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Evidence of meeting #39 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was construction.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christopher Smillie  Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office
Francis Bradley  Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association
Michelle Branigan  Member, Canadian Electricity Association
Michael Atkinson  President, Canadian Construction Association
Shaun Thorson  Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

May 16th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Based on what you know, should they discover they have a passion for something, is it easy for them to access training in it? I will give you a very simple example. I had an intern less than two years ago who loved handling the computing in connection with a project I was in charge of, but waited three years before enrolling in a technical trade school because it cost $12,000. There was nothing in the private sector allowing for his learning the skill, unless he had the academic background he didn’t have.

Consequently, collectively we lost a young man over a matter of $12,000. He had to wait three years before he could complete his training. Today he is working quite nicely. He makes a salary of approximately $35,000. Had he done this three years before, and had access to training, his productivity would not have been suspended over an amount of $12,000. The young people you focus on, the drop-outs, do they manage to get into places where they can learn a trade? If not, do they have difficulty accessing these resources?

5 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

It is not a primary focus for us. We are looking at programs like that within our provincial-territorial offices to try to address those people who are outside the system.

We are looking at trying to partner with some other organizations that have programs targeted at people who are not within the education system. That would link them to some of our activities and provide that sensory experience to encourage them to pursue some of those careers.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Atkinson, go ahead and make your point.

5 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

Some of our local construction associations run youth employment programs. Some people might call them pre-apprenticeship programs. If my memory is correct the one in Calgary, for example, run by the Calgary Construction Association with employers is for kids who have dropped out or have no other place to turn. It matches them with employers. To the extent that the show some potential, these employers will take them under their wing. They will sponsor them and try to get them back into trade schools to pursue particular trades. Of course, having close proximity to employers right from the get-go is great, because if the young person is successful they will probably have a first employer waiting to take them on when they graduate.

I know this is being used at the local level, not just for kids who dropped out of the system, but also in some northern communities with first nations and aboriginal youth as well.

5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Do I have a few minutes left, Mr. Chair?

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Yes.

5 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Word has it there is a labour shortage. There is another constituency that has somewhat dropped out. These are persons whom we refer to as having weak skill sets. Sometimes they have completely given up and are no longer even qualify for unemployment insurance. Some of them are good manual labourers, but find themselves outside the system. Given the great need for a workforce, wouldn’t it be smart to find a way to reach these people, and to support their transition to a trade?

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

We will conclude with your response.

5:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

Yes, one thing we are looking at is a program targeted around the essential skills, something that would be outside the traditional education system. So for those people outside the system who currently have a low skill level, we can provide some information and some opportunities for them to connect with employers. We can provide some networking opportunities so they can learn and acquire, at the basic level, some of those essential skills identified as important for people to find a place in the workforce, and connect them with employers. So they can build on that, and hopefully that can connect them to a worthwhile career.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Atkinson, do you have a response? Your time is up, but if you could respond quickly....

5:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

My quick response is, absolutely.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Okay.

Did you want to add something?

5:05 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

The government should take care of those

two priority constituencies. For the purpose of finding workers, would you agree to give priority to dropouts and unskilled workers?

5:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

One problem we see all the time, which was also mentioned in the earlier session, is that there doesn't seem to be the streaming that used to go on. Way back when I went to high school, there was a place where people could be nurtured and introduced to the trades through shop and technical colleges, which was what I think they were called then.

In many communities today we don't have that. Frankly, it is a loss.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Thank you, sir. Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

Mr. McColeman, go ahead for five minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Thank you, witnesses, for being here.

You stole my opening remarks, in that I was going to give away my age here. When I was in elementary school in the sixties, we went to “shop” in grades 7 and 8. The males went to shop and the females went to home economics. Maybe that was something we have advanced from. Then in high school, one wing of the high school was for shops and trades.

Today in Ontario, I think there are very few curriculum options for students to get into the trades. As we know, this is provincial jurisdiction, though I'm not trying to say there isn't federal responsibility here. This leads to my question on the extent that you can get involved in solving this on a long-term basis. You talked about the need to have it start early in an individual's life, if that person has an aptitude. Can you tell me what kinds of things you're communicating to the Government of Ontario, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Alberta, and so forth, across the country?

5:05 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

Maybe I could start quickly. One thing that we ran into, even 7 or 8 years ago, when trying to get into the junior highs, was an initial resistance to our industry’s coming in on career day to talk to kids. The attitude was: “What are you doing coming in here? All our kids are going to university.”

There was this perception that a trade was an occupation of last resort. I think that has turned around. Now, I think there are more local school boards willing to allow the industry and other groups to come in. In the old days, what used to happen in those schools was two hours of career counselling, or whatever it was, with somebody who went to university—a teacher—who would work with the kids who were going to university. As for rest of them, well, they could go and play with the computers. There wasn't the opportunity for industries like ourselves or mining or forestry to come in and make the case to kids.

You're absolutely right that this kind of information needs to be in front of the kids even in grade 6 or 7. But the guidance counsellors in particular, seven to eight years ago, were a part of the problem. We have come a long way, and it's through the efforts, quite frankly, of associations such as the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and other industries, as well as working at the local level with the community school boards.

5:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

We work with provincial governments across the country, through our provincial skills offices, through departments of education, and departments of advanced education to do just that, to go into schools and provide some complementary activities that focus on trades careers. If there's not that opportunity in the education system currently, because there are fewer shops in schools, that's the reality. We work with those partners to try to provide those opportunities so that we can bring people who are working in those industries into the school—again to provide this sensory experience by giving the young people a chance to see what it's like to be involved in those careers.

To solve this problem we need all the stakeholders involved: we need government at multiple levels, we need industry partners, we need education. That's the only way we will solve this problem, by really getting some alignment in what we're promoting to young people about the careers available. We need to make sure those are in line with the economic demands that Canada has.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

It's good to hear that some progress is being made, but it's that same old thing that what goes around comes around, I suppose, in that we are now recognizing the shortfall arising from removing it all, and now have to go back and rebuild, just as Ontario has had to rebuild their medical professions and graduating doctors.

You talked as well about incentives for mobility, and I understand that. As you may know, there are programs targeted at paying tuition and extending employment insurance benefits. So if you find yourself unfortunate enough to have to be on employment insurance, there are options for individuals in a retraining sense to go back into a trade, to take a trade, to go to trade school, and to have the government pay the tuition and also then extend the benefits so you can have some income as you go along.

You're both nodding that you're aware of that program. Is that program useful and viable in generating the numbers of people you will need but who are currently unemployed?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Your time has concluded, but we'll get a response from both witnesses.

5:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

It helps. Whether it's a panacea or can, on its own, address the kinds of shortages we're looking at, I don't believe so. In many cases those individuals who are looking for that retraining or re-employment are middle aged. In those circumstances, because of some of the job requirements—including travelling to remote areas and, in some cases, having to be in good physical shape, etc.—it's not always a quick fix. In other words, in taking people who are in their forties or fifties and saying, we can retrain you and you can be on the job tomorrow, other factors come into play.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Mr. Thorson, perhaps a short answer....

5:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

I would agree with those same comments. It's not the silver bullet; it's not going to solve all the problems. It's good and will help.

But I think it even starts before that. Again, it's about connecting with those people at a younger age in those communities and providing opportunities in the community where they can start some of that base training. People talked earlier about trying to keep people within those communities, that they don't want people moving out of those communities. One way to do that is to provide some opportunities to train in the community.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you.

We'll conclude with Ms. Charlton. Go ahead.