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  • November 14, 2009 11:00 AM | BCPLAN (Administrator)

    by Mary Morrissey

    Canada has done well in holding off recessionary pressures, particularly compared to our neighbour to the south.

    However in November 2008 the crisis hit us hard.  Nearly 71,000 jobs were lost in that one month.  There is serious concern about further losses of high-paid manufacturing jobs in the auto sector and elsewhere.  The service sector has also taken a big hit – some 38,000 jobs.

    Over 90% of the job losses were in Ontario, but other regions were impacted as well.  There were significant losses in forestry on both coasts and even the booming oil sands sector showed signs of retrenchment.  In December, the job losses topped 4,000 people in Nova Scotia alone.

    The rapid onset of the recession seems to have taken everyone by surprise.  Prior to the recent setbacks, the major concern of labour market economists and policy makers was with labour and skills shortages driven by a falling birthrate and an aging labour force.

    It is easy to be confused by this seeming reversal of circumstances, but two fundamental realities should be borne in mind:

    1. In the short-term (i.e., the next 12 to 18 months), Canada will undoubtedly see an increase in unemployment as workers are displaced from the sectors most vulnerable to recessionary impacts, most notably manufacturing (particularly companies that export to the US), construction, and private sector services.  Unemployed workers will seek to make transitions to different regions and industry sectors where jobs are available.
    1. In the longer-term (during and after recovery from the recession) the underlying problems of labour/skills shortages, and the need for workers to upgrade skills and to alter career paths, will reassert themselves.

    Over the next few years, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will go through the personal trauma of job losses and the upheaval involved in transitioning to new employment opportunities.

    Adults who face these situations must overcome a number of challenges in order to build the confidence and strength necessary to undertake major changes for themselves and their families, and to develop personal and work transition plans that will allow them to survive in an increasingly difficult economy.

    What is currently being proposed?

    An economic stimulus package of several billion dollars is proposed for the January 2009 Federal budget.  This package will likely provide stabilizing and restructuring assistance to some financial institutions and to manufacturing, forestry, mining and energy sectors as well as investment capacity for other levels of government for infrastructure and training.

    As much as this emergency response is needed, there is a risk in rushing to respond to the immediate crisis as the single most important issue in the future of the economy.  In many ways the current economic and fiscal problem masks the longer term structural concern of demographics on labour force adjustment.

    In addition, the traditional response of ‘more training’ tends to focus on creating and filling more seats in post-secondary institutions.  Pursuing these strategies alone without a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to adult learning is essentially offering a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem.

    While it is crucially important to make further education and training accessible and available to adults in transition, we need to recognize that adults already possess considerable knowledge and skills.  By recognizing and building on existing assets, we can facilitate more effective transitions and more efficient solutions.

    Many studies have pointed out that a significant amount of learning goes unrecognized in Canada. Eliminating the learning recognition gap would give Canadians an additional 4.1 to $5.9 billion in income annually (Conference Board of Canada 2001).  In addition, despite the fact that over four times as many young people go to university as in their parents’ generation, over 25% are working for minimum wage.  The longer term issues then include not only underemployment but the wasteful underutilization of skills and knowledge, as well as the ‘mismatch’ of people to jobs.

    Many workers who will lose their jobs during the current recession will not return to the same workplaces to do the same work.  As the economy rebounds they will have to adjust to new work settings, many of which will demand higher skills levels to support productivity gains in a more competitive global marketplace.  Many people will change occupations.  All will need to bring knowledge and skills from previous jobs to their new environments.  For some, formal training will provide a bridge to new employment opportunities.  To make this cost-efficient and effective for individuals as well as in the long-term best interests of the economy, it will be necessary to develop thoughtful strategies that focus on the inclusion of greater numbers of adults not already in the workforce, and build on their strengths and assets.

    Most industrialized countries have human resource development strategies in the form of national lifelong learning strategies and policies—including mechanisms for recognizing informal and experiential learning as well as formal learning for workplace / career advancement and institutional credit.  Although some provinces (most notably Manitoba and Quebec) show signs of developing positive models, Canada has no adult learning or lifelong learning strategy, and there is no pan-Canadian strategy for recognizing prior learning.

    It has also become clear that old solutions such as relying solely on improved technology and increased immigration will be insufficient to meet the long term needs of the economy.

    What is needed?

    As pointed out in a recent study – Achieving Our Potential: An Action Plan for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in Canada (2008) – which was undertaken by the PLA Centre for the Canadian Council on Learning, foundational investment in PLAR and essential skills and literacy training is needed across the country, in order to assist the vast number of Canadians who are experiencing exclusion, dislocation, and under-utilization –or simply life transitions – to be able to make the necessary changes for themselves, their families, and their communities and to contribute to Canada’s immediate and long-term economic and social development.

    Effective PLAR program mobilize and motivate adult learners, and they lead to greater efficiency in education and training through the rigourous identification of what the learners already know and can do.

    PLAR programs are designed and carried out explicitly to help adult learners meet these challenges. The two most basic objectives of PLAR programs are:

    1. To build the confidence and motivation of adults as learners by identifying and valuing the significant learning they have typically accomplished outside of formal education and training settings, and;
    2. To bridge between the actual knowledge and skills of adults, much of it acquired through informal learning processes, and the requirements of formal educational and labour market systems and occupational and professional certification processes.

    As the economy regains its momentum, employers will once again face the reality of labour shortages and the accelerating retirement of their most skilled and experienced workers.  As they were doing before the recession hit, they will look to a number of groups of under-employed people within the general population, and will also focus on immigration.  But again, all of these groups will need to make significant transitions before they are ready to function as highly skilled workers in demanding employment settings. PLAR will be an important component of these transitions.

    In addition to displaced workers, whose numbers are growing daily, the following information describes the numbers of people who could become more fully available to the labour market if funding for the right policies and programs were in place.[1]

    Target Population

    Estimated Size

    1. Learners facing literacy/ essential skills challenges
    • 9 million people (42% of the adult population) –– below level 3 literacy skills
    • 2.7 million adults aged 25 to 64 with no high school and no further education/training
    1. Aboriginal adult learners
    • 154,000 (33%) of Aboriginal identity Canadians aged 25 to 54 have not completed high school or other education/training
    • 115,000 (24%) of Aboriginal identity Canadians aged 25 to 54 are not in the labour force
    • One in three Aboriginal persons aged 25 to 64 has not completed high school
    1. Immigrants – skilled and semi-skilled
    • 4.1 million persons between age of 25 and 64 born outside of Canada – 24% of total population
    • Of 700,000 “recent immigrants” (i.e., arrived between 2001 and 2006) 101,000  (15%) had high school as highest level of education, and 64,000 (9%) had less than high school
    • Immigrants account for about 21% of Canada’s labour force
    • The employment rate for 25 to 64 year old recent immigrants 67% compared to 82% for Canadian born peers.
    • 210,000 core working age recent immigrants were unemployed in 2006
    1. Persons with disabilities
    • 71,000 persons with disabilities, aged 25 to 54, were unemployed and 495,000 were not in labour force in 2001
    • Of 1.2 million persons with disabilities aged 25 to 54, 356,000 (30%) have less than high school, and 392,000 (25%) have high school only
    1. Women facing barriers re-entering the workforce
    • 1.3 million women between ages of 25 and 54 are not in the labour force
    • 700,000 women aged 25 to 54, are not in the labour force, and have no post-secondary qualifications
    • 1.8 million women aged 25 to 54 are in the labour force but have no post-secondary qualifications
    1. Apprentices and workers involved in professional certification
    • Approximately 60% of people who begin apprenticeship programs do not complete them to become full journeypersons
    1. Youth at risk
    • There are 888,000 people aged 15 to 24 in the labour force, without high school complete or any other formal education training

    The importance of literacy must also not be overlooked in the rush to training.

    The push to improve literacy levels in the workplace and to expand government investment in literacy programs is rooted in the growing realization that literacy is essential to a healthy economy.   When markets for capital, technology and knowledge are global, the literacy skills possessed by the average worker may determine which countries achieve the highest rates of economic growth.[2]

    The evidence suggests that Canada’s continued economic success depends on our capacity to raise the average worker’s level of literacy and to reduce the proportion of adults with relatively low skills.  It also suggests that literacy and post-secondary education are complementary and that both yield the return on investment that drives much of government, business and individual decision-making.

    The evidence also suggests that differences in average literacy levels between countries actually explain the majority (over 55%) of differences in long-term growth rates of GDP and labour productivity among our most serious economic competitors.[3]


    Canada needs a human resource strategy to ensure that all Canadians are work-ready.  This requires extensive new investments in PLAR and essential skills and literacy development as a first-order solution to optimize training and skill development, and to facilitate labour mobility across industrial sectors and geographical regions.

    The good news is that there is no need to build a new system for the delivery of such programs, since a third-sector community-based learning system already exists through the various agencies and networks serving the target groups who most need learning and in-transition support.

    As recommended by the Achieving Our Potential report, Canada would be wise to recognize voluntary sector organizations as “learning organizations” which should be appropriately funded as primary delivery agents of literacy, essential skills and PLAR foundational programs.   The report also suggests that strategies for youth-at-risk, Aboriginal Canadians, older workers, and new Canadians should be developed and implemented.   The report further suggests utilizing tax credits, the Employment Insurance system, and other funding mechanisms to reduce costs barriers for adult learners and to provide strong incentives for organizations and employers to invest in education and training.

    The current financial crisis is alarming.  However there are strong indications that the governments in Canada will attempt to shorten the recession and to soften its impact through a major program of stimulus spending.  It is essential that the stimulus program include targeted human resources development initiatives such as PLAR and essential skills and literacy training if we are to meet the challenges of long term labour force adjustment as well as immediate institutional and market concerns.

    [Mary Morrissey was Principal Author of the Achieving Our Potential Report, which draws heavily upon the research and writing of the core project team which included Douglas Myers, Joy Van Kleef and Rick Williams] William Williams writing on the work on the core

    [1] This information is drawn from the 2006 Canada Census and from other surveys of adult learners, Sources are cited in the socio-economic analysis chapter of the PLA Centre’s PLAR Framework Report.

    [2] Coulombe, Serge and Jean-Fransois Tremblay. “Public Investment in Skills: Are Canadian Governments Doing Enough,” The Education Papers (Toronto: C.D. Howe Institute, October 2005).

    [3] Coulombe, S., J.F. Trenblay, and S. Marchand. Literacy Scores, Human Capital and Growth across Fourteen OECD Countries (Ottawa: Statistics Canada and HRSDC, 2004).

  • November 14, 2009 8:00 AM | BCPLAN (Administrator)

    Rick Williams makes the economic case for PLAR in this unpublished article written for the Globe and Mail in January 2009.

    With rapidly spreading plant closures, lay-offs and rising unemployment rates, there is one issue that may get overlooked as economists and politicians put together economic stimulus packages. Just a few months ago, before the global financial crisis had fully kicked in, business leaders and policy makers alike were preoccupied with the potentially devastating impacts of current demographic trends on Canada’s economic competitiveness. With a falling birth rate and the accelerating retirement of older skilled workers, employers in many sectors were deeply concerned about the need to expand the labour supply and to increase productivity through knowledge and skills upgrading.

    Most informed observers would agree that labour and skills shortages, while off the radar right now, will re-emerge as serious constraints once a recovery is underway. In a recent article in the Globe’s Report On Business (“Spending Our Way to Recovery” 12/5/08), leading economists advised the federal government to spend more on (among other things) worker training and other programs to expand labour market participation by low skilled and underemployed populations.

    Numerous research studies confirm that Canada lags behind competitor nations, including the U.S., in workplace training levels and in participation rates for lifelong learning and skills renewal.  These countries invest more public and private sector resources in education and training both for adults in the labour force and for those who are excluded by social and economic disadvantage.

    While Canada has one of the most highly developed post-secondary education (PSE) systems in the world, its impacts on adults once they leave formal schooling are limited.  Half of all adult Canadians (25 years and over) do not participate in organized educational programs of any kind, and of those who do a relatively small percentage access services from PSE institutions (colleges and universities). Less than 10% of the 7 million Canadian adults with literacy skills below the levels demanded by a knowledge-driven economy currently participate in upgrading programs. Workplace training and formal and  “non-formal” PSE programs are accessed overwhelmingly by people with higher incomes and more advanced academic and professional qualifications to start with.

    In short, there is an expanding disconnect between our PSE system and the demands of the labour market. For the last decade colleges and universities focused their resources heavily on young full-time students to accommodate the large “echo generation” cohort.  But now the demographic trend is shifting. The lower birth rate is already cutting into PSE enrollment levels while – just before the recession kicked in – employers were beginning to panic about skills shortages.  Our overall approach to education and training needs now to be substantially reoriented to serve different populations with different learning needs. This challenge should now be central to government efforts to build a comprehensive policy package to stimulate short-term economic recovery while laying the groundwork for longer-term renewal and restructuring.

    The extensive research on why adults do not participate more actively in education and work related training identifies three critical factors: affordability, accessibility and psychosocial challenges. The first two are closely linked because the real costs of education and training for adults include having to leave jobs and families to access programs.

    The psychosocial factor has to do with the personal barriers many adults face in finding the motivation and confidence to “go back to school”. These are most daunting for groups who have had the least success in their past schooling or who have been out of school for some time; e.g., older workers, high school drop-outs, persons with disabilities, workers displaced from low-skill occupations, and the working poor generally. The compelling reality is that in the current economic crisis even people with solid qualifications are facing personal upheaval and a need to make great transitions in where they live and work. They often face the same collapse of confidence, the same sense of powerlessness and fear of the future, as groups that have long felt vulnerable and excluded.

    As the Globe & Mail’s economics advisors indicate, solutions are readily at hand. One of them, Dr. Elizabeth Beale (President of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council), presents this advice on training:

    Enhance the investment in human capital by increasing funding for training under the EI program. Make changes to allow longer-term training (i.e., more than a year in length); fund part-time and on-the-job training; provide access for people who are underemployed; place a greater emphasis on prior-learning assessment and customized training for older workers.

    Through its stimulus package the federal government should use the Employment Insurance system to expand education and training for low-skilled workers and marginalized populations and to provide paid educational leave for employed workers.  New tax incentives are needed to encourage employers, particularly in small businesses, to invest more in training their workers. On the accessibility side, PSE institutions should receive enhanced resources to re-gear their programs to accommodate non-traditional learners and to expand their capacities to offer distance education and to reach out more effectively to the community and the workplace. Expanded resources should also be directed towards industry sector councils, unions, non-governmental organizations and community-based agencies that are also significant facilitators and deliverers of adult education and employment-related training.

    But these investments will not in themselves generate adequate returns if new ways are not found to overcome the psychosocial barriers that inhibit participation in education and training for so many adults. Elizabeth Beale identifies prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) as a means to help people who need to upgrade their skills to make transitions in the labour market. Over the past three decades PLAR has been developed and successfully applied in Canada across a broad range of transition circumstances and with a wide diversity of individuals and groups. The two basic objectives of PLAR programs are:

    • To bridge between the actual knowledge and skills of adults, much of it acquired through informal learning processes, and the requirements of formal educational and labour market systems and occupational and professional certification processes, and;
    • To build the confidence and motivation of adults as learners by identifying and valuing the significant learning they have typically accomplished outside of formal education and training settings.

    PLAR services and programs share three common principles:

    • That adult learners should not have to learn over again what they already know and can do,
    • The actual knowledge and skills that adults possess matter more than where or how they learned them, and
    • In both labour market and educational settings, the knowledge and skills adults have acquired through life and work experience, as well as their formal education and training, should be appropriately evaluated and recognized.

    The efficacy of PLAR has been proven in many localized institutional and community settings. The current economic crisis and the dislocation and adjustment requirements it has created have only heightened the need for PLAR services and programs. It is time now to develop a coherent policy and program approach as a central element of a comprehensive pan-Canadian human resources development strategy. At present Quebec and Manitoba have effective PLAR policies and programs in place. Alberta recently announced a “PLAR Action Plan” and a number of other provinces are moving in that direction. Internationally, many countries are way ahead of us in the field. The European Union is now setting out common principles and guidelines to make PLAR services available throughout 27 sovereign countries. Our jurisdictional challenges in Canada should not prevent us from following such a path.

    The federal government’s economic stimulus package should encompass measures to rapidly expand adult education and workplace training in Canada. This is not a bricks and mortar issue. The physical infrastructure and capacities are largely in place, but we need to reorient and energize these systems to make them more affordable, more accessible and more welcoming for new populations of adult learners. More resources should go as well to alternative delivery systems in industry and the voluntary sector. The development of effective PLAR services and programs is integral to the achievement of all these objectives.

    1328 words

    About the author:

    Dr Rick Williams, President of PRAXIS Research & Consulting Inc, a contributor to Achieving Our Potential: An Action Plan for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in Canada (2008) produced by the PLA Centre in Halifax for the Canadian Council on Learning, and available at

  • November 09, 2009 2:30 PM | BCPLAN (Administrator)

    UFV hosts an online portfolio tutorial with real-world samples. Get tips on how to make a showcasecareer, or academic portfolio.

    Visit site

  • November 09, 2009 2:30 PM | BCPLAN (Administrator)

    It starts with our workforce — and neither the province nor the nation is performing very well

    Article By Kerry Jothen, Vancouver Sun

    September 15, 2009

    View the full article

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