Federal budget includes measures to encourage modern skills, retraining

Budget offers modern workforce blueprint

OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s federal budget Wednesday spelled out part of the federal government’s policy playbook when it comes to giving future workers cutting-edge skills in response to Canada’s rapidly changing economic landscape.

A big part of the strategy, it seems, is to enlist the help of the provinces and territories to help turn Canada’s workforce into a 21st-century engine of economic growth.

Morneau’s budget, his second since the Liberals were elected in 2015, signals a strategy for a more innovative, tech-fuelled economy to ensure traditional workers don’t get left behind.

It includes $1.8 billion over six years to expand labour market development agreements — arrangements with the provinces and territories that help to finance a range of programs, including skills training.

Last year, during consultations on how to improve the agreements, stakeholders urged the government to make them more flexible and responsive to employers and workers.

The rapid pace of change can seem dizzying at times, Morneau said in the House of Commons after tabling the budget, but Canada can’t lose sight of the fact that it’s people who drive breakthroughs in innovation.

“As we create the jobs of tomorrow, we will support a culture of lifelong learning and skills training to help workers and their families adapt to the changing demands of our time.”

Angella MacEwen, an economist at the Canadian Labour Congress, welcomed the investment Wednesday but said she would like to see how the government plans to measure outcomes.

“If we have a skills gap … do we have the data to tell us whether or not we are actually closing the right skills gaps and investing in the right areas,” she said. “We need to find out what that specific gap is to make sure we are closing it.”

The government is also looking to get students the skills and work experience required to kick-start their careers, Morneau said, as he described efforts to make it more affordable for adults to learn skills and to help the unemployed.

The budget commits $287.2 million over three years for a pilot project designed to test how to make it easier for adults for qualify for Canada student loans and grants.

It also includes $132.4 million over four years, beginning in 2018-19, to allow unemployed Canadians the chance to pursue training while receiving employment insurance so they do not need to fear losing the benefit.

Morneau also said Wednesday the government is looking to assist indigenous people who are among the youngest and fastest growing segments of the population.

The budget includes $90 million over two years for the post-secondary student support program — funding that still falls well short of a 2015 campaign promise to spend $50 million annually on the program, which supports indigenous students.

“I’ve always said there’s no better way to get our people out of poverty than a good education,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in an interview.

“When you’ve got First Nations students on the wait list and they can’t go to university when they’ve been accepted because there’s a lack of resources, that’s not right.”

Anne-Marie Roy, national deputy chair for the Canadian Federation of Students, said her organization wanted to see $50 million earmarked annually as promised during the campaign.

The budget also details plans for a partnership with Indspire, an indigenous-led registered charitable organization that assists First Nations, Inuit and Metis students with financial support to complete their education and contribute to the economy.

It proposes giving the organization $5 million a year for five years if it raises $3 million per year in matching funds from the private sector.

“They’re investing in human capital; that’s why it is important,” Bellegarde said.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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