out how is it that you keep up with your practice to work with us by joining Future Skills Centre’s community of practice that’s powered by Magnet, and that’s really creating a platform for bringing together those of us who are going to be imagining and implementing the future to learn from each other, to not reinvent the wheel, and to avail ourselves of, you know, the best evidence and the best examples of what works and hopefully continue to build an effective practice that can help Canadians.

Rachel Wernick

A lot of things need to come together to really support Canadians and in increasing their skills and to support employers and offering skills development opportunities to support community organizations in the work they do. We need to figure out how to, kind of, mainstream some of these approaches and bring to bear policies and supports that break down those systemic and structural barriers that still keep people away from improving those skills. We need to look at very different ways of approaching skills development. I think that’s because we haven’t truly moved to a skills competency-based models, to models that look at that first, rather than what degree, certificates or even the way we describe work on a CV. We talk about it in terms of activities we did, not competencies.

Pedro Barata

Well, I mean, just connecting the dots here and what we’re hearing from employers where, on the one hand, we’re hearing from employers that skills and constant reskilling, upskilling is going to be absolutely crucial, not just in terms of the recovery, but in terms of the ongoing success of any business. So on the one hand, we’re hearing that from the vast majority of employers. On the other hand, we’re also seeing that, you know, given current business models, investment in on-the-job skills training is not necessarily going to be a priority for employers. So that’s a challenge. But it’s also an opportunity, because we have an opportunity here for that collaboration thing that Rachel was talking about earlier. We have an extensive ecosystem of skills development and training across the country that right now can be leveraged to be much more demand driven and to work much more closely with employers and with sectors to figure out how we help to co-create answers for the skills challenge—both for the recovery and for the future—and to not leave solutions up to any one sector, but to really find a common ground and find how it is that we can work together. I think that’s at the nexus of how we build the next playbook, is for each of us from our own place to really put Canadians, Canadian workers and Canadian businesses at the centre and really make skills the connector that can help us move forward.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast, and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 19.9 MB) Canada – A Learning Nation, a report by the Future Skills Council

Episode 2: Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

David Ticoll, Future Skills Council member and Chair of the National Stakeholder Advisory Panel of the Labour Market Information Council, and Steven Tobin, Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council, join forces to dig into the importance of having good labour market information to make informed choices on skills development and job training. They also discuss the importance of skills to find work and succeed in the future.

Duration: 21:40 minutes

Transcript of Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

Steven

Many Canadians are struggling today and, in some form or another, will always struggle to figure out, how is it that I find that next job? Or, how do I find my first job? And what, what information do I need in order to make that decision, and, and make a decision that will lead to a positive outcome?

Jamie

Hello, and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. Given the upheaval we’ve all faced since early 2020, including the loss of jobs and the evolution of the post pandemic economy, it is more important than ever to address the current and future opportunities for Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from David Ticoll, a Future Skills Council member, and Steven Tobin, the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council. Together, they discuss the importance of timely, relevant and accessible labour market information so that Canadians can make informed decisions on jobs, skills and training—a key part in building a learning nation.

David

Hello, I’m David Ticoll, and I’m very pleased to be here with my long term colleague, Steven Tobin. So today, we’re here to discuss a part of the Future Skills Council report, the part that focuses on helping Canadians make informed choices about jobs and skills. And for this discussion, Steven and I are going to focus on an important, but kind of specialized, topic. The name of this topic is labour market information.

So before we do get into the details, we’ll just talk a little bit of ourselves and where we fit into this. So my role at the Future Skills Council, I actually represent the issues of labour market information as a chair of the stakeholder panel at the Labour Market Information Council. Steven is the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council, and he has sat in on the Future Skills Council as an invited observer. So he knows a lot about what we’ve been doing.

Steven

Thanks, David. And look, happy to be talking to you today about this, what I think is a very, very critical issue. And, well, you and I have been debating and arguing and conversing about this topic for at least 3 years now. So it’s about time we recorded one of those many conversations. So, look, thanks. Thanks so much for, for organizing this today.

Look, look, for us, labour market information is, you know, in essence anything, really, that relates to data inside information—be it quantitative, qualitative—that can be used in a way that would enable Canadians to make more informed choices, be it careers, education, training, what should I study? Where should I study? So it’s really, it’s all encompassing, and it includes, in my mind, kind of the traditional things that we think about: wages, skills—which will be kind of a central theme throughout our chat today—but also things like, like cost of living, right? How much is it going to cost where I might decide to go live or study? And so it really is all encompassing in terms of how we think about making informed decisions in the workplace really.

David

So you’re leading this thing called the Labour Market Information Council. What is that?

Steven

It was kind of born out of an idea from the Forum of Labour Market Ministers. So in essence, LMIC’s board is made up of senior officials from essentially across the country. So there’s members from every province, every territory, Employment and Social Development Canada, as well as Statistics Canada. And so, we kind of fit, I would say, in that nexus between being sort of private oriented. So we’re a small organization. We’re very quick, we’re agile, but nevertheless, we have that orientation towards doing something for the greater public good. And so I think that’s kind of the space that we’re trying to, to play in while recognizing that there’s obviously many different entities that are involved in this space.

David

So now, Steven, let’s talk about, a little bit more about labour market information, and why, why is, why it’s such a big deal, and how come it’s not—may not—be so obvious to a lot of people.

Steven

Before talking about that, I think it’s really incumbent upon us to talk about what’s happening today, right? I mean, in March and April of last year, 3 million Canadians lost their job in an extremely short period of time. We’ve recovered many of those jobs. But it’s important to note that, you know, those jobs that did come back aren’t necessarily the same people who lost their job in the first instance, right? And so many Canadians are struggling today, and, in some form or another, will always struggle to figure out, how is it that I find that next job? Or, how do I find my first job? And what, what information do I need in order to make that decision, and, and make a decision that will lead to a positive outcome?

You know, we as individuals have a certain set of information and views as to what I might be willing to train. But employers have a different set of information, and quite often those decisions are made not at all based on the same information. And so I think when I think about the importance of labour market information, it’s really about ensuring that we speak the same language and that the information is there for both parties, or if I were to include training providers as well. So I think it’s a fundamental issue to address so that all Canadians have information so that they can make, I think, these tough decisions which, which have only become more challenging in the context of the pandemic.

This brings us back immediately to the theme that, you know, we’re discussing today, which is skills. And so, you know, I think it’s pretty clear that in the last decade or so, we’ve shifted our thinking from qualifications and credentials to skills. And it’s clear, you know, for me, when I was deciding to leave high school and what to do, having a credential or a degree of some sort was the currency of the day. And that’s clearly changed, right? Qualifications and credentials continue to play a vital role in kind of workforce development and helping Canadians succeed. But clearly, skills is now the new currency in terms of how we think about helping Canadians. And so that’s kind of a new shift. But, but an extremely important one. And I think this is where the gap in labour market information is, is probably the greatest in terms of, I come with a certain set of skills and qualifications. But what upskilling and reskilling might I need in order to take up a new opportunity? And what is that new opportunity demanding in terms of skills? And how can we help close that gap?

David

And it’s a 2-sided problem, because I’m not even sure how to describe what skills I have. I might know what some of them are. But if you were to sit me down and ask me, what are your skills? I’m not sure I’d exactly know how to answer that question.

So, so just moving on to this, on this topic of why LMI is a big deal. There’s another part to this, I think, which is, you know, labour market information is all around us. You know, every month we get, for example, the Stats Can report, from Statistics Canada on, on jobs, But there’s obviously a lot more labour market information out there than that. Steven, why is this still kind of an odd, arcane subject for most people?

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s 2, 2 issues that, that really come to mind. I think, you know, when we traditionally thought about, you know, leaving high school and whatnot, it was very much driven by just passions and interests. And I think for the most part, we kind of disregarded labour market information. And so part of that has to do with understanding, I think, the power that labour market information, sort of, can enable. And the other thing is, I think it was difficult to find good labour market information, so it was quite easy to kind of disregard it when you were thinking about making a decision. And so, look, I think we need to do a better job of, you know, informing people that information is power when it comes to labour market and career decisions. But I think in order to do that, we also need to do a better job in terms of providing them with the timely, with the relevant information so that it speaks to the decisions that they’re trying to make.

David

OK, so let’s, let’s talk about where we are. What are we doing well? What do we need to do a lot better?

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think it starts by this, you know, recognition that there’s been a shift in the currency from credentials and qualifications to skills. And I think, you know, the, the establishment in and of itself, of the Future Skills Council, I think in some sense pays homage to that, right? That there is this change and it needs to be addressed. And so, I think we’re on the right sort of page. And I think the report does a great job in articulating what it is we need to do in order to sort of promote and enable that learning nation culture, including labour market information. So I think we’re, we’re on the right path. The—look, the biggest challenge, again, comes with respect to skills. And given the fact that it’s new, we’re not quite there yet. But we’re really kind of in the early stages of, of how we might, I would say, refine the language of describing jobs through that lens of skills and how we describe ourselves, equally.

David

Yeah, I agree with all that. I would add a couple of other points. One thing that is, is also evident is that even for the same job or same occupation, skills demand—the demand for skills is not uniform, even within the same occupation. Different kinds of organizations, you know, that might be quite different for, for, say, a restaurant supervisor in a small corner restaurant versus someone who’s working in a large chain of restaurants. So and, you know, if you’re, if you’re trying to make a career choice, those are important, important things to think about, because, you know, from a personal perspective, you may wish, you may prefer to work in one of those environments versus the other.

And then, secondly, our occupational definitions and descriptions that we typically use in those, say those Statistics Canada monthly reports or the census that’s done every 5 or 10 years, you know, they’re fine as far as they go. But there’s so much innovation now, jobs and job titles and job descriptions, they just don’t cover the gamut anymore. There’s, you know, for example, take the emerging fields like cyber security or bioinformatics or even medical physician occupations are not, they’re not treated in a granular way. There’s one physician occupation in all of the Statistics Canada data. So there’s a lot more to be done around granularity, both around occupations and around skills. And then the last thing, of course, is that a lot of this data is neither timely enough—we don’t get it with sufficient frequency—and also it’s not local enough.

Steven

Dead on, I mean, there’s yeah, there’s certain things, I think, that need to be done on the margin. But, look, in my mind, the, the skills issue is, is probably our biggest challenge. And then, of course, once we get a bit of a handle on that, it’s of no use to anyone if we’re not able to share it with people in a way that helps them make those informed decisions, right? So we have to do both. Have to do both.

David

Yeah, well, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel around these challenges of labour market information. So basically, to provide a very high-level perspective on that, there’s traditional labour market information which is largely based on surveys. For example, when we get our monthly Statistics Canada report on jobs, they do something that’s called a household survey. They survey people who live in households, and they find out where they’re working and so on and so forth. And they compile the data and they, they, they publish a report.

There’s something else that’s happening that’s emerging and it’s emerging very quickly. And it’s already here in many, many, many ways. And that uses a very different approach. What it does is it takes very large sets of data that already exist for other reasons. And it mines that data and it analyzes that data sometimes using traditional analytical and statistical techniques. In other times, using, you know, more advanced techniques like, you know, machine learning, artificial intelligence, whatever you want to call it, and it basically reaches conclusions and finding, findings and conclusions based on these very large data sets. And some of that, some of that data is, is happening in real time. For example, postings that employers put up online or on their own websites or wherever, job postings. And there’s a continuing flow of job postings that happens over time. And those job postings change, and they provide at least the employer’s perception of the job, of the skills they need for particular jobs. And then you can add them up and you can get a volume of jobs that are in demand and so on and so forth. So this is the emerging frontier of labour market information.

And both of these methods, whether it’s traditional survey-based labour market information or large data-set-based information, they both have their strengths and they both have their limitations.

Steven

The reason real-time information matters is because things are now changing so quickly in the job market when specifically it comes to skills, right? So we’ve seen dramatic turmoil in Canada’s job market over the past year, which, in my opinion, has only accelerated the shift in skill needs and shift in skill needs across sectors, across jobs, across geographies, right? And so for me, that’s why real-time information is important, because, because you can get up-to-date information on skill requirements. And so that being what we need in order to help people move from a good job to a better job or from unemployment to a new job. That’s why it matters to me.

And I think, you know, you, you point out that these new big data sets that can be leveraged using new techniques, I think opens up a tremendous opportunity for how we think about addressing the gap in skill-related labour market information. And the question is sort of the “what” and the “how.” And I think the Future Skills Council report places the right emphasis on skills and you’d better use new and different techniques because the prevailing sources and approaches aren’t going to cut it. It’s just a question of turning, now, words into action.

David

OK, so let’s move to that. How are we turning those words into action? Well, in fact, I’m pleased to say that the Labour Market Information Council is actually taking some very big steps in this direction through a partnership with the Future Skills Centre, which is sister, a sister entity to the Future Skills Council.

Steven

Yeah, I mean, I think to, to start clearly this, this partnership between LMIC and the Future Skills Centre is, you know, very much coming from the thoughts and recommendations of the Future Skills Council report in terms of, look, we need to do a better job with respect to labour market information, in particular with respect to skills. And so that’s, that’s really how the partnership was, was born.

And I think the, the objectives, broadly speaking, are, look, we need to improve the overall availability of labour market information. And that means closing the gap in terms of what is available with respect to skills and to make sure that that information is accessible in a way that Canadians and those that help Canadians can kind of access so that they can help make informed decisions.

Practically speaking, from that, we can apply some of these new technologies in terms of identifying what are the skills and other work requirements of these jobs, how they might differ across sector or geography, and thinking about how we can really generate, kind of, new ways of thinking about skills. Because, you know, the approach here is typically based on frequency. And we know that the number of times something shows up in a job posting doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as importance. So for us, that means making sure that all prevailing labour market information that exists today—be it wages, employment—is kind of curated in a way that makes sense for the individual in question.

And then I would say the biggest hurdle that we’re trying to address is putting all that information in this cloud-based repository and making it accessible to, in particular, those that we see as kind of the primary client, which is those that are helping Canadians make those decisions. But if you build an amazing website, but no one in the country has the Internet, then what’s the point? Right? So we’re building this relatively sophisticated cloud-based databank, for lack of a better word. How will people access it? And so a big part of the project will also sort of allocate really like dollars to the system in order to incentivize the creation of, of digital tools and platforms to draw on the data repository that will sort of help facilitate decision-making. And so those are kind of the 3 or 4 big pieces that we’re thinking about.

David

I got to tell you, Steven, because we talk about this and we really have a conversation about this between the 2 of us. I can’t help, help but say how exciting it feels. I mean, even though we’ve been sort of grinding away at this idea and pulling it together and making it happen for at least 2 years now since we started talking about this. And we get together, we actually chat about this and share it with whoever is out there listening to our conversation. I can’t help but feel like we’re actually moving the needle on something that’s really important. So thank you for having this wonderful discussion with me and for making me part of this process with you.

Steven

Thanks for being along for the ride. And you’re right. It’s very exciting.

David

OK, well over and out. Thank you very much for your time today.

Steven

All right. Thank you, David.

Jamie

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on the labour market information priority pillar, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 19.9 MB) Helping Canadians make informed choices about learning and work

Episode 3: Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

Sandy MacDonald, Future Skills Council member, President and CEO of Holland College, Laurie Edwards, Director of Student and Career Services at Nova Scotia Community College and Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy discuss the foundational and transferable skills in demand by employers and shed light on the importance of knowing how to match your skills with available jobs.

Duration: 32:40 minutes

Transcript of Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

Laurie Edwards

It’s a really exciting proposition, Sandy, to think that, you know, we can engage our employer and partners and our industry partners to help us deliver on the learning outcomes of these programs. And I know it’s about rewriting some of the curriculum pieces and the competencies so that it just doesn’t look at those hard core technical skills.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on future skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. For years, technological advancements, climate change and new business models have been transforming workplaces all over the world. The pandemic has simply accelerated those changes. Employers, workers and jobseekers are evolving and embracing the extraordinary opportunities that are redefining the future of Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Sandy MacDonald, a Future Skills Council Member; Laurie Edwards, Director of Student and Career Services at Nova Scotia Community College; and Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy. Together, they discuss the top skills required by employers and shed light on the importance of knowing how to match your skills with available jobs—a key part in building a learning nation.

Sandy MacDonald

Hello, everyone, my name is Sandy McDonald. I’m a member of the Future Skills Council and have been for the past 2 years. As most of you know, we’ve just released a report called, Canada – A Learning Nation: A Skilled, Agile Workforce Ready to Shape the Future.

So, my background: I am CEO and President of Holland College, which has nothing to do with the Netherlands and is a community college of Prince Edward Island. I have been in this job a couple of years. I’m a psychologist by training, but I’ve also been a deputy minister and a superintendent of public schools. And I am, I have to say, excited and thrilled to be joined by 2 people today.

Laurie Edwards is Director of Student and Career Services from Nova Scotia Community College, our sister college in Halifax, covering Nova Scotia, and also Mack Rogers, Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy in Toronto, I think, Mack.

I’m going to ask first of all—before we go any further—ask first Laurie and then Mack, just to give a quick overview of what they do at their respective institutions and what they’re all about.

Laurie Edwards:

Great. Thanks so much, Sandy. I’m the Director of Student and Career Services. So within that, I oversee a number of areas, including our career development services, our employment services, our advising program, work-integrated learning and co-op ed.

Sandy MacDonald

And I understand Laurie, you cover Nova Scotia fairly comprehensively. You’ve got a number of sites in rural and urban Nova Scotia?

Laurie Edwards

That’s correct. So, yes. So, Nova Scotia Community College has 14 campuses, one of which is an e campus. And we’re located right across the province.

Sandy MacDonald

Okay, all right. So, Mack, can you give us a little overview of ABC Literacy? And you’re based in Toronto, I think.

Mack Rogers

Yes. Yes. My name’s Mack Rogers. I’m the Executive Director at ABC Life Literacy. We’re a national charity. And our goal is really about raising awareness and developing programs for skill development. And this can be workplace skills or financial literacy or reading, writing, really anything. We’re all about getting people to start talking about and start practicing their skills and begin a learning journey to improve.

We’re very big on awareness. We do a lot of marketing and communications to spread the word. We also actually develop programs and then have our partner, our partner organizations. We work with over 600 organizations across the country to develop, deliver our program. And it’s really everything we do is free. Some of it’s online, some of it, we can send you materials, but it’s really about kind of connecting people and getting them started on learning.

Sandy MacDonald

We’re here today, for the listener’s edification, to talk about the Future Skills Council report. But we’re going to try to focus most of our conversation today on helping Canadians make informed choices. So just to start, I’d like to throw out the idea of the current skills landscape in Canada and the impact that the virus has had. And maybe Mack, if we can start with you—What’s been your organization’s experience with the pandemic in skills? And where do you think this is all going to end?

Mack Rogers

Currently, the current skills landscape—we had a problem going into the pandemic, in that there is a skills gap in that we have many people without jobs that are looking for jobs, but don’t have the skills for jobs. And we have many jobs that are unfilled because we can’t find the people with those skills. And it is a significant problem. It’s been a problem going back as long as I’ve been at ABC, 10 years, and I think in 2010, there was a report called, People Without Jobs and Jobs Without People, by Rick Miner. Yeah, yeah. So it’s not a new problem. What has happened with the pandemic and what we’re seeing is that those most vulnerable—those that have lower literacy skills, or struggle with other employability skills—are the most exposed because they’re the ones that are often working in gig economies. They’re the ones that are the frontline workers, more often than not. They’re the ones that are, you know, losing their work and then having to come back and then go away again, depending on how lockdowns are going and what part of the country you’re in. So they’re very exposed and it’s affecting them psychologically, financially, of course, as well as just the confidence and understanding where they sit in the community in terms of a priority. So, it’s a really tricky thing to navigate if you’re a low literacy person. And not only that, the supports that we offer for low literacy Canadians are often, sorry for all Canadians, are often inaccessible or hard to access by people who are struggling with literacy.

Laurie Edwards

I think Mack is right on: Our most vulnerable people are the ones that are most seriously affected by the pandemic. And I think about when we started into the programming for this fall was how many of our Indigenous students who are located in rural remote communities actually didn’t have the bandwidth or they didn’t have access to Internet. And so, when you think about that and how many communities across Canada and how many individuals don’t have Internet, and yet we switched to online learning practically overnight and suddenly they weren’t able to continue on with their classes and their coursework. So that, for me, was 1 of our biggest groups of how could we quickly address that and work with our government partners.

The other piece of this was, you know, the access to coming into college to pay for the computer equipment. So even if you had the bandwidth, where were you going to get the laptop? Where were you going to find the private space? Maybe you’re sharing a home with 10 other people and to do online learning that, you know, really limited people’s abilities to connect at that point.

Sandy MacDonald

There are many citizens, I think, Canadian citizens who’d find it hard to believe that there are Canadians in the year 2021 who don’t have the literacy and numeracy skills to be successful at a post-secondary program. Would that surprise you, the view that you’d hear Canadians say, “What, literacy and numeracy is still a problem?”

Mack Rogers

Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s something that we often shy away from in talking about literacy because the number doesn’t make sense to so many Canadians, so the actual number from an international study with a really large sample size is just under 50% of Canadians read at lower than high school level, so 48%. And then when you look at math, over 50% of Canadians, their math skills aren’t strong. And to the point where when you want to put this into context, our math and literacy skills are such that almost 50% of Canadians may not be able to read a bottle, a prescription bottle correctly. So that’s something that’s an actual tangible problem that we have. But when we talk to a lot of people about this, there’s an element of disbelief because you may look at it and say, look at my family. There’s 5 people in my family. We’re all strong readers, we’re all strong at math, so I don’t really believe that. But, you know, these are the numbers. When you’re looking at those at the lowest levels of literacy for adults, level 1, it’s almost 20% of Canadians; so almost 1 in 5 Canadians are struggling significantly. They have middle school level levels of literacy, which makes it really hard to navigate and live a fully engaged life.

Laurie Edwards

Yeah, when you think about those reading, writing, numeracy skills, those are your building blocks. That’s the Velcro to which all training can stick. And if you don’t have those skills, you can take as many courses as available to you, but the training won’t stick because you just don’t have that Velcro that will help you move forward with the training. So it’s not just at the low literacy levels; it’s so holistic.

Sandy MacDonald

Yeah, it’s interesting Laurie and Mack to hear that, because just last week we sat around with the senior staff here. We were trying to determine, you know, given the limited dollars, if you had money and you were going to spend it on an invention, what would you spend it on? Because, you know, just talking to the 2 of you, you hear about the bandwidth and you hear about the technology, being able access technology, purchase technology, the issues around employment, gig economy. And one of the things that underline all of these issues was the fact that, we feel the biggest challenge facing our school, was literacy and numeracy of the students coming in, that even if they picked the right program, they don’t have the literacy skills and numeracy skills they need to be to be successful.

And that’s a good segue way into the essential skills. And I just want to focus a little bit on this, because when I hear this word, I laugh myself because I’ve been around the block a few times, as I know the both of you have. And when I hear the word essential, I start thinking of essential skills, soft skills, employability skills, verbal skills, 21st century skills and Laurie, your point; the Velcro, on which the technical skills sit. So we all know that skills have been a challenge for quite some time, but why are they important? Why should other Canadians know about them?

Laurie Edwards

I always start, Sandy, with these are our skills around learning-how-to-learn skills. So, I think I mentioned about it being a scaffolding piece. And when I sit down with clients or people that are wanting to come to the college and perhaps they haven’t had an experience in school lately, you know, 10 years out of school, and if you don’t use the skill, you lose the skill. And so we start talking about their personal skills and some of the things that they use in terms of resilience and grit and how well they are in working with teams. Are they creative? Are they problem solvers? And so, we start with those personal things and then move from there into some of the things that we were just talking about, the reading, writing and numeracy.

And then my next check with people is usually around digital skills. And anyone who’s been doing any form of working or learning in the past year, you have to have some pretty sharp digital skills in order to manage yourself these days. You know, from everything from a doctor’s appointment to going to school, to buying things online. It’s, those are the sorts of skills that I highlight for our clients. And then from there we can start to say, Okay, now what are the other things that you want to learn and how can we scaffold onto those things, the important things that you want in order to pursue the life you want to live.

Sandy MacDonald

So Laurie, are the people you work with, are they surprised when you talk this way about those skills? Do they recognize themselves that they have these skills or don’t have these skills?

Laurie Edwards

Generally, yes. And I don’t know if maybe it’s an east-coast thing, Sandy, but I’m always surprised at how often people dismiss the skills that they have; they think it’s about the book learning and about what they achieved in high school. And can they do a written-quote commentary on something by Shakespeare? And really it isn’t and it’s those living skills. And when we start to break that down and I ask them to assess, when they think about their reading level, from 1 to 10, where do they think? And oftentimes they’ll say, oh, it’s about a 5. And yet when I get them to read a paragraph out of a book or document, really, it’s much higher than they thought it was and from there, there’s a kind of a confidence level that we can say, well, have you thought about some academic upgrading? And that way we can fine tune some of these skills that are so necessary for your future.

Sandy MacDonald

And Mack, has that been your experience as well?

Mack Rogers

Yeah, I mean, I think Laurie absolutely encapsulates what it is. I mean, it is the scaffolding. It’s the building blocks of all your other learning. But, it’s also how those skills interact with each other, both when you’re looking at the essential skills and the soft skills of the foundational skills, employability skills. So, for example, when you look at doing a simple transaction around financial literacy, the amount of skills, let’s say, to get a new credit card. The amount of skills in today’s day and age to get a new credit card is phenomenal. I mean, you need to understand the numeracy of what the interest rates are and competitive pricing and all that sort of thing. Nowadays, you need to do it online, so you need to have digital literacy. You need to have reading and writing because you need to be able to fill out the forms. You need to have the confidence to ask the questions. And then, at the end of it, you need to have the accountability to pay for the card that you select. So it’s the confidence is such an important part. And then, knowing where you’re strong or not. I mean, the best example you can get is any low literacy Canadian living with low literacy that you meet. So many of them are just phenomenal in their resilience. And they can be extremely successful. They can be, you know, professionally as well as personally, just so good at finding ways around their weaknesses. And I think that in itself is just an amazing thing to see.

Sandy MacDonald

You know, in my previous life, I worked as a psychologist in the prison system, both the federal and provincial prison systems, and dealing with the disenfranchised. And I’d meet people with very poor developed literacy and numeracy skills as measured by textbook or tests, able to work and survive and thrive because they found ways to cope. And one of the things that I see that is most incapacitating to our people, young people I work with over the years and I met with a bunch yesterday, is this poverty of spirit. And Mack, I think you used the word confidence and Laurie you talked about resilience. Do you see that underlying psychological construct, confidence or resilience or poverty of spirit? Do you see that often? Is that something that both of you have experienced?

Mack Rogers

Yeah, I mean, I think that absolutely, we see that in our classrooms. Often the people that end up in our classrooms have navigated that successfully and they have been able to walk into the classroom. That’s a difficult thing.

We’re hoping that now that’s one of the benefits of the pandemic, to sound kind of silly about that, the silver lining, is that people may get access to learning resources that are accessible to them. So ABC’s developed what we call our ABC Skills Hub, which is really about allowing low literacy learners to interact with online learning without the complicated systems that are so often where we learn. It’s a very simple, straightforward and accessible system. So we’re hoping that maybe people who were, didn’t have the confidence to start learning—to go into the colleges, to go into the classrooms—can maybe start their journey at home.

Laurie Edwards

Yeah, Mack, I’d like to build on that because one of the other things that we’re seeing in an online environment that sometimes it is you’re presenting yourself in a different way so that you’re not being ashamed by being in a classroom, surrounded by others that you perceive are smarter than you. You’re there listening to the teacher. You’re using some other resources and tools, and you just get to be yourself without having all of those other layers of how people label you.

Sandy MacDonald

Do you think that a silver lining in the virus might be that it turned some of these learners into more comfortable, more confident, more autonomous learners?

Mack Rogers

I think it could really go either way, to be honest with you, Sandy. I think some people are going to be forced even into more vulnerable positions. I think with the right supports, with the right programs, with the right teachers, yeah, absolutely, this is going to allow people to start their journey. But it’s also at the same time, we’re talking about the learners. The work environment is changing rapidly at the same time. And so we’ve known automation is coming along for years now, but this has accelerated it. How many people do you know who are using more digital technology or using more automation to get work done, more systems in place, which is just more barriers. So a job that before may not have required digital literacy, all of a sudden, because of the pandemic, it’s mandatory. So I think that it’s kind of a balance; I worry about some people still getting left behind.

Sandy MacDonald

I wonder, Laurie, and you in particular Mack too, have you found that there’s kind of a double-edged sword here to the pandemic where, the focus, the motivated learner kind of thrives and the one maybe not so motivated is getting left behind?

Laurie Edwards

Well, you know, that’s been a bit of a surprise to me. And I think just like Mack said, there’s some positives and negatives that there’s some that are going to be super successful and others that aren’t. And I’ve been quite surprised by some of our students that have attention deficit and they love that online schedule because they can get rid of all those other external influences as they’re sitting there in front of the computer interacting with the teacher.

But, and I have other high performing students that are saying, I hate this. I want to come back, I want to do the applied, I want to do the hands-on work that we did last year in class here at NSCC. And so it’s a mix of both. And I’m really, it’s about engagement and relationship-building. And I think any institution these days, you know, I know at NSCC we are investing heavily in our teaching and learning faculty and helping them with the skills about how to better do that online engagement so that it can reach the reluctant learner straight through to the high performing learner with and it really truly is about engagement and relationship-building.

Sandy MacDonald

I just want to switch gears a little bit here, because we all deal with the same sorts of challenges. I want to talk a minute about post-secondary graduates, so the kids coming out of high school and then the ones coming out of our own systems.

Do you feel, Laurie and Mack, that kids coming out of our colleges, have, let’s say, the social and emotional and soft skills that they need to be successful?

Mack Rogers

I think we’d have to say no. And it’s not me saying that—I think there’s a lot of amazing people—but the employers that have been surveyed over the last few years are saying no, that they’re missing some significant skills, skills that we don’t talk about enough. So we’re talking about, like you say, the social emotional skills. You know, and it’s things like time management and stress management and accountability, those kind of what we often call employability skills. And I think talking about skills and including these employability skills is really important because it gives us a language, basically a vocabulary we can share and identify and say, hey, this is something you need to work on, you need to understand. This is what accountability looks like and this is what accountability sounds like. And our friends on the east coast, the organization Future Works, does an amazing job of defining what each of these skills is and then helping people who may be, because we all have, you know, deficits and assets and our skills, kind of identify and create the conversation that allows people to say, hey, this is something I can work on. This is something I can improve on. And on the other side, hey, this is something I’m really good at and this is something I should celebrate and people should celebrate about me.

Laurie Edwards

Yeah, I think our employers, they want students that they want their workforce to be able to learn easily and quickly. They want their workforce to be adaptable and flexible, to be able to take direction to work as part of a team, to be able to critically think through a problem. But I know this is a bit of a funny story. I had somebody that knows that I work for the college and he hires tradespeople and he said, why can’t you teach them how to put their cell phones away? And I said, well, we do try. And we rely on our industry partners when they have their field placements and their internships to encourage those sorts of behaviours. So it is one of those points that it’s the everyday living skills and bringing those into a workforce. And what’s going to make you a productive worker for the employer.

Sandy MacDonald

These skills often are very subtle, as you know, with things like interpersonal skills and Mack talked about a few of them, the accountability, some basic work habits—these things are not easy to teach and not easy to assess. And I think that it’s a struggle sometimes for post-secondary institutions, colleges and universities to say this is what we do. We feel here that, and I think another college acknowledges there is a degree, that sometimes these skills are best taught in tandem, in collaboration with the industry.

Laurie Edwards

It’s a really exciting proposition, Sandy, to think that, you know, we can engage our employer and partners and our industry partners to help us deliver on the learning outcomes of these programs. And I know it’s about rewriting some of the curriculum pieces and the competencies so that it just doesn’t look at those hard core technical skills, that we start to think about a competent worker in many ways; that problem-solving, communication, collaboration and teamwork and critical thinking and innovation and creativity. I think that that’s a shared responsibility between our colleges, universities and our employer community.

Sandy MacDonald

One good example is in our paramedic program. We’ve got a well developed assessment process, that looks at essentially the bedside manner of the paramedics. So they can do all the technical skills very well; this is also a critical component that measures your interpersonal skills, your ability to work with—because there’s always 2 people in an ambulance, for example. And we found that it’s almost impossible to assess properly and teach properly without industry being directly involved. So it’s a joint assessment rather than a college assessment. And we extrapolate from that to the rest of our programs and realize, wow, this is what the industry needs, if this is what our students really need to be successful and thrive, then we’re remiss in not teaching that. And that means instead of adding a workplace integrated-learning piece on the end of our 2-year program for 6 weeks or so, and it might be better to have them out in industry earlier for shorter periods of time and then give them constant feedback from industry and ourselves. So far, it’s in the initial stages, but so far it seems to be working well, so we think that might be better.

While we’re on this topic, we talk about the employer a lot and the employee. Are there things we should be asking government to do differently, in terms of supporting this initiative?

Mack Rogers

We need kind of a national, recognized way of measuring every skill that employers, professors and educators think, these are important skills to learn to be successful in life. And be that creativity and innovation or be it literacy, if we don’t have a way to measure it, it’s really hard to see if anything is getting done. So I think that’s something the government can really support the nation on. I also think it’s about raising awareness of the importance of skills.

If you think about where we were 10 years ago in mental wellness and even the language we used in speaking about mental health, it was nothing like today, right? We didn’t talk about it at our boardroom tables. We didn’t talk about it in our dining room tables. And now, it’s much more comfortable conversation. We’ve really brought it out into the sunlight and it helps us navigate the world, particularly with a pandemic going on, where we have a lot of anxiety and tension and stress and change and we can actually talk about it. So I think creating a language, creating a vocabulary and awareness and how to use that language around skill development is really something the government and industry and education can all get together on.

Laurie Edwards

Yeah, we have financial literacy, why not have career literacy?

Mack Rogers

Exactly.

Sandy MacDonald

We’ve known there’s a skills gap. We’ve known there’s great potential here. But there’s also a great challenge here, what’s getting in the way? You know, how would you explain it to a layperson that we haven’t been able to make much progress in the last decade?

Laurie Edwards

Well, that’s such a great question, because it’s one of those dinner table conversations that I often encourage a family to have. And even when you invite people over to your own house for dinner and you the subject of jobs comes up and you say, Okay, name ten 10 jobs for me. People can usually say what they do, their spouse does, maybe a couple of other occupations that they’ve interacted with lately. But, you know, once they get to number 10, they can’t seem to go beyond that. So, knowledge of the world of work is extremely limited to whoever’s in your circle and wherever you live. So, I think that’s sort of the first piece, is that information about all the different occupations that are out there. There are new and growing occupations every day. And how many, how often we don’t expose people to those different job roles and their knowledge of them. So how would I even know to go to university or to college and sign up for artificial intelligence courses or web design, if I’ve never experienced it or been exposed to it. So I think it’s kind of that information gap, is that first step. It’s how do we get this information in a way that’s written and understandable, digestible and engaging, so that people can read about it, think about it, talk to people about it, and then make a decision about that’s the type of training or that’s the job that I want my future.

Mack Rogers

I absolutely agree, but I think it’s also about making sure we help people match their strengths with the labour market information that is about the job. So finding a way that matches the 2 types of language we use around labour market and skills much more closely. So you could actually look at a wheel of skills and say, you know, this forestry job, it’s really I need it on these all these different levels. I mean, I need to work on my, my oral communication a little bit, but everything else is good—so this is a good pathway for me. So being able to self assess and assess the skill all within one wheel of conversation, to use a really awkward metaphor.

I think it also goes back to what Laurie was talking about, like people could only name 10 jobs, so they don’t really know where they’re going. And, they end up, you know, often following, sometimes that’s great, following the path of their parents or their close their mentors. But it’s also about making career choices and skills for careers part of your whole life. That’s my feeling, is that we should be talking about jobs and not what other people do, but what you could do and what right from the very beginning of education and family and giving people choices and letting them know the implications of those choices. Like, you know, people are going to choose to be disinterested or struggle with school and they may need to take a break or mature later, but still understand what the implications of their decisions are in terms of career opportunities. You can’t drop or not take math, and then expect to become an architect; understanding those types of things are really important. So I think that we need to match knowledge with aspiration because aspiration that, you know, maybe the optimist in me, I think, is going to drive more skill development.

Laurie Edwards

There’s intrinsic motivators and there’s extrinsic motivators—the notion of I want a job with this amount of salary, versus that intrinsic peace—I’m really good at this; I have done these things in my life; this is where I see my myself going—that’s that aspirational piece. And then matching it up with that labour market information piece—about well then, What’s out there? How much will I earn? Where can I live? What skills will I use? So I think what we have to do is help people decide.

I’m thinking about the Michelin worker. And, you know, I was thinking in some career counseling about the life that they wanted to live. And they said, well, you know, the job that I have here is doing routine, same thing every day. But I also know how long my workday is. And I get to pursue the other things in my life: my family, my friends, my church, my community groups, volunteer and all of that. And I think it’s redefining when we talk about career, it’s redefining it that it’s not just about the occupational you, it’s about the learning you, the community you, the family you—it’s combining all of those. And that’s what makes up a career as opposed to just thinking about the occupational you all the time.

Sandy MacDonald

Despite our initial analysis, I think we got a good chat in. And I want to thank you for your time Laurie and Mack. It’s been really enjoyable. And I can’t wait to meet both of you face to face and I think we owe the both of you a glass of wine. If you’re ever over in PEI, I’ll take you to our culinary institute and I’ll treat you to a whole dinner.

Laurie Edwards

As soon as the bubble opens, I can guarantee you, Sandy, I will be in PEI to benefit from that great tourism industry you have there. And Mack, you’re more than welcome to join us in September.

Mack Rogers

I cannot wait. I look forward to seeing you. Thank you so much.

Sandy MacDonald

Thanks again, I really enjoyed my time.

Mack Rogers

Thank you.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on helping Canadians make informed decisions on skills development, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 70.3 MB) Foundational and transferable skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow

Episode 4: Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning

Mike Luff, National Representative at the Canadian Labour Congress, and Lisa Langevin, Director of Equity and Engagement at Industry Training Authority, both Future Skills Council members, talk with Angella MacEwen, a Senior Economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees Institute about skills development initiatives to help under-represented people, and those facing structural and systemic barriers to employment, get jobs. They discuss ways to ensure all Canadians can pursue lifelong learning.

Duration: 31:34 minutes

Transcript of Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning

Lisa Langevin:

One of the things that I think is really important for every single company and organization to start doing is to actually turn that flashlight around, to look at, OK, where are the systemic and structural barriers within our own organization and then where are the ones that we present externally for people trying to access our systems?

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Hello and welcome to our podcast series on future skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. For years, technological advancements, climate change and new business models have been transforming workplaces all over the world. The pandemic has simply accelerated those changes. Employers, workers and job seekers are evolving and embracing the extraordinary opportunities that are redefining the future of Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we’ll hear from Future Skills Council members Mike Luff and Lisa Langevin, as well as Angella MacEwen, the senior economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Together, they discuss barriers to employment and skills development in Canada, with a special focus on helping under-represented groups. They also look at ways to ensure that all Canadians can pursue lifelong learning.

Mike

Hello, everyone, my name is Mike Luff. I’m a member of the Future Skills Council, and I am a representative of the Canadian Labour Congress, which represents 3.3 million workers in Canada. I’m happy to be joined today by Lisa Langevin. Lisa is a member of the Future Skills Council as well, and she is the director of Equity and Engagement at the Industry Training Authority of British Columbia. And with us today is a special guest, Angella MacEwen. Angella is a senior economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which is the largest trade union in Canada. Today, we’re going to be talking about the Future Skills Council’s report. More specifically, we’re going to be talking about priority number two in the report. And that priority is called Equality of Opportunity for Lifelong Learning. So fasten your seatbelts. Today’s discussion is going to zip around from subjects such as supporting under-represented groups to helping mid-career workers upgrade their skills. So, Lisa, can you tell us who are we talking about when we refer to under-represented groups and their need for more opportunities for skills development?

Lisa

Generally, when we talk about under-represented groups, we’re talking about, in certain sectors, there are groups that are much more under-represented and those sectors tend to be the high-paying great careers. So even when we talk about on boards across Canada, we know when we talk about under-represented, we’re talking about women. We’re talking about IBPOC—Indigenous, Black and people of colour. We’re talking about immigrants, people with disabilities and youth as well. Youth have been highly affected by COVID. And too often there are barriers for youth in certain sectors as well.

Mike

When we think about all of these groups which were already under-represented in the labour market before the pandemic, we know now, as we start to emerge from the pandemic and look at a recovery, that these groups are facing even more barriers than ever. And Angella, maybe you could shed some light. What are some of the systemic and structural barriers facing these under-represented groups?

Angella

Well, one of the problems that you talk about is that lots of times under-represented groups get shuffled into low-wage jobs without good labour protections. And so it can be really difficult, when you’re kind of working two jobs to get as much money as you can to support your family or yourself, to have the time or the resources to be able to go back to school, to upgrade your skills, to get a better job. Right? So barriers can be a lack of access to child care: if you’ve got little kids it can be really expensive to find child care, so if you’re going back to school and you can’t find affordable child care, that’s a huge barrier. If you don’t have a car and maybe there isn’t really good bus service out to the school that you want to go to, so it’s going to take you a long time to get there. So transportation is a huge barrier. If you live in a rural or remote area, internet access is going to be a problem, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic for people trying to even access online learning. And then for people with disabilities, maybe the learning isn’t delivered in a way that’s accessible. So maybe there aren’t audio files for people to listen to the text rather than books to read, right? So have we done a good job thinking about what the different barriers are to people and kind of adjusting to make it more accessible to them?

Lisa

Angela has listed so many of the very salient ones, but some of the systemic and structural barriers that we don’t talk about enough are actually racism, misogyny and blatant discrimination. And those are things that, you know, we like to think that the barriers are kind of outside of ourselves and outside of our organizations. So it’s not us, it’s “well, day care is hard” or “financial barriers are hard.” It’s all things outside of us. But one of the things that I think is really important for every single company and organization to start doing is to actually turn that flashlight around, to look at, OK, where are the systemic and structural barriers within our own organization and then where are the ones that we present externally for people trying to access our systems?

Angella

For sure. And it can be really simple, right? I have worked in traditionally male industries and sometimes it’s as simple as access to a bathroom, right? You had to walk through the men’s locker room to get to, you know, sort of a makeshift bathroom that was set up. And that’s just not a very welcoming environment, first of all. And if you’re getting teased while you’re doing it, even if you get the job, once you get the job, you’re not likely to stay for very long when that type of environment exists.

Mike

Yeah, I mean, you’ve both touched on some really important barriers, from marginalization and systemic discrimination and racism to practical barriers, and I know you both have a lot of experience first-hand in occupations and sectors that are traditionally male-dominated. One of the barriers I often think about is a cultural barrier. So not just the culture of a specific workplace, but the culture of an entire industry or sector that needs to change. And I wondered if, Lisa, Angella, if you could touch on that, the need for a culture change in industries and sectors.

Lisa

Yeah, that’s definitely one of the things that we see in the trades. As you know, Mike, I’m a Red Seal electrician, and we’ve definitely seen in trades and, you know, and in other industries like tech, we’ve seen the need for cultural changes because the culture itself excludes certain people. And certainly when I moved into the trades, I was shocked at the blatant racism that was allowed at the lunchroom table. So I think you’re right, Mike, looking at that culture is one of the things that we need to change. And in BC, we’re lucky, we’ve partnered with the Ending Violence Association of BC and the BC Lions with their program called Be More Than a Bystander. And we’ve modified it for construction to start addressing those really ingrained systemic issues that we often don’t even talk about. And it’s time that we start not only talking about them, but start doing things to address them.

Mike

We know reducing these barriers and increasing under-represented groups in the labour market is the right thing to do, obviously. But it’s also, I think, the smart thing to do economically when our workplaces and our economies are more diverse and inclusive.

Angella

So we know, first of all, that workplaces that are more inclusive tend to do better, because the employers are getting insights from the different types of employees that they work with that enable them to meet the needs of their clients better. Right? So they tend to become more successful because they’re thinking about things that just wouldn’t necessarily occur to them otherwise, because it never comes up in their life. Like if you never use a wheelchair, you might not notice how hard it would be to get into your building, than if you do, right? So you may be excluding clients because you haven’t thought about the different things, the different barriers that your clients might be experiencing. And so that’s true. But it’s also true that when we all do better… There’s lots of people with disabilities who don’t get enough work; and so there’s a whole category of people that exist that feel excluded from society, that are essentially, you know, in a lot of ways excluded from society. Or people that are racialized or new immigrants or Indigenous people or women. And so that creates social problems as well as economic problems. And that type of poverty and exclusion is transmitted to the next generation. So in Canada, we’re seeing a huge, huge change, a huge shift where intergenerational transmission of equality is getting worse. And so we want to break that barrier. We want to grow to be more equal, because we’re more prosperous when we all have that opportunity. And types of interventions like this are one of the key ways that we can do that.

Lisa

And didn’t COVID just highlight what you’re talking about, Angella? Like we saw that people in the positions that paid the most had the least disruption to their wages, where the lowest-paid people tended to lose the most wages and were also at the most risk when they did go to work.

Angella

Exactly. And they had the fewest labour protections. So they were least likely to have paid sick leave. They were least likely to have medicines or health benefits through their work. And so what we really see—and this translates to training as well. So the people with the highest wages and the most education and the best jobs also tend to pick up most of the training benefits that are out there as well. And so we really have to think about structuring it in a way that isn’t just helping me as a high-wage office worker take some extra French classes. Right? We need to think about it in a way as how do we break down these systemic barriers and use it to help people get out of these jobs. They’re not paid fair wages. They don’t have reliable scheduling. They don’t have the benefits that we have. And so we both need to recognize, I think, that those workers should be better paid, should have more protections, but also they should have access to opportunities to get even better jobs if they want that.

Mike

I think this is a broader conversation about the common good that governments need to take into account. The governments have a natural responsibility to take care of. I’ve worked with, you know, many adults who just didn’t have the level of literacy and essential skills they needed to get any job. But once they had those skills and they got the job, it became fulfilling in the sense that they went to work and were productive. But what they talk more about is how they became more active and engaged as citizens in their workplaces and communities and in their family life as well, being able to read to their grandchildren, etc. So I just wanted to make that point, that what we’re doing and what government has a larger responsibility and role around is this common good around skills development and everyone and in particular under-represented groups.

Lisa

Well, and I’m glad you brought up skills development, and, you know, you talked about one specific aspect, but skills development across the board is one of the things that I remain passionate about, because when we talk about under-represented groups in certain sectors, I think it’s essential. Like even if we look in hospitals, the lowest-paid jobs are filled by racialized people and the highest-paid jobs are filled by, you know, generally white men. And how are we going to address that? Well, one of the simple ways to address that is just to start by making those soft skills, which all employers across the board say are so important, make those soft skills more available. And things like public speaking courses aren’t challenging to put on and aren’t costly to put on, but have a huge impact on people’s career choices and abilities. So I agree, Mike. When we talk about skills training, it goes across the board from starting with literacy on up to the softer skills of managing people or public speaking or those types of skills which should be made more available and more financially feasible for under-represented groups to attend.

Angella

Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of stigma around this. So, I grew up in a rural area where lots of people kind of had to quit school early in order to work to, like, take care of the family farm or take care of a relative that was ill. And so that really affected their confidence. And I think if we talk about it differently, how we can all benefit from continuous personal development and that this is something that affects all of your life, not just your job or your employer, that it will have more of a positive spin on it.

Lisa

Yeah, and with those soft skills, in BC, one of the things that we did for tradeswomen is we provided those soft skills. We call it leadership training. And so calling it leadership training made it more accessible and more, you know—people were more willing to sign up for it. And when we started the training, there was only one trade union in BC that had a tradeswoman working at the union. And today, almost every union in BC has a tradeswoman working for them. And all of those tradeswomen are women who have gone through one of the leadership courses that we put on. And to see these women move up into leadership positions. The one union that did have a tradeswoman working for them, oddly enough, has the highest percentage of tradeswomen probably actually in North America at this point. But what we see is, as under-represented groups move into leadership, under-represented groups increase in those workplaces or in those organizations or unions. And so it’s so important that we provide those lifelong skills and not just the entry skills.

Mike

Yeah, I think that’s really important and it brings me to another question I had, and that is something we’ve been touching on a little bit already, but that is what are the solutions that are needed to address some of the barriers we’ve talked about? And I’m going to limit all of us to just one solution. So think for 10 seconds what you think might be the best solution. If you had a magic wand and could wave it today and get one solution.

Angella

Oh, that’s interesting. I’m going to say free post-secondary education. I know there are lots and lots of people that are able to take out student loans, and then it takes them years and years and years to repay them. But tuition is getting even more expensive. And for, especially, I think, for under-represented groups where there are other barriers, like maybe their family had never worked in that industry before. And so they don’t really have the confidence that it’s going to work out, or they don’t know how the industry works to be able to be sure that they’re going to get a job. To take on a bunch of debt to then, you know, kind of take a chance at the industry, I think is a huge barrier. And I think that it also limits—people tend to then focus on these micro credentials because they’re like, OK, I can spend a little bit less money, get something that’s more sure. I know that there’s a job there. Rather than getting the broad skill set that they need, spending the time to get the whole four-year carpentry or electrician or whatever it is that you’re doing, that then also gives you the broad skill set that you will need to transition as the workforce changes and as the workplaces change. And so that, I think, is something that we need to be thinking about as well, both through just transition and climate change, but also automation. And as what we need in our society changes, we’re going to need a lot more, for example, personal support workers. We need a lot more educational assistants. And those are very important jobs. And we need to make sure that there’s lots of people out there that have the skills to do those jobs. And one way we can do that is by making the tuition free.

Mike

I love it. Great suggestion.

Lisa

Great idea. So mine is actually, goes back to one of the first things that we started with. One of the first recommendations with the report really is about data. So there is currently a lot of government funding available for a wide variety of projects and programs, which is great. One of the things that the Government of Canada looked at was boards, for instance, and looking at making sure that boards were representative. Because we know right now in Canada, only about 18% of women—of board positions are taken by women, and that needs to change. So if we have a company putting in a proposal for the Future Skills Centre or for UTIP money, let’s look at the board. And if the proposal is around under-represented groups, but the board is all white men, is that really the group that we want to be giving the money to?

Mike

Yeah, that’s a good question, and that actually leads to what my solution on offer is today, and that is, I think, we as a country need to do a much better job of income support for people when they do want to pursue skills development. So that question about who’s going to pay for it. You know, a lot of people are enthusiastic about upgrading skills and training, but they just can’t afford to do it, you know, as both you and Angella have described. And then when it comes to under-represented groups, we know they’re disproportionately amongst lower-income occupations and sectors. We need to remove financial barriers up front, like Angella was describing in terms of free tuition. I’m sure you’ve both experienced that, where you’ve met people who would love to take more skills upgrading but just can’t afford to.

Lisa

So one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years, there used to be a lot of the soft skill type programs available through school districts at night. And largely in BC those have been cut to the point where they don’t exist anymore. And so you’re right, Mike, especially if cheap, accessible night courses are cut like that, then all that’s available is for people to have to leave their job to do upskilling, which for many people is not a possibility. They can’t take the cut in pay to be able to go to school full-time. So one of the simple solutions to me would be for governments to make sure that they’re helping support and fund those night school courses around school districts across the country again.

Mike

Yeah, I think that’s really important, and one of the things that comes to mind for me is the need for a job-protected leave from your workplace to pursue training. So, you know, if we did more to improve income support and reduce the financial barriers and people had more information about what type of training and skills they should take, I still think there’s this huge barrier we talked about earlier, where people aren’t necessarily confident about going to their employer and saying, hey, I’d like to take a month off work so I can go take a course at the local college, or I’d like to really pursue a three-month course in this or training in this skill. But, if governments, and this is actually in the Future Skills Council report, as a key recommendation, if the federal and provincial governments work together to amend their labour codes, like we’ve done in so many other ways, to provide job-protected leaves for training, I think that would go a long way to increasing uptake so that workers could simply say to their employer, hey, I’m entitled to training and upgrading my skills and I’ll be using my training leave this year. Thank you.

Angella

I think that makes sense. And I think that often employers do recognize that it’s useful for them to have employees who are interested in lifelong learning, and some employers do more work on this than others. But overall, that Canadian ecosystem is not good on this front. Right? When you compare us with other rich countries, we don’t really have that type of culture in Canada for employers to be doing that.

Mike

And I think one of the other ideas that comes to mind for me is sector wide approaches. So, you know, often we hear from employers, well, I don’t want my employees to upgrade their skills. They’ll just get poached by another employer and I’ll lose them. So why would I invest in that? Why would I let them do that when they just leave for someone else? But we’ve seen examples in some specific sectors: for instance, the hospitality and hotel industry in Toronto has come together as an entire sector to address the labour needs for that whole sector in an entire geographical region of Toronto.

Lisa

And often, you know, I hear people talk about other models of apprenticeship, like the German model. So built into the German model is that corporations actually pay for the training. It’s not up to government, it’s not up to individuals. The company pays for it. And as soon as you talk about that kind of corporate responsibility, a lot of people start to back off of talking about really successful models like the German model. And I do think culturally it’s one of the things that we need to build into our system more in Canada is more corporate and cultural company responsibility for training. Asking to let people go, I think, is the absolute minimum that we could ask for.

Angella

Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. And Mike, both of your solutions there, the paid leave and the sector approach, overcome this problem, because it’s something that economists call a many actor problem. Right? If you’re the only one in a sector doing the right thing, you’re bearing the whole cost of doing it. But other people are actually free riding on you, and they’re getting some of the benefit.

Mike

Yeah, and Lisa talked about the German model, but there’s actually a model right here in Canada that’s very similar, and that is in Quebec. Quebec, by law, has an employer mandatory contribution to training. So if you have a payroll over a certain threshold, you’re expected to invest, whatever it is, 1% or 2% of your revenue back into training for your employees. And if you don’t, then you have to contribute that same amount financially into a central pool, which is governed by labour market stakeholders who decide what types of training should be available and who can access it. So it’s kind of a pay or play model, which exists in one province in Canada and is worth looking at for other provinces as well, I think. And then, of course, as Lisa had alluded to, unions, almost no matter what industry or sector, public, private, construction, industrial, have negotiated employer contributions to training. And in many cases, unions now are running very impressive first-class training centres, and they are recruiting under-represented people to these union training centres. And these training centres are tied directly to what employers are demanding as needs in the current labour market.

Lisa

Yeah, and the great thing about that model, really, is that it’s not—the training centres aren’t union-run and they’re not employer-run. They’re made up of committees of the employers and the union sitting together, figuring out what’s best for training for their sector. And so both are contributing. And it really is a wonderful model.

Mike

Yeah, and I think, yeah, just—it highlights that we do need much broader comprehensive approaches and models to address these challenges. And also, I think what you described Lisa is important in terms of no single stakeholder on their own can solve these problems, that much like the Future Skills Council, we need to bring stakeholders together for more dialogue, more collaboration, more partnerships. It’s not helpful if there’s a focus on only the education sector or only employers, for instance. We need everyone to come together and row in the same direction, as the saying goes. And we need that happening more and more on a geographical basis and on a sectoral level, I think, as well. Any last thoughts, any last things you wanted to add, Lisa and Angela, to today’s theme?

Lisa

I think one of the most important things for me, Mike, around this topic, really, is that—around equality of opportunity for lifelong learning, as we identified at the council over and over and over, this is not government’s responsibility. It’s also not just the individual’s responsibility. It is unions, corporations, companies, government, individuals, workers, everyone working together to make sure that there is equality and that we are focused on lifelong learning so that no one is left out in the dark. And honestly, I felt so hopeful listening to the federal budget when they mentioned so many of the issues of under-represented groups. It really did address many of the things that we had talked about in the report. But the budget, you know, made me feel very grateful that it felt like the report and our recommendations were listened to.

Mike

And I appreciate that as well, and it’s nice to end our conversation today on a note of optimism and a plea for even more action from stakeholders in this area. So I just want to say thanks to both Lisa and Angella for this amazing conversation today. It’s been great chatting with both of you about under-represented groups, marginalized people, employed workers who also need to upgrade their skills. And to all the listeners out there, we say bye for now. But please, let’s keep this conversation going.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on equality of opportunity for lifelong learning, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 28.9 MB) Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning

Episode 5: Skills development to support Indigenous self-determination

Kerry Smith, Senior Director of the Manitoba Métis Federation and Future Skills Council member, talks with Marisa Bennett Caplette, Manager of the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program, and Lucy Kuptana, Director of Operations, Culture and Communications of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, about how self-determination is the key to successful skills development, learning and employment for Indigenous people.

Duration: 25:33 minutes

Transcript of Skills development to support Indigenous self-determination

Kerry Smith

Working with all the priorities of the community, right, whether it’s the housing or economic development, health care, all of employment and training, you know, all fits within all of those priorities. But having that ability to decide, you know, how you have those priorities work together is true self-determination.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Hello, and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. For years, technological advancements, climate change and new business models have been transforming workplaces all over the world. The pandemic has simply accelerated those changes. Employers, workers and job seekers are evolving and embracing the extraordinary opportunities that are redefining the future of Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Kerry Smith, a Future Skills Council member; Marisa Bennett [Caplette], Manager of the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program; and Lucy Kuptana, Director of Operations, Culture and Communications for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. Together, they discuss how key actions rooted in reconciliation, and respect for treaty rights, and traditional knowledge will help create a new environment for skills development, learning and employment for all Indigenous peoples — a key part in building a learning nation.

Kerry Smith

Hello, my name is Kerry Smith, and I’m a member of the Future Skills Council, and I’m also the senior director for Metis Employment and Training with the Manitoba Metis Federation. I’m very fortunate to have worked for the Métis government in Manitoba for over 20 years, and specifically in the area of employment and training. Today, I’m happy to be joined by Marisa Bennett [Caplette] and Lucy Kuptana to talk about Priority 3 of the Future Skills Council report, which is focused on the skills development to support Indigenous self-determination. Welcome, Marisa and Lucy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. Marisa?

Marisa Bennett Caplette

Thank you so much, Kerry. My name is Marisa Bennett [Caplette], and I am the manager of the Nuu-chah-nulth Employment and Training Program, which is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth’s Tribal Council that resides on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We currently manage the ISET [Indigenous Skills and Employment Training] agreement for the Nuu-chah-nulth people, and I’m very happy to be here. Thank you.

Lucy Kuptana

Hi, good morning. It’s Lucy Kuptana here in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. I’m the Director of Operations, Communications and Culture here at the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which is the local ISET holder for Inuvialuit residing in the settlement region. We are situated in Canada’s Western Arctic. We live in the region, Inuvik, Aklavik, Ulukhaktok, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk. So we manage the ISET agreement again for Inuvialuit residing here. And we also work with our urban Inuvialuit on a day-to-day basis.

Kerry Smith

Well, we’ve got 3 ISET agreement holders here. I think it’ll be an exciting conversation. Before we get into some of the ISET stuff and the plan—the whole Future Skills, A Learning Nation report that we had drafted—let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening right now. So since the pandemic hit, we’ve all seen our families and our communities really get hurt.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

I think, you know, looking at what the pandemic has done, is the systematic and structural barriers have all—unfortunately—have always been here. And what the pandemic really did is it really magnified these inequalities and social and health and unemployment needs and really brought that to the surface of what we’re experiencing right now. And I know with the Nuu-chah-nulth nations, we have 14 nations and 80% of our nations are only accessible by logging road, boat or plane. And so being able to access those services during the pandemic has really limited when there’s been voluntary lockdowns with nations to try and protect their elders and their children, and community curfews, and enforced security. And so these things have really been highlighted and magnified.

Lucy Kuptana

Indigenous people in general are ones that visit, have a big social circle and talk to everyone and anyone. So the pandemic has caused people to separate and divide themselves and, you know, keep really close just to their, their small circle. And it’s been really hard on them mentally as well because they’re having to not have these social interactions that they generally do. Especially when you’re told to isolate in place and you’re living in a remote community on the Arctic island, like, it’s tough going because the community is their family. So that’s a difficult part of it.

Kerry Smith

Our youth have really taken, you know, a hit, but also a lead. I know that for the Métis, I’ve been really impressed at, you know, taking the lead and trying to promote staying at home. And even though that is so hard on them mentally to be separated from their friends, going to school remotely. I know that for our post-secondary students, trying to go to school remotely has been a huge challenge just because there isn’t the broadband that they need to participate.

Lucy Kuptana

We have some major issues with Internet, and we’re really challenged with distance learning, which we really want to expand and offer. But it’s a real challenge to deliver that.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

And what I’ve noticed during the pandemic is, it’s really highlighted the lack of, not only Internet, but access to laptops and also computer literacy. So there’s now this really need because we are now moving into this very technology world, and we need to be able to provide that training and get our computer literacy up for our community members, and be able to access affordable laptops.

Kerry Smith

The changes that are happening right now with technology are happening so quickly, and if our, you know, if our youth are not brought into the same level and opportunity and information that the rest of Canadians, they’re going to be further behind, moving ahead.

I think one thing we’ve noticed is that in some cases, the remote learning or, traditionally, we weren’t supporting correspondence programs. One, because our agreement required you to be a full-time student, but also because we felt that correspondence programs caused additional barriers to some of our students. But we are actually changing our way of thinking. There are certain programs that are only available through correspondence and in some cases our students are doing OK. So, you know, it’s also opening up our eyes to the fact that maybe some of our students do not need to relocate to go to school. Maybe we can work with them to put in additional supports for them so that when they can be successful doing it through correspondence at home. Just a totally different way of considering training some of our people.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

I’m a huge advocate for bringing training into community, be it post-secondary level, trades level, even life skills and actually building it within the community. And yes, it’s going to be three or 4 times more expensive than attending the local university that may be 5 hours away, but then you have, you’re building that community. You’re not just changing the lives of those students that are in the program. You’re changing everyone in that community, because they have their support systems, they have the wraparound supports, and there is more chance of success for fulfilling the program, getting their ticket, getting their level 1 of carpentry. It’s just, you know, we need to really start advocating to bring our major programs back into community with the support of the elders, with the support of the nation, with the support of the families.

Lucy Kuptana

Yeah, and that’s something we’ve advocated for, that especially with the different levels of government and different education institutions in the North, is we found that many times we’d have training opportunities or we’d have to build up the skill set of somebody that’s in a community finance position, for example. You know, they have to leave. They have to go for 2 months at a time to a southern location, leave their family behind. And many of these are working mothers with children. So what we did a few years ago, we came up with a program where we bring the instructor and the training supplies into the community rather than the people travelling outside the community. So more people could participate. And you didn’t necessarily have to be working at the time to participate if you wanted to build up your skill set for future opportunities. That’s what we did, is we brought that instructor in rather than the families travelling out and leaving their support unit behind, worrying about what their children are doing that evening or if they’re doing their homework or, you know, getting proper meals and in place—all of those, you know, things that parents tend to worry about.

Kerry Smith

I love that, too. I love that structure. I think it’s more supportive. It’s a good way for us to work with some of the training institutions and colleges/universities, to better understand our communities and our people and so that we can make sure that the programs are tailored to be supportive and they’re not just off-the-shelf.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

And I believe this really comes and moves actually away from co-development of our programs with universities and, whereas Indigenous people in Canada, we are leading and designing and developing our own programs that are rooted in the foundations of our being. And that’s really how we’re going to have success with skills training in community is it’s the Indigenous people leading it, designing it, developing it.

Kerry Smith

Yes. And that’s speaking to that self-determination, much broader than just the employment and training portion of it. But I think what you’re speaking to, and I’m a big fan of, is giving, you know, the tools, the supports, everything that the Indigenous people need to create that path and to develop it as they see fit. That’s where true success comes from.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

By having first Indigenous people lead and design and develop these programs in community, it has a greater impact on the full community. If you, for instance, bring a carpentry level 1 program into a remote community, it then, that benefit expands 10 times. Not only do you have people educated and trained and working full time, but now those people are now working on the housing shortage issues of the community. They are doing renovations on houses that may have multiple families in there. And so it really expands the benefit.

Lucy Kuptana

I think about what the work that we did a few years ago, we had a report developed. It was called Economics of an Inuvialuit Household. So we had somebody go in and study each community and how that community lived, what jobs were available, how people survived on a day-to-day basis, what was their economic base? Did they hunt for subsistence country food harvesting? Did they rely on any federal or territorial supports? And in the report, it really highlighted that there was 21 professional jobs available, including teachers and nurses and RCMP and the local hamlet administrator, and the heavy equipment operator. So all of these professional positions that needed some education and experience behind them, that certification behind them, to really good jobs with health benefits and pension benefits and a good salary. And, you know, we were thinking at the time, just imagine if that was 21 in Inuvialuit from that community having all of those jobs. Just imagine the economic base of that community. All those people live there and die there, you know? And they keep that economic base within the community and the cycle continues. And that’s the vision for each community, is that, if all of these professional positions are filled by local people, wouldn’t that be an amazing sight to see for every Indigenous community throughout Canada?

Kerry Smith

Well, you know, the Métis, you know, just recently since, I guess 2018, that there was an accord signed, but brought early learning child care funding to the Métis people. And this is allowing us to build our own day cares, which, of course, we are benefiting from those jobs, just as Marisa was talking about. You know, having the trades people involved and labourers and, of course, Métis contractors that can take on pieces of those jobs. At the same time, we are developing our own early learning child care curriculum to be shared and delivered within our day cares. We’re training ECE workers so that we have our own directors and staff to fill these day cares to take care of our children. And this is just a dream coming true, you know, to be able to send your children to day care that supports your culture, your beliefs, you know, and really embraces them at a young age, is so exciting for us, and all the spinoffs that come from that one agreement and that ability to make the decisions ourselves.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

Absolutely. Those positions that we have within our communities, having those be filled by Indigenous people. But how do we support those other community members? There’s only 21 jobs and maybe it’s a community of 250. So how do we support everyone in that community? And I really push for supporting the Indigenous economies that are happening within that community. And so it may not fit to the labour market. It may not. And because I find that the labour market doesn’t necessarily fit within a remote nation; it’s not the same jobs available. So how do we support those people? We provide FOODSAFE and maybe catering training so that when there are meetings in town or workshops or things, that those people can cater those lunches and a way to bring money into their household. So it’s also supporting those—how do we support those other community members?

Kerry Smith

I am happy to see a much, an agreement for Indigenous people like the ISET agreement that does allow a lot more freedom and flexibility in the way that we design our programs and deliver them. But we still have some room to, you know, for negotiation there. We’re still being looked at like a service delivery. And for that, it does hold us back just a little bit. To experience that true self-determination we need to be able to decide for ourselves, in a moment that, you know what, this is the best plan for this group of people in this community. This is the best, you know, supports that we need to provide for our people to be successful. Just recently, we were able to—for the Métis, of course, supports being a little bit different—we were able to build in supports for our students, like health supports. And having the ability to build more wraparound services for our clients, whether it’s child care supports or health benefits or, you know, additional travel dollars to get there or, you know, a hotel to stay in because you’re only going to be there for a few days. Those are, those are the supports that we know our clients need. And we need to have complete and total freedom to provide that to them. So I do appreciate the advancements that this strategy has made.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

You know, in order to have success and skills and employment training, we need the ability to listen to our communities, to listen to our clients, and then move forward and develop from there.

Lucy Kuptana

Yeah, I agree too. We meet with communities every couple of years, and we have this big forum, and we go through a strategic plan, and what are their priorities? And they will talk about their needs of each community and what they see with education, with training, with health, with infrastructure, with language, with culture. It’s them providing us with their priorities. And that’s really important, is that we hear that and then we build on that and then we try to make that happen as best we can.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

Absolutely, it’s about being able to provide the services while being in the community. So actually going within the communities, listening, talking, discussing, doing the engagement, like Lucy had talked, and really building from the community up and how we can make our services work for them.

Lucy Kuptana

I think we look at our education system as well, because we find that we continue to repeat these mistakes of our system where a number of people are failing in the education system. We have low literacy levels and low levels in mathematics. And, why is this happening? And why are children not attending school? We continue to work within the system that was never meant to be in and to work for Indigenous people. It was meant for other societies and other countries. And the system is just—it’s proven time and time again over the last 40 years that it doesn’t work for Indigenous people.

Kerry Smith

And I agree wholeheartedly. I think it’s, you know, that goes right back to creating those training programs within our communities, because then we can tailor them to fit within our lifestyles, and our schedules, and our learning habits and our behaviours. So, yeah, I love that a lot. I mean, there’s programs that we’ve created, you know, that really, you know, have a mixture of classroom time and time out doing other activities that help you grow as a human being and as a, you know, and as a contributor to your family and to your community. Creating programs that are uniquely designed by us, for us, are definitely going to be more successful.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

Especially when it’s rooted in who we are as a people. So each of our programs are always going to be rooted in Nuu-chah-nulth ways of being. It’s not just about getting a certificate. It’s about that experience. And having elders present within the classroom, our respected people from the community sharing their experiences. It’s about starting each day with, in prayer, acknowledging the lands that you are on and also participating in some sort of cultural experience in the classroom.

Kerry Smith

Working with all the priorities of the community, right, whether it’s the housing or economic development, health care, you know, all of employment and training, all fits within all of those priorities. But having that ability to decide, you know, how you have those priorities work together is true self-determination.

Lucy Kuptana

You know, something else that we are looking at, too, is increasing our mentorships and internships within our own organization and with community organizations so that people coming into jobs and roles, once they’ve completed some education and training or some post-secondary pursuits, come into the organization and work as interns or be mentored on a day-to-day basis. So they could also build up their self-confidence and the knowledge base within that role in each of our different institutions, within our community, in our region.

Kerry Smith

Yes, we are big on that as well. And since last summer, when COVID hit and it really had an impact on employment, we pushed the summer employment for our students. And we found that some of the best opportunities were within our own government. And I think that internships and job opportunities, targeted wages, are all great ways of getting your community the skills that they need and the knowledge of how your leadership and government works.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

It really supports that power of shared experiences, which I think is so vital in employment and training when you have mentorship programs or internship programs. They’re very, very rooted in, in being Indigenous mentorship programs. You know, within Nuu-chah-nulth, the structure, governance structure, it was mentorship right from the moment you were born to lead you into that role. So it is just further supporting our values of being Nuu-chah-nulth people, especially peer programs in mentorship, really stop those students or learners or community members falling through the cracks.

Kerry Smith

I think that’s why it’s so important to build that cultural aspect into all of our programming, you know, and make sure that no matter how old you are, that you’re proud of who you are and the culture that you come from. And, you know, it really does instill a lot of confidence that just can’t be created any other way. So by building that culture into the, you know, the training programs, really makes it unique and way more supportive for our people.

Well, thank you, Marisa and Lucy, for joining me today. This has been great chatting with you.

Lucy Kuptana

No, thank you. I’m really happy to be, to participate in this conversation.

Marisa Bennett Caplette

Yeah, thank you so much for including me in this conversation. And it’s just great to learn what’s happening across Canada with Métis and Inuit and First Nations, and also how we’re all supporting and building the road that encompasses Indigenous ways of being in employment and training.

Jamie Nordstrand (host)

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on skills development to support Indigenous self-determination, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 23.4 MB) Skills development to support Indigenous self-determination

Episode 6: New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation

Denise Amyot, Future Skills Council member and President and Chief Executive Officer of Colleges and Institutes Canada, Sherri Bell, President of Camosun College, and Paul de Jong, President of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, discuss how organizations and companies need to work collaboratively with learning and training institutions to ensure that the Canadian workforce has the skills required for jobs of the future.

Duration: 28:13 minutes

Transcript of New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation

With Denise Amyot, Sherri Bell and Paul de Jong

Duration: 28:13 minutes

Sherri Bell:

If we really want to build a learning culture in Canada, we have to implement more flexible, personalized, innovative approaches, where people have choices and options based on the labour market and the needs within the community. The ability to learn anywhere using new technologies is so important right now.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Hello, and welcome to our podcast series on Future Skills. I’m your host, Jamie Nordstrand. For years, technological advancements, climate change and new business models have been transforming workplaces all over the world. The pandemic has simply accelerated those changes. Employers, workers and job seekers are evolving and embracing the extraordinary opportunities that are redefining the future of Canada’s labour force. On today’s podcast, we will hear from Denise Amyot, a Future Skills Council member; Sherri Bell, President of Camosun College; and Paul de Jong, President of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. Together, they discuss new and innovative approaches to skills development and validation—a key part in building a learning nation.

Denise Amyot:

Hi, my name is Denise Amyot. I am a member of the Future Skills Council and President and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, often referred as CICan. I have spent most of my career in education and in the federal government in fields related to skills and talent. I’ve been at the head of CICan for eight years now. So in today’s episode, I’m pleased to be speaking with Sherri Bell and Paul de Jong. We will be discussing new and innovative approaches to skills development and talk about its validation. So welcome, Sherri and Paul.

Sherri Bell:

Hello, Denise.

Paul de Jong:

Hello, Denise. It’s great to be here.

Denise Amyot:

Great to have the two of you. So please tell us a little bit about yourselves, and your role and experience in skills development.

Sherri Bell:

I’m Sherri Bell. I’m president of Camosun College in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, on the traditional territory of Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ people. I have spent my entire career in education, both in K–12 as a teacher and a leader, and in post-secondary. And my passion for skills started a long time ago; my father was a carpenter. And I’ve been very interested in ensuring that students have the right skills so that they can embrace their passion and go on with very successful careers.

Denise Amyot:

OK, great. And what about you, Paul?

Paul de Jong:

Yeah, my name is Paul de Jong. I’m the President of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. We’re a national employer association representing about 120 of Canada’s largest general and trade contractors all the way down to medium- and small-sized companies. And our objective is to advocate for labour laws, and apprenticeship regulations and procurement laws, which provide for fairness and the growth of the industry and competition.

I’ve been in this industry for 30 years now. I began my career, I guess, before I began my career, I was in university—a tradesperson. I worked doing concrete forming, and landscape construction and home renovations. And I’ve always been very pleased that I picked up those skills, even though I moved on to other professional parts of my occupation. In later years, I worked for a union, which brought me into an obvious interaction with the workforce in advocating on their behalf for conditions that not only provided for safety, but for the ability for them to advance in their, in their skills.

And more recently, for the last 10 years, working for the employer association. One of the top priorities that my board of directors and my members have placed in front of me is to increase the—not just the size, but perhaps even more importantly, the capability and productivity of the workforce. That they have, that it is, it is growing, but it is also growing in skill and capability to meet the needs and the changing needs of the marketplace.

Denise Amyot:

Wow, two great backgrounds. So, Sherri, the Future Skills report prioritizes the importance of new and innovative approaches to skills development. Why do you think this is a priority from where you are as the President of Camosun College?

Sherri Bell:

Thanks, Denise. I mean, you mentioned it, that there’s a changing labour market and the skills that are necessary are changing very rapidly. And learning is lifelong. It’s no longer that we learn skills in our twenties and they’re locked in for the rest of our lives. If we really want to build a learning culture in Canada, we have to implement more flexible, personalized, innovative approaches where people have choices and options based on the labour market and the needs within the community.

The ability to learn anywhere using new technologies is so important right now. And I know as we continue our conversation, we’re going to be able to give you examples of some of the things that both Paul and I are doing. But it’s, it is the right time. When you look at jobs today, people change jobs a lot more than they certainly did when we were younger. And going to university and sticking to one career has also changed. I see a lot of students at Camosun that go to university, get a degree and then come back to post-secondary, to a college, to be trained for a specific job. So things have changed and we have to adapt and be flexible with them.

Denise Amyot:

Absolutely, and I like what you’ve said, Sherri, when you talk about choices and options. So Paul, when we talk about skills development, what would you say is the role of employers?

Paul de Jong:

I think in some ways the obvious thought pattern, when someone says the word skill development, you begin to think of the worker. And that’s not inappropriate because it is the worker, after all, who is going to pursue those skills over time. But what’s critical is the role of the employer, because it’s the employer who has that real-world application. In my world—it’s in the construction industry, building buildings, bridges, structures—where they are the ones who identify the skills that are in demand. And so if that identification of key skills is not made by the employer and connected to the various stakeholders—whether they’re emerging workers or training institutions, government—if that identification of key skills that are in demand are not linked to that broader ecosystem, then you have these mismatches happen.

And so the employers are the one, I think, to define which skills are in high demand. And critically, as we’ll talk about in the remainder of this podcast, how flexibility and innovation can come into the delivery of those skills in a way that not only meets the needs of the employer, but the worker who is obtaining those skills.

Denise Amyot:

Let’s move to some examples then of new and innovative approaches. So, Sherri, I’m sure that you have many examples to share.

Sherri Bell:

Oh, I do. And I think I want to start with one that doesn’t require a lot of technology. It’s an example where Camosun College and the Industry Training Authority and the Nuxalk First Nations worked together to develop an innovative on-site four-year carpentry program in Bella Coola, which is a remote community. And the result of four years was that we have 12 students that are working on their Red Seal certification. And the kind of cool thing with this is that we brought the equipment, the people, up to Bella Coola, worked in the community and the carpentry students actually built things that the community wanted. So Paul talked about the skills that industry needs. Well, this was a community need. And so they talk about applied and practical hands-on learning; the students built houses. They built a community centre as part of their program, on their own land. So I think that’s pretty innovative as far as we went to where the need was and worked with a community.

Maybe I’ll give you a couple of other innovative approaches. We’ve just launched a new sonography program—which is ultrasound. And we’ve got a virtual reality program that runs on a browser that was created by some of our interactive media developer students for their colleagues in sonography. And what it does is it gives the students the opportunity to practise with the equipment without actually being in a lab. So they can practise and practise using the equipment. And when they get on the equipment, they feel like they’ve done it. So it’s practice, but it’s also confidence building.

And maybe I’ll just give one other example. It was creating a virtual reality. So students could put the glasses on and be in the operating room at the Victoria hospitals. So they were in the room, seeing the setup, seeing what was there, and it built confidence so that when the nursing students actually walked into that room, they’d been there before. So there’s lots of really great examples of how we use technology as a tool for practice, for confidence and for, you know, just building those skills the students need.

Denise Amyot:

What I like is that all you have described, how traditional training, in fact, has shifted by using new technologies. So I ask you, Paul, how can we use new technologies to create new ways for workers to learn?

Paul de Jong:

Yeah, I think there’s clearly—in some ways it’s an explosion, you know, it’s been going on for some time—but the incredible rise of technologies like simulated, you know, work stations, augmented reality, virtual reality fit very well, not just with some of the needs that the workplace had, but also with the aptitude of the new worker, if you will. The younger worker who’s familiar with computers, all of his or her life, or even video games, can adapt very well to simulating machines.

And so one of the themes you’ll hear me refer to frequently is the partnership that we have with our labour partner, which is CLAC. And the reason that we think that’s important is that CLAC has a very obvious—as unions have had for many decades—an emphasis on the training of their members. And we work closely together with them to identify areas that can improve the outcomes. And I’ll give one case: the training centre that our union partner has in B.C. has a classroom with simulators for operating equipment. And so they can, rather than going into the, onto the worksite where there are some legitimate safety concerns and logistical concerns—and particularly in the time of COVID might actually be difficult to deploy—these individuals can book time in a classroom on a simulator to experience a very real approximation of what that machine will eventually do once they’ve accumulated enough skills.

One thing I’ll finally say is I would urge, as we explore these technological developments, to create a balance, because one of the tendencies when these things emerge into the workplace is that they become a focus of their own. They’re so innovative and so exciting and so, you know, sort of magnetic that it tends to become the object in and of itself. And we always want to stress that these technologies are not meant to live on their own, but to support the human factor, you know. The workers themselves are the ones in our industry and construction who build things, and they do that, critically, with the benefit of technology. So I always urge that we hold those two considerations—the human and the technology—in a careful balance in our hands.

Sherri Bell:

Oh, I think, Paul, you’re bang on. It’s that balance. The technology that we’re using can give people such wonderful opportunities for practice and experience. But it is definitely a balance. And it made me think, we have a nautical simulator that really does make you feel like you’re on a boat. But you do want someone that has had practice on a boat. It’s not just the simulation.

Denise Amyot:

So let’s talk about workplace learning then. So, Paul, what would you say are the different personalized, maybe, flexible and online training options that allow workers to learn at their own pace and, at the same time, allow employers to balance learning needs with operational needs?

Paul de Jong:

Think about, for example, one of the challenges that construction has faced for many years, where an apprentice will have this critical balance of in-class learning and on-the-tools learning. And that’s an obvious pairing that needs to happen. But the way that that was scheduled in the past was so disruptive, both for the individual and the employer. The apprentice would have to leave the workplace for a number of months and go to school, thereby potentially having some interruption of income. And then, conversely, having to go to the job site and maybe that job site’s remote. And so they’d have to pay for two, you know, residences or that sort of thing. And so that kind of detached, if you will, approach has been resolved by some of the, not just technological developments, but reimagining how training happens. If you can do an online course or at least part of the course online, you can now do this at night, in camp, on your computer or on the weekends. You can, you can do these things between your shift cycles. If you’re on a two-week shift and you have seven days off, you can take some of that stuff online during your shift turnaround. And so these things have made a tremendous difference for apprentices who are trying to stick with it. As you may know, the apprenticeship rate across Canada is challenging in the first couple of years. There’s a lot of drop-offs. There’s a lot of reasons why those drop-offs occur. But one of them is because of that dislocation between work time and school time. And if you can lessen that challenge for the pupil and for the employer, it creates better outcomes.

Denise Amyot:

So if I asked you, Paul, how does short-term training benefit workers and employers? And why should we promote micro-credentials?

Paul de Jong:

Yeah, this is really kind of the heartbeat for me, because one of the things that we’ve observed as an employer association with our members and with our union partner is an unfortunate by-product of a worthy thing, which has to do with credentialing. The construction industry and other related industries like manufacturing and health care have an appropriate desire to profile the work of those skilled workers as legitimate in our society. The idea that a boilermaker, or a nurse or a chef has as much value to our society as a lawyer or a doctor is very important. However, if you only focus on the credential, you miss a valuable opportunity, which is the fact that in—again in the construction trades—many of the skills that you learn are closely related to credentials that are adjacent. I’ll give you an example. In the boilermaker trade, there are about 25 sub–, I’m going to call them “micro-credentials,” which are very similar not just for the boilermaker trade, but for trades that are analogous, like welder, pipefitter, fabricator, millwright, ironworker. And the old system that we have says that you have to get a boilermaker’s ticket or an ironworker’s ticket or a fabricator’s ticket. The new way of learning should be that you have a sense of the cluster of micro-credentials that will form a basis for you to perform work that are relevant in a variety of areas. So that a fabricator can perform many of the duties—perhaps not all—of a boilermaker, or that an ironworker can perform many of the duties of a pipefitter. This is very important because it gives employees or workers who are developing skills a whole new lease on life, because now instead of pursuing one path, they can pursue multiple paths, which makes them more valuable to the marketplace. The employer gets more, you know, results from that worker, and it’s just better all around. It’s a much more dynamic approach than having a bit more of a silo approach.

Denise Amyot:

So, Sherri, how does those micro-credentials help employees and employers? What do you see from Camosun College? And, what needs to be done?

Sherri Bell:

Looking at micro-credentials and how it fits for our local community, we started with looking at the pandemic again and where was the huge need. And there were three institutions that collaborated together with creating a micro-credential that may not be necessary in a few years from now, but it’s necessary now. And that was the building maintenance worker. So that was looking at how people take care of buildings during a pandemic. So it was flexible, and on-the-spot and may have a shelf life. At the same time, we were hearing from our construction partners that clean energy and efficient buildings is where they’re going, it’s also where the provincial government is going. So we created Clean Energy and Efficient Buildings, two different, stackable micro-credentials. So there’s a number of micro-credentials under Clean Energy, under Efficient Buildings, that have a flexible way of delivery. And then here’s the one that I know that when we launch it in September will be really popular, and that’s electric vehicle maintenance. And again, it’s what industry is saying: that we don’t have people trained on how to work on an electric vehicle. So we’ve put together a micro-credential for people that are already Red Seal mechanics to obtain. So it’s very connected with industry and current needs. But I think that the challenge still lies in: What is the credential worth if people don’t understand? And I think that’s where our framework with CICan can help.

Denise Amyot:

So, Sherri, in our report, we’ve indicated that experiential learning on the job will, in fact, be a much more significant element of many training modules as Canada becomes a learning nation. So what would you say are the challenges and opportunities?

Sherri Bell:

Oh, I think that the challenges, of course, the challenges are different if you’re an urban centre or a rural centre. You know, I talk to colleagues in northern British Columbia and they have more challenges because there’s not the kind of industry and businesses that are available for students to get experiential learning or work-integrated learning, co-ops, internships, apprenticeships. It’s much more difficult in a rural area. But in an urban area, for us I guess the biggest challenge is to continue to have access to businesses and employers that see the value and want our students. One of the things that I notice—I sit on the Chamber of Commerce—and those employers that know us love to have our students, and they’re always wanting more. And then there are certain businesses that just think maybe it’s too much work, too much paperwork. And, you know, even though there are provincial and federal grants and opportunities to have the students’ portion of their salaries paid for, they’re still hesitant. So I think for us, that’s always the challenge, is making sure we have enough employers that want our interns, co-op and apprenticeship students.

Opportunities, oh, I think this is a great time for many opportunities. You know, from a student’s perspective, they come to us because they want those opportunities to embed what they’re learning in their work and be able to do a co-op or other work-integrated learning because they get jobs. So, you know, you go to a business and they like what you do and they hire you when you graduate. Those stories we hear all of the time. And we’ve actually launched a program where we’re having students reflect on not only their classwork, but their experience through their co-ops and also project work where they are able to articulate those specific competencies and give examples. Because when you go for a job interview, that’s what people want to know is, “All right, give me an example of where you’ve shown that you can collaborate and think creatively with a group.” And so if you don’t practise talking about those skills and understand that you’re, what you’re acquiring, you’re not able to do that. So I think it’s got to be embedded. It’s a great opportunity to embed those kinds of competencies into conversations and be part of their learning experience.

Denise Amyot:

So maybe it’s time, Paul and Sherri, to ask you the last question. What is your call to action to ensure that Canada’s workforce continues to adapt and qualify for jobs of the future?

Paul de Jong:

I’ll offer two suggestions, I think. One of them, I think is very important. And it goes back to this concept of being a learning nation, in experiential learning. The concept of mentorship is very important. You know, when you are learning a trade—and this is not just the case for skilled trades, but other occupations as well—there’s always that valuable interaction with a senior, seasoned, experienced individual who can help demystify and demythologize and sort of interpret, explain some of the nuances of the skilled profession. And I think that there’s an obvious benefit to mentorship in and of itself. But the other critical thing is that when you become mentored, you imagine that you yourself may become a mentor in turn. And I think that’s critical, because we have to get better at passing on this knowledge. There’s knowledge that can be passed on, again, technologically and through different courses, but there’s also more nuanced things that are important and part of a mentorship arrangement.

The other thing I would say may sound a little bit lofty, but I think it’s critical because other countries in the world think this way, which is to think of Canada as nation building. That the workers, the companies that they work for, and even the country itself, take pride in building its infrastructure and its health care system, its education system, in that I think that part is already there. But I’ve gone to jurisdictions where the first priority is to build the nation. And the latter priorities are to do other things. And I think that that concept of nation building is something that we should facilitate with our new learners, with employers, with educational institutions, because that matter of, kind of, pride in being peerless in the world is very, very important, and really can—when I talked earlier about the esteem of trades—can really do a boost when you imagine that you’re in an international cohort of people who are doing the same kind of thing.

Sherri Bell:

I think the idea of pride is a really great one, Paul, because we have an amazing system, a public education system, a public university and college system. And I think what we have to do, my call to action would be leadership. To lead in the movement of nation building and the movement of creating skills for the future and lifelong learning. And in order to do that, I think listening is a key part of it. We need to listen to what employers are saying. And we’re doing that, but we need to listen and react. We need to listen and take action. We need to learn, learn from one another.

Denise Amyot:

Paul and Sherri, you have been fabulous guests. Thank you both for your time today. This has been very inspiring. And thank you for sharing those innovative practices that you have shared with us. And thank you for those inspiring words that you just said with respect to the call to action, nation building, leadership, collaborating together. So thank you so much. Merci beaucoup.

Jamie Nordstrand (host):

Let’s Talk Future Skills is a production of Employment and Social Development Canada. All opinions expressed in this podcast are that of the individual and not necessarily that of their employer or ESDC. For more information on Future Skills, or to read the Council’s full report, which includes a more in-depth perspective on new and innovative approaches to skills development and validation, visit Canada.ca/future-skills. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast and click the notification tab so you know when the next one is released. Thank you for listening to Let’s Talk Future Skills.

Download (MP3, 66.2 MB) New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation

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