Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and distinguished members of this committee.
My name is Louis Beauséjour and I am the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Skills and Employment Branch of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. I am joined today by my colleagues, John Atherton and James Sutherland, as well as Janet DiFrancesco, Adam Scott and Shane Williamson from Industry Canada, and Allan Clarke and Sheilagh Murphy from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
On behalf of the department, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak with you today on our skills development activities in support of remote and rural communities.
HRSDC aims to build a stronger and more competitive Canada, to support Canadians in making choices that help them live productive and rewarding lives, and to improve Canadians' quality of life by assisting them with making important transitions. We are responsible for the design and delivery of a large suite of national programs that provide direct benefits to Canadians, such as the National Child Benefit, Employment Insurance, the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, and Canada Student Loans and Grants.
In particular, Budget 2011 announced that the federal government will forgive a portion of the federal component of Canada Student Loans for new family physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses who practise in under-served rural and remote communities.
However, I will confine my remaining remarks to our programs that support skills development and labour market efficiency.
Working with and investing in small and rural communities is an important part of our work. One of the biggest challenges facing government is how to improve economic development in remote communities and to ensure that local residents are able to take advantage of development opportunities when they arise. HRSDC recognizes the importance of ensuring businesses are able to invest in rural and remote communities, and skills development and training are important aspects of fostering such development. We do this by investing in people and focusing on improving the labour market conditions in these communities and across Canada by providing flexibility in program design and delivery options, by working in partnership with interested parties, and by addressing systemic labour market issues.
I will now address each of these in more detail.
First is flexibility. Flexibility is a main theme across our department's programming. While most of our programs are national in scope, they have enough flexibility to be tailored to meet the regional and sectoral needs in different areas. This is evident, for instance, in our national service delivery network through Service Canada, which allows the department to connect with communities and specifically tailor service delivery and program information to client needs.
In Nunavut, for example, where many people have until recently been unaware of many HRSDC programs, Service Canada program officers now travel to rural and remote areas to increase awareness of our social and labour market programs. As a result of this outreach, which is carried out in partnership with community elders, the uptake of programs such as Canada Summer Jobs has increased significantly, from three applications when the program first started, to about 50 applications this year. This outreach has been so successful that Service Canada has been invited to present their approach at the annual Nunavik mayors' conference.
In addition, the Government of Canada has created a labour market architecture that allows provinces and territories to adapt their skills programming to their own jurisdictional priorities. Each year the Government of Canada provides funding, through labour market development and labour market agreements, directly to provinces and territories so they can design, deliver, and manage training and employment supports to Canadian workers best suited to the needs of people in the communities within their own jurisdiction. Provinces and territories are well placed to work with the range of labour market partners to define labour market challenges and develop tailored solutions that are rooted in local realities. By investing over $2.5 billion annually, each year over 600,000 workers across the country receive both training and employment supports.
The department also offers specialized programs that help to ensure vulnerable groups get the support they need to successfully participate in the workforce. For example, the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers provides employment supports to unemployed older workers living in smaller, vulnerable communities affected by high unemployment, downsizing or closures of major industries.
The program primarily targets remote communities highly dependent on traditional industries where alternative employment is limited, relocation difficult and training resources are less easily accessible than in larger centres.
Projects, which are cost-shared with provinces and territories, are usually coordinated by a community-based sponsoring organization, which is able to design them to meet the learning circumstances of participants and link to local employment opportunities.
By working with our provincial and territorial partners, we are ensuring that targeted, responsive programming is being delivered to help people in communities—including rural and remote communities—get the assistance and supports they need to build skills and to ensure sustainability.
We also have a suite of programs that support the development of skills and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people. To guarantee a degree of flexibility, we have taken a similar approach as with our P/T labour market agreements, by devolving responsibility for designing and delivering skills and training programs to our Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) agreement holders. This allows them to meet the needs of their particular client groups.
The second approach is through partnerships. Our programs support aboriginal communities in putting in place the conditions needed for them to take advantage of partnership opportunities with the private sector--for instance, in large resource development projects.
While our colleagues from AANDC are more involved in supporting economic development directly, we support the development of the types of skills needed for such projects. For example, the HRSDC skills and partnership fund recently invested $3.2 million in the Mine Training Society's “More Than a Silver Lining” project in the Northwest Territories. The project will assist 225 aboriginal people from five area communities to access training opportunities and work experience in the mining sector, in addition to helping 70 of them secure employment in the mine.
Through this project, we were able to leverage an additional $1 million from private sector partners and the territorial government. Such partnerships are being replicated elsewhere to support skills development to allow other aboriginal communities to benefit from the opportunities offered by other large-scale economic projects in their areas--for example, in oil and gas projects in B.C., Alberta, and the territories, mining in the territories, and hydroelectric and mining development through Quebec's Plan Nord.
As you may know, the Government of Canada introduced a northern strategy in 2007. HRSDC supports the people dimension of the northern strategy by working in partnership with territorial governments and aboriginal people to improve skills and employment outcomes in the north. For example, through labour market agreements and labour market development agreements, the territories annually receive over $11 million for skills and employment training programs. The territories then work with communities and organizations across the region to determine the best place and the best way to deliver programs.
The final approach is addressing systemic labour market issues. As I mentioned before, ensuring that communities have the skills base to attract investment is vital. The Government of Canada helps to identify systemic solutions to support Canadians and communities across Canada in developing their skills needs. For instance, the Government of Canada recognizes that Canadians wishing to enter and be certified in a trade, many of which come from rural or remote areas, face barriers.
The government has taken steps to support apprentices during their training by providing apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, as well as tax incentives for employers and tool deduction for tradespersons.
In addition, the government supports systematic changes to the way skills development is delivered that would also be beneficial for remote and rural areas. For example, the Skills and Partnership Fund is investing $2.4 million in the Aboriginal Apprenticeship Initiative at Saskatchewan's Gabriel Dumont Institute for Training and Employment. An additional $8 million over three years has been contributed by the Institute, the provincial government, the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship Trade Certification Commission, and private sector apprenticeship employers.
The Institute will train educational counsellors who will coordinate apprenticeships between Aboriginal workers and employers, develop a long-term strategy for apprenticeship programming in the province. These project activities will be delivered province wide via service delivery sites in a number of smaller communities.
Similarly, HRSDC's Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES) is providing project funding to the Mining Industry Human Resources Council to revise and customize the Mining Essentials program to address the needs of Aboriginal participants by providing essential skills and work readiness skills development, taught using culturally relevant examples.
Through this project, key stakeholders—in this case rural Aboriginal communities, mining companies and educators—are partnering to develop a tailored approach that addresses labour market demands and employment targets and aligns literacy, essential skills and work readiness training with industry requirements.
We also work directly to support the human resource needs of particular industries, be it the forestry, the mining, or the agricultural sector.
l'd like to take the opportunity to highlight work with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, which in 2010 led to the creation of a listing of on-farm occupations and associated skill levels that reflect the requirements of the agricultural industries.
We are currently supporting a project that builds on this work by developing a series of career pathways for on-farm occupations, along with their associated credentials and competency profiles. This information will be available as an online interactive resource and will assist employers and potential and existing employees with career progression, including making informed choices on the types of skills and knowledge to acquire.
We are also supporting approaches that seek to overcome one of the key challenges facing these communities: their geographic isolation. My colleagues from Industry Canada have worked diligently on increasing the broadband capacity of rural and remote communities, and we are focusing on helping communities by providing timely information and developing flexible, effective, and cost-efficient tools.
An excellent example is a project funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, though which Simon Fraser University is developing a literacy and essential-skills training program for aboriginal adults living in rural or difficult-to-reach areas. It will be offered through a mix of online interactive e-learning modules and face-to-face tutoring and mentoring. Through the online platform, participants in this project are able to develop the literacy and essential skills required for post-secondary training, which will increase their opportunity to access employment and contribute to their communities.
Another way our department is making use of technology to improve access to the labour market is through the provision of high-quality, up-to-date labour market information. Our Working in Canada website provides occupation- and location-specific labour market information for job seekers, workers, and businesses. It includes occupational and career information such as educational requirements, main duties, wage rates and salaries, current employment trends, and outlooks. It is a key resource for workers and business-owners to match skills with need. This online platform is particularly useful for Canadians in remote communities, where access to such information may previously have been difficult to obtain.
Finally, the government continues to support the efficient functioning of the Canadian labour market so that businesses can find the human resources they require and Canadians can work wherever opportunities exist. By supporting professional associations and by working with provinces and territories to develop nationally agreed-upon competencies, the federal government works to enhance national labour mobility.
Let me conclude, by thanking you again for the opportunity to contribute to your study. As you know, the difficulties facing remote and rural communities are wide-ranging and no order of government or single entity can solve these alone.
We are conscious of the needs of our partners and of the opportunities presented by working closely with them. We work with provinces and territories, Aboriginal communities, educational institutions, and other stakeholders and businesses to address the problems of today.
As I have shown, our programs aim to provide supports tailored to the needs of participants, businesses and the efficient functioning of the labour market and provide the flexibility and mechanisms to deliver supports that are suitable for both urban and rural Canada.