Mr. Chair, distinguished committee members, my name is Valérie Roy, and I am the director general of the Regroupement québécois des organismes pour le développement de l'employabilité, the RQuODE. First of all, I would like to thank you for allowing us to present our group's observations and recommendations today.
The RQuODE is the biggest employability network in Quebec. Its 89 member organizations, spread across Quebec, specialize in developing the labour force. Our members provide employment services to over 80,000 people every year. So the impact on the communities is substantial, and the programs we implement have a significant impact on many types of clientele.
Your study on strategies to reduce poverty, which is linked to education, training and employment, gives us the opportunity to highlight the many social and economic impacts of employment assistance and career development programs, generally speaking. We have three recommendations today that are focused on reducing inequalities, on services provided to vulnerable groups and on social inclusions.
Our first recommendation concerns reducing economic inequalities. In light of an increasingly competitive and mobile labour market, there are multiple obstacles facing individuals experiencing poverty and social exclusion who would like access to employment and, as a result, contribute to Canada's economic development. However, given the scarcity of workers in several sectors, the socio-professional inclusion of clienteles experiencing employment difficulties remains a fundamental issue for Canadian society and employers as well as for the individuals.
It has been clearly demonstrated that the various employment assistance programs are highly profitable in the short and long term. According to the Quebec data, all measures intended for the employment assistance clients are financially viable over 30 months at most. For society as a whole, they generate economic spin-offs equivalent to twice the amount invested over a five-year period. Society can also welcome the fact that more people are moving from being claimants to being taxpayers.
But what about the impact on the individuals?
Another Quebec study finds that participation in active employment measures “has a significant increase, overall, in the employment income of employment assistance recipients...”. According to research by the Université de Sherbrooke, the movement towards employment also accentuates self-efficacy and self-esteem, while promoting healthy lifestyle habits. Participation in employment measures can also have a significant impact on the local community, for instance by generating a training movement and encouraging the development of empowerment. If work gives the individual professional status and allows for the development of skills and abilities, it is also the best way out of poverty, provided the employment terms are favourable.
These impacts are substantial and show the relevance of positioning employability as a key strategy for reducing poverty and economic inequalities. Therefore, we recommend recognizing the significant economic contribution of employment assistance and career development services provided by specialized resources across Canada. Developing a career development frame of reference through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers would make it possible to promote this recognition and to put this important issue back at the heart of political policies at all levels of government.
For the second recommendation, I would like to talk to you more specifically about the employment assistance services offered to clients under-represented on the labour market. As you probably know, Canada's indigenous communities are among the poorest in the country, which is connected mainly to their low level of education, the wage gap compared to their non-indigenous peers and the exorbitant cost of living in the remote regions.
Despite these difficulties, the young indigenous population is expected to occupy a growing share of available jobs in the coming years. Since 2013, the RQuODE has been coordinating employability and pre-employability services for Inuit in the two employment assistance centres in Montreal and in Inukjuak, Nunavik. The two Ivirtivik centres contribute to reducing poverty and its multiplying effects on the socio-economic development of northern families and communities through professional integration of Inuit by encouraging young generations to stay in school, acquire healthy living habits, and gain financial independence, among other things.
If the Canadian government wants to reduce poverty in indigenous communities, it is essential to encourage their fair and sustainable participation in the labour market, while respecting their needs and their reality. To that end, the intervention model developed by the Ivirtivik centres, supported by the research-action conducted by our group, is an innovative approach.
The statistics also show that people who have lower skills levels or less education have the higher rates of low income. Despite this, in recent years, many federal employment programs for people in vulnerable situations have experienced significant budget cuts or delays in processing applications. Our organizations have told us that, among other things, there are very long waiting times to get funding applications accepted for Skills Link, a program that has, however, proved its worth in mobilizing young people in areas far from the labour market. Adequate funding for these programs and measures is essential to avoid service cuts and to encourage these clients to get out of poverty through employment integration and retention.
So we recommend ensuring access to employability and career development services for all individuals in vulnerable situations through increased funding and more flexible transfer agreements with the provinces and territories.
For the third and final recommendation, I would like to talk about employment as a vehicle for social integration, this time focusing on supply rather than demand.
While employment was once the best way out of poverty, current labour market conditions no longer allow for such a direct correlation. Given the proliferation of atypical work, fixed-term contracts, freelance jobs and involuntary part-time work, many Quebec workers live or are at risk of experiencing socio-economic exclusion.
In addition, while the quality of employment in Canada improved between 1997 and 2015, the quality of jobs held by low-skilled workers is stagnating. It is therefore paramount that workers have access to jobs that enable them to get out of poverty and live well.
People living in poverty often face many prejudices in the labour market, whether or not they benefit from government income support. Indeed, many employers are reluctant to hire people with barriers to employment, such as age, disability, lack of Canadian work experience, or a criminal record. Because of these barriers, these individuals find themselves in poverty or at risk of impoverishment.
If employability organizations are already raising the awareness of businesses in their region about the potential of their clients, awareness-raising activities at the national level would certainly be beneficial.
Since the employment situation is critical to the success of poverty reduction strategies, we recommend improving the quality of employment, including greater accountability and awareness among employers.
Thank you for listening.