copy the linklink copied!2. Workforce innovation to support future-ready adult learning

Abstract

Workforce innovation involves testing, sharing and implementing new approaches to employment and training services. This chapter provides an overview of recent developments in workforce innovation in Canada. It assesses their potential to improve the future-readiness of Canada’s adult learning system along five dimensions: coverage and inclusiveness, alignment of training with labour market needs, impact of adult learning, financing, and governance.

    

copy the linklink copied!Introduction

In the last five years, Canada has introduced a number of skills-related policies and programmes that have altered the policy landscape and have the potential to improve the future-readiness of Canada’s adult learning system. In February 2019, Future Skills was launched at the national level, providing a platform to identify emerging skills and workforce trends, to build partnerships, and to test and evaluate innovative approaches to skills assessment and development. Several provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario1) have established “workforce innovation centres” since 2015, with a mandate to test and share innovative models of workforce development (Box 2.1). Most of the initiatives supported by these bodies focus on the supply side of the labour market (e.g. skills development, matching jobseekers with jobs, reducing barriers for under-represented groups).

This chapter provides an overview of these new initiatives. Importantly, it seeks to assess the extent to which they could influence the future-readiness of Canada’s adult learning system based on five dimensions, referred to in Chapter 1, and set out in the OECD Future-Ready Adult Learning framework (OECD, 2019[1]): coverage and inclusiveness, alignment of training with labour market needs, impact of adult learning, finance, and governance and coordination.

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Box 2.1. Definition of workforce development, workforce innovation, and workplace innovation

Workforce development generally describes a labour market strategy that includes both employment and training services. It involves the coordination of public and private sector activities, policies and programmes to create and sustain a workforce that can support current and future business and industry.

Such strategies complement traditional employment services. The main difference between workforce development and traditional employment services is that while employment services focus on matching a single job seeker to a job, workforce development is focused on solutions for groups of job seekers or employed workers and often involves multiple employers (Zizys, 2018[2]).

The definition of “workforce” is broad, and includes individuals who will soon be employed (i.e. young adults), currently employed workers, job seekers including the unemployed, individuals currently out of the labour force (e.g. retirees and individuals in prisons), as well as individuals recruited from abroad.

Workforce innovation refers to the testing, sharing and implementation of new approaches to workforce development. The OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation defines innovation as “a new or improved product or process (or combination thereof) that differs significantly from the unit’s previous products or processes and that has been made available to potential users (product) or brought into use by the unit (process).” In the context of workforce development, an innovation might be the use of an online tool to better match jobseekers with employers based on skills, or a programme to retrain rapidly a group of workers in declining industries. Closer collaboration (e.g. between actors from the demand and supply sides of the labour market or from across sectors) that improves service delivery might also constitute an innovation in this context.

Workplace innovation is a type of workforce innovation. It is the testing, sharing and implementation of new approaches to work organisation, management practices and job design that leads to better use of workers’ skills and more learning in the workplace. Workplace innovation is discussed in Chapter 3 along with the related concepts of high-performance work practices and skills utilisation.

Source: Jacobs, R., and J. Hawley (2009[3]), “The Emergence of ‘Workforce Development’: Definition, Conceptual Boundaries and Implications”; http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-5281-1_167T, Zizys (2018[2]) , “Workforce development, demand-led strategies and the goal of good jobs”, https://ocwi-coie.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/01-018-01-Zizys-Tom-Final-Report.pdf.

copy the linklink copied!New programmes in workforce innovation

National level: Future Skills

The 2017 federal budget first announced Future Skills as part of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan. Amid disruptive changes in labour markets due to technological advancements, new business models and population ageing, Future Skills is the response to calls from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth and the Forum of Labour Market Ministers for new approaches to addressing skills gaps and supporting lifelong learning. With federal government funding of CAD 225 million over 2018-22 and CAD 75 million per year thereafter, Future Skills has a mandate to foster partnership across sectors; identify emerging skills and workforce trends; test and evaluative innovative approaches to skills assessment and development; and share information to inform future investments and programming. With half of available funding dedicated to addressing the needs of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, it places a particular emphasis on ensuring that all Canadians have a fair chance to benefit from emerging opportunities. Recognising provincial and territorial governments’ responsibilities with respect to skills development, the Canadian government has involved provincial and territorial governments in the design and implementation of Future Skills through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers.

Future Skills includes the Future Skills Council and the Future Skills Centre. The Future Skills Council works collaboratively with members from the public and private sectors, labour, education and training providers, not-for-profit and Indigenous organizations to provide coherent advice to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion on emerging skills needs and workforce trends. The Council is developing a Strategic Plan based on consultations with a diversity of stakeholders nationwide. The plan will set out a vision for Canada to position jobseekers, workers and employers for success. It will identify priority areas for action to ensure that skills development and training programmes meet new workplace demands.

The Future Skills Centre is an independent applied research and innovation body funded through an agreement with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). The Future Skills Centre prototypes, tests and evaluates innovative approaches to skills assessment and development, with a focus on how to prepare workers to succeed in the future labour market (Table 2.1). It disseminates the results of its applied research widely to encourage broader adoption of proven practice.

The Centre has the flexibility to identify projects through open calls as well as through solicited and unsolicited proposals. To date, the Centre has initiated 16 innovation projects worth CAD 19 million over two years. Some of the areas of focus include upskilling and reskilling models for mid-career workers; innovative approaches to support transitions into the digital industry sector; and supporting Indigenous peoples in skill development.

A key underlying objective is for analysis and evidence generated by the Council and Centre to inform actions taken by public, private, labour, education and training providers, and not-for-profit organizations. Through ESDC’s Future Skills Office, the Government works with provincial and territorial partners as well as horizontally across the federal government to support the integration of knowledge of “what works” into policy and programme design. Doing so positions Canada to leverage innovation in order to accelerate workforce transitions.

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Table 2.1. Classification of projects, the Future Skills Centre
Projects selected from the first two calls for proposals

Number of projects

Retraining a group of workers or job seekers to transition into a high-demand occupation or sector

6

Upskilling a group of workers to remain employable or to progress in their existing jobs

7

New approaches to matching job seekers with jobs, career counselling, job search

8

Addressing non-skill related barriers to employment

3

Addressing non-skill related barriers to education and training

8

Improving labour market systems and services through research and evaluation

0

New approaches to work organisation, management practices or job design within firms

0

Total number of projects (after first two calls for proposals)

16

Note: The rows do not add up to the total because some projects can be classified in more than one way.

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Box 2.2. Examples of Future Skills Centre projects

Helping older workers to overcome fear and uncertainty around retraining

The project developed by the Northern Lights College in British Columbia will specifically target mid-career workers interested in making a career change. It will engage 200 participants and provide them with support in identifying a retraining programme, selecting the right programme, and meeting admissions requirements. Project participants will benefit from an online platform (“Continuous learning for individuals’ mid-career and beyond”, CLIMB) to help them identify risks to their jobs posed by automation, their individual strengths, how their skills match with employers’ needs, and to create a personalised skills training plan.

Retraining mid-career manufacturing and steelworkers in Alberta and Ontario

A partnership between three trade unions and an adult learning provider, this project focuses on early engagement with workers who are at risk of displacement due to automation in manufacturing. Two hundred mid-career workers will be part of this two-year programme that will include identifying workers’ skills, assisting employers and unions in setting up workplace training that addresses skills gaps, and connecting workers with new employment opportunities. Workers will retrain either for new jobs within the company or outside of the company.

Source: Future Skills Centre website, https://fsc-ccf.ca/.

Provincial level: Workforce Innovation Centres

Six Canadian provinces have established workforce development agencies that share several common functions, including supporting applied research, testing new approaches to workforce development, acting as hubs and coordinating bodies for sectoral partners, and communicating generated evidence to government and stakeholders. This report will refer to these agencies collectively as “workforce innovation centres” or WICs (see Box 2.3 for a list of WICs). WICs are funded through federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDA).

The specific mandate of each WIC varies by province (Box 2.3). For instance, the Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and former Ontario WICs put strong emphasis on funding community-based and practitioner-led research, while British Colombia and Quebec focus on research and capacity building of labour market stakeholders. The newly opened Manitoba WIC funds training, but without a research component (i.e. without an emphasis on evaluating and identifying best practices which might be applicable elsewhere). Coordination and information sharing between the five WICs is not formalised but takes place through regular conference calls.

The Future Skills Centre performs the same functions as the WICs, with one key distinction: it prioritises approaches that help workers to adapt to the future labour market, while the WICs focus on improving service delivery in the current labour market. The Future Skills Centre is required to engage with labour market stakeholders across the country, including WICs. Doing so improves coordination and prevents duplication of efforts.

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Box 2.3. Workforce innovation centres in Canada

Newfoundland and Labrador Workforce Innovation Centre (2017-present)

The NL Workforce Innovation Centre (NLWIC) provides funding for community-based research to test models of workforce development that will influence employability, entrepreneurship and attachment to the workforce in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Centre for Employment Innovation (Nova Scotia) (2016-present)

The Centre for Employment Innovation (CEI) was awarded to St. Francis Xavier University in June 2016. The CEI supports community-based research to improve the quality of employment services in Nova Scotia.

Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation (2016-2019)

The Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation was established in 2016 at Ryerson University with funding from the Government of Ontario. The Ontario Centre funded innovative research and evaluation to identify and test solutions to workforce development challenges. Its purpose was to provide a single coordinated source of best practices on how to deliver evidence-based employment and training programmes in Ontario. It operated five regional hubs before shutting down in 2019.

Quebec Observatoire Compétences-emplois (2010-present)

Founded by the Government of Quebec’s Commission des partenaires du marché du travail in 2010, the Quebec Observatoire Compétences-emplois (OCE) brings together researchers and stakeholders from different sectors to develop research and innovation projects on workforce development. Its mission is to support labour market stakeholders in thinking and acting innovatively to foster a skilled workforce in Quebec.

Northern Workforce Development Centre (Manitoba) (2018-present)

The Northern Workforce Development Centre was set up in 2018 at the University College of the North (UCN) Thompson campus to facilitate workforce transitions from training to employment. The Centre focuses on providing training and certification to help Northern Manitoba workers compete in the skilled labour market.

BC Centre for Employment Excellence (2012-2017)

The British Columbia Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction created the BC Centre for Employment Excellence in 2012. Its mandate was to support the research and information needs of BC service providers, practitioners, and employers involved in the employment services sector. Funding through the LMDA ended in 2017, but the Centre continues to be managed as a sub-division of the Social Research and Development Corporation.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Workforce and Innovation Centre (NLWIC) was chosen as a case study for this report. NLWIC’s stated goal is “to support the research, testing and sharing of ideas and models of innovation in workforce development.” The ultimate aim is to have a positive impact on employability, employment and entrepreneurship in the province’s labour force, and particularly among under-represented groups. Funding comes through the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour (AESL) under the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador LMDA. College of the North Atlantic acts as an operating partner, assisting with calls for proposals, project accountability, communications, capacity building and stakeholder engagement.

Since its inception in 2017, the NLWIC has had two calls for proposals, with 20 projects receiving CAD 7.66 million in total funding (Table 2.2). Projects range in duration from a year and a half to three years, with CAD 383 000 per project on average. Projects are selected based on whether they promote workforce and skill development in growth sectors (tourism, oil and gas, fisheries, forestry, and healthcare services) as identified by the province’s strategic vision document. Eight of the projects have a skills development component. Projects without a skills development component focus on overcoming non-skill related barriers to employment or education and training (e.g. mental health, transportation, or cultural barriers) or improving approaches to matching jobseekers with jobs.

The value-added of the NLWIC, according to stakeholders, is that it creates a network of community-based research that did not exist before. It is an opportunity for practitioners to influence policy making.

While the WICs receive funding through federal-provincial LMDAs, they are also eligible to apply for funding from the Future Skills Centre. To date the only example of this is a partnership between the Future Skills Centre and the Nova Scotia Centre for Employment Excellence. They are collaborating to test a virtual reality technology to train professional drivers in the trucking industry. The industry is at risk of disruption from the automation of vehicles. There is scope for further partnership between WICs and the Future Skills Centre. For example, WICs could apply for funding to test the replicability of successful approaches in different parts of the country.

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Table 2.2. Classification of Projects, Newfoundland and Labrador Workforce Innovation Centre
Projects selected from the first two calls for proposals

Number of projects

Retraining a group of workers or job seekers to transition into a high-demand occupation or sector

2

Upskilling a group of workers to remain employable or advance in their existing jobs

6

New approaches to matching job seekers with jobs, career counselling, job search

6

Addressing non-skill related barriers to employment

9

Addressing non-skill related barriers to education and training

4

Improving labour market systems and services through research and evaluation

3

New approaches to work organisation, management practices and job design within firms

0

Total number of projects (after first two calls for proposals)

20

Note: The rows do not add up to the total because some projects can be classified in more than one way.

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Box 2.4. Examples of NLWIC funded projects

Retraining in the tourism sector

Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador and Tourism Canada partnered to identify and deliver training for employed and unemployed workers from non-tourism industries to support the expansion of rural tourism destinations. Five regions with high tourism potential and high unemployment or low workforce participation were prioritised. After assessing the baseline skills of participants, each participant will be directed to either broad-based classroom retraining or more targeted training depending on their needs.

Preparing refugees for work in the agriculture sector

In light of provincial shortages in skilled farm labour as well as low participation of refugees in the labour market, this project aims to connect skilled refugee farmers to agricultural employment. The project is led by the Association for New Canadians in partnership with Memorial University. Refugee farmers received training in English farming terminology, safety, and knowledge about local industry. Of the 15 participants who received training, 11 were offered interviews, eight were offered jobs, and five accepted. One of the key challenges is that agricultural opportunities are far from urban centres where refugee families typically settle.

Online delivery of literacy training to low-skilled workers in rural areas

Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest share of adults without a high school diploma in Canada (15.7% of working-age adults compared to the national average of 11.5%). One of the challenges of upskilling these adults is that 60% of the province’s population lives in a rural area and many lack the computer and literacy skills needed to access online education and training. The project will develop an online learning platform to deliver literacy training in a way that mimics the platforms learners already use (e.g. Facebook, Twitter). The project is led by Newfoundland and Labrador Laubach Literacy Council Inc.

Source: NLWIC website (http://www.nlwic.ca/research-support-projects/funded-projects/) as well as project updates provided by participants.

Local level

Many actors at the local and sectoral levels across Canada are involved in testing, implementing and sharing innovative practices to workforce development. Chambers of Commerce, industry boards on colleges, and workforce planning boards, among others, play a role in coordinating the demand side and supply side responses to ensure that the workforce is evolving to meet the needs of the changing economy.

Two local efforts that we encountered in Ontario are worth highlighting. Ontario’s network of Local Employment Planning Councils (LEPC) is a pilot programme to promote place-based approaches to workforce development (Box 2.5). LEPCs collect local data to identify the workforce development needs of employers in their region. They help to align the actions of stakeholders in the community to respond better to workforce development challenges. Another example of local workforce innovation is Palette, a Toronto-based talent platform. In June 2019, Palette launched its first programme, SalesCamp, specifically targeting workers from disrupted industries looking to transition into new careers in the knowledge sector. Collaborating with employers in the technology industry, Palette built a 6-week training programme in tech sales; 95% of programme graduates received a job offer within 8 months (Box 2.6).

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Box 2.5. Ontario’s Local Employment Planning Councils

Eight Local Employment Planning Councils (LEPC) were established in Ontario in 2015 as a pilot programme “to promote place-based approaches to workforce development, while generating and analysing local labour market information” (Government of Ontario, 2018[4]). Seven of the eight LEPC contracts were awarded to former workforce planning boards. An evaluation carried out two years after the start of the pilot concluded that the LEPCs have become a central hub for employment, training and workforce issues in their communities. They have also been successful in developing and maintaining collaborative relationships with a diverse range of community partners.

Engaging employers, particularly SMEs, is challenging due to the limited time and capacity employers have to step away from business. Successful approaches have included meeting with employers in their place of business, allowing flexibility in the nature and duration of employers’ contributions, targeting employers by sector, shortening employer survey tools, and sharing tailored and concise information at events and through social media posts. The Peterborough LEPC runs a speaker series and the Peel-Halton LEPC offers webinars, both educating employers on workplace issues such as inclusive hiring practices, mental health, gender and diversity, and workplace safety. Several LEPCs offer online tools, such as platforms to match employers with job seekers, and “HR toolkits” to support recruitment, hiring and retention of a skilled workforce.

LEPCs collect and analyse local labour market information to identify the workforce development priorities and needs in their communities. For instance, the Peel-Halton LEPC analyses data from employer and employee surveys to help Milton employers better understand their difficulties hiring general labourers. Transportation was determined to be a key barrier, since public transit in this area is minimal, and high housing costs in Milton mean that workers must commute long distances. Milton residents tend to be highly educated, while the difficult-to-fill general labourer positions are low-skilled positions. The LEPC is using their analysis to engage employers in finding collective solutions, including mobilising employers to contribute to the cost of renting a van to bring workers to Milton.

The Peel-Halton LEPC conducts research to understand the impact of automation on local industries. It has identified a mismatch in the skills required by growing industries in high tech and those available among workers from traditional industries. Their next step is to identify training and employment pathways for current and future industry workers who may be displaced by automation. The Peterborough LEPC undertakes research and outreach activities to educate employers about the benefits of “experiential learning” (defined as opportunities to work in a workplace or on a work project), particularly for high-demand industries in their region (healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism). The Peterborough LEPC sees itself as a “one stop shop” for employers to learn about employment and training services, including literacy and digital skills training offered by local providers.

Initial LEPC funding ran from December 2015 to May 2017, but currently runs until 2020 after being renewed three times. A key challenge identified by LEPCs in planning longer-term activities was the short funding cycles and the short notice given regarding funding extensions. The evaluation recommended extending the funding agreements for a full planning cycle (3-5 years) to allow enough time to observe longer-term impacts and to enter into longer-term employment contracts with staff. At the time of this report’s publication, LEPCs had received word that the pilot would end in April 2020 and LEPCs would return to operating as workforce planning boards.

Source: OECD interviews with representatives from the Ottawa, Peel-Halton and Peterborough LEPCs.

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Box 2.6. Palette: an upskilling and retraining pilot

Palette is a talent platform based on the hypothesis that there are workers in declining industries with the foundational skills needed by growing industries. Supported by the federal Sectoral Initiatives Program, Palette launched “SalesCamp” in June 2019. Sales Camp is a 6-week training programme (one week intensive in-person training, three weeks of blended learning and online group work) designed to prepare workers from declining industries (e.g. retail, food and hospitality and customer support) for jobs in growing industries, such as business-to-business sales for tech firms. The programme targets workers who have held customer-facing roles and already have the necessary foundational skills to work in tech sales, but need upskilling specific to the tech industry. Palette stresses a demand-driven model where employers contribute to the development of the curriculum in collaboration with a selected training institution. Palette brings employers directly into the classroom to witness and take part in live sales assignments, case studies, panels and networking events. Some 37 participants and 19 tech companies participated in the first two cohorts, with 95% of graduates receiving job offers within eight months of programme completion. A new boot camp launched in March 2020 focuses exclusively on placing female participants in tech sales. Palette has received an additional CAD 5 million over three years from FedDev Ontario to implement similar upskilling programmes in Durham and Windsor regions.

Source: Palette, https://paletteskills.org/.

Canada’s model in international comparison

Table 2.3 provides an overview of the workforce innovation programmes in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. No other OECD country shares exactly the same model as Canada. However, the models in United Kingdom, Australia and the United States share similarities. The What Works Network in the United Kingdom consists of 13 independent What Works Centres, including a regional affiliate centre in Wales. The What Works Centres test and evaluate approaches to skills development, as does the Future Skills Centre, but they also address other areas of policy (e.g. policing, local economic growth, and health and social care). Australia’s Try, Test and Learn Fund performs similar functions to Canada’s Future Skills Centre, though it does not have the same degree of independence since it is run by the Department of Social Services. One state in Australia (Victoria) has a workforce training innovation fund similar to Canada’s provincial workforce innovation centers. There are no apparent ties between the federal fund and the fund in Victoria. There are clear ties in the United States between the federal Workforce Innovation Fund and the state workforce development boards. Boards compete for grants under the fund, as in Canada where WICs and LEPCs may collaborate with the Future Skills Centre and lead on research projects. In Canada, the Future Skills Centre is required to engage with the workforce innovation centers and other labour market stakeholders to ensure efforts are not duplicated and to learn from one another.

The subsequent section assesses the potential of Canada’s new programmes to improve the future-readiness of Canada’s adult learning system, drawing lessons from the experiences of other countries, but particularly the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

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Table 2.3. Workforce innovation programmes in Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and the United States

Canada

United Kingdom

Australia

United States

National

Future Skills

What Works Network

Try, Test and Learn

Workforce Innovation Fund

Sub-national

Workforce innovation centres

Victoria Workforce Training Innovation Fund

State Workforce Development Board

copy the linklink copied!Potential of new initiatives to improve Canada’s adult learning system

This section adopts the framework outlined in OECD (2019[1]) and referenced in Chapter 1 to assess the potential of Future Skills, the WICs, and Ontario’s LEPCs to make Canada’s adult learning system more future ready along the following dimensions:

  • Coverage and inclusiveness: Broad-based coverage in adult learning is necessary to support a rewarding and inclusive future of work.

  • Alignment of adult learning provision with labour market needs: For adult learning to improve a participant’s labour market prospects, adults must train to develop skills that employers need, and those needs are constantly changing.

  • Impact of adult learning: To have the desired impact on labour market outcomes, reliable information about the quality and outcomes of training programmes is needed, as are actual opportunities to apply the newly acquired skills in the workplace.

  • Financing: Ideally, adult learning systems receive adequate financing through a mix of co-financing provided by employers, individuals and governments.

  • Governance and co-ordination: With so many actors involved in adult learning, strong coordination mechanisms are essential to ensure coherent policy.

Coverage and inclusiveness

Broad-based coverage in adult learning is necessary to support a rewarding and inclusive future of work. Just over half (52%) of adults participate in adult learning in Canada. This is higher than the OECD average but lower than top-performing countries like Denmark (59%) and New Zealand (58%). Moreover, individuals most at risk of displacement due to automation are often under-represented in adult learning (see Chapter 1). Offering information and guidance, removing barriers to participation, targeting support, and engaging employers are strategies used across countries to improve participation.

The underlying premise behind Future Skills and the WICs is that by building the evidence base around what works and what does not work in adult skills development, programme effectiveness will improve and more people will benefit. Many of the projects funded under the Future Skills Centre and NLWIC aim to improve coverage and inclusiveness in access by removing barriers for under-represented groups. Both the Future Skills Centre and WICs specifically target projects that address skills challenges faced by under-represented groups in the labour market. Often these people are also under-represented in adult learning participation. The Future Skills Centre is required to dedicate half of its funding to addressing the needs of under-represented and disadvantaged groups. For instance, the most recent call for proposals from the Future Skills Centre targeted retraining solutions for mid-career workers. Older workers are likely to experience significant skills obsolescence in the context of technological change unless they upgrade the skills they acquired in initial education. However, employers are often reluctant to invest in the skills of older workers, given shorter periods to recoup this investment before retirement. One of the selected Future Skills Centre projects attempts to address barriers faced by older workers by developing an online platform. Using the platform, workers self-assess their skills and create a personalised skills training plan (Box 2.2). Another under-represented group targeted by Future Skills and the WICs is Indigenous persons. A project funded by the NLWIC involves a college collaborating with Indigenous partners to make the college admissions process more accessible for mature (aged 19+) Indigenous students.

More efforts seem to be needed to actively reach out to low-skilled adults in the places they spend time – workplaces, community institutions and public spaces. One of the reasons underlying low representation of low-skilled adults in adult learning, in Canada and elsewhere, is that adults with low skill levels find it more difficult to recognise their learning needs. They hence are less likely to seek out training opportunities (Windisch, 2015[5]). The Future Skills Center and WICs could support creative solutions and partnerships that would more actively engage low-skilled adults in training. International approaches for engaging low-skilled workers in training could be tested and adapted to the Canadian context. For instance, the Viennese project Mama lernt Deutsch!Mum is learning German! provides basic skills training for mothers with a low level of education and for whom German is not their first language. The programme takes place in their child’s educational institution and includes free child-care services. In Belgium, the Brussels-based project Formtruck is a mobile walk-in information centre about learning opportunities. It reaches out to low-qualified jobseekers and young people not in employment, education or training in locations where they usually spend time, e.g. at events, parks and public squares. Additional examples of international approaches for engaging low-skilled workers in training can be found in OECD (2019[6]).

The Future Skills Centre and WICs also support greater coverage in adult learning by testing innovative modes of training delivery. Flexible provision of adult education and training addresses the most commonly reported barrier, that of limited time. Many countries offer learning provision on a part-time basis, in the evenings, on weekends, as distance learning, or in a modular and/or credit-based format. Projects supported through the Future Skills Centre and WICs can test and provide evidence about the effectiveness of flexible modes of training delivery. For instance, the “career pathways” model tested by the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation is a compelling approach to retraining adult learners. It combines modular learning with career guidance (Box 2.7). In Newfoundland, an NLWIC project developed an online tool to raise literacy and digital skills among adults in rural communities, in order to facilitate their access to online education and training.

A focus on the coordination of employment and training services can support greater participation in adult learning. Ontario’s LEPCs facilitate employers’ access to existing employment and training services, including Employment Ontario providers, Ontario Works, Ontario Disability Supports Program, and Literacy and Basic Skills. Through Employer Help Desks and Talent Hubs, employers can reach out to LEPCs for information, including how to overcome barriers to training for particular groups. One LEPC actively supports SMEs in hiring new immigrants by demonstrating that it is in the employers’ interest to recruit from this untapped talent pool. It goes on to connect them with language training and other services to support retention of new immigrant workers.

Policy makers rely on information. In order for the work of Future Skills and WICs to improve coverage and inclusiveness of adult learning beyond the testing context, policy makers and practitioners must have access to the evidence from programme evaluations and use it actively to improve programmes and policies. Dissemination approaches are discussed in the section below on impact of adult learning.

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Box 2.7. Testing the United States’ “Career Pathways” model in Ontario

The Career Pathways framework developed in the United States provides a model of post-secondary education and training delivery through a series of modular steps, with each step leading to higher credentials and employment opportunities. This model aligns education, workforce development and support services to support learners to attain high quality and sustainable employment. The components of a Career Pathway include accelerated credentials and placement, support services, employer engagement and subsidised cost of training programmes. A unique feature of this model is that the pathway has multiple entry and exit points, allowing individuals to enter at the most appropriate skill level and/or transition easily between participating in the labour market and pursuing further training. A review commissioned by the Department of Labor found that the health care sector most frequently implemented the Career Pathways model. Health care may be well suited to the Career Pathways model because there are clear occupational progressions, from entry-level (e.g. nursing aides, personal care aides), to mid-level (e.g. licensed and vocational nurses) to higher-level occupations (e.g. registered nurses, diagnostic-related technicians).

In Ontario, many lower-skilled adults find it difficult to access high quality jobs and employers struggle to find workers with the right skills. Recognising that the Career Pathways model has not been widely adopted outside the United States, the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation (OCWI) funded four projects focused on building the evidence base in Ontario. While none of the projects tested a fully developed Career Pathway, each project explored the development of some key features of the model.

The conclusion was that Career Pathways have the potential to meet skill needs in target sectors provided there is a deep understanding of the sector’s skills needs. Strategic partnerships between employers, workforce development services, and education institutions are crucial for successful implementation. The assessment report concluded that future projects should focus on deepening partnerships with employers and labour market experts to identify sectors where the Career Pathways model could be effective.

Source: OCWI (2019[7]), “Career Pathways Demonstration Project Final Report; https://ocwi-coie.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Career-Pathways-Demonstration-Project-Final-Report-March-11.pdf, Palamar, M. and K. Pasolli (2018[8]), “Career Pathways” a promising model for skills training, Institute for Research on Public Policy; https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/november-2018/career-pathways-promising-model-skills-training/, Sarna, M. and J. Strawn (2018[9]), “Career Pathways Implementation Synthesis: Career Pathways Design Study”, https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OASP/legacy/files/3-Career-Pathways-Implementation-Synthesis.pdf.

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With a mandate to test approaches to reducing barriers to training and employment for under-represented groups, Future Skills and the NLWIC support broader coverage and inclusiveness in adult learning. They should continue to invest in flexible modes of adult learning delivery (e.g. online, distance, modular, part-time, evenings). This helps adults overcome time and cost barriers to training. Low-skilled adults, an under-represented group, could be a more explicit focus of the Future Skills and the NLWIC research programmes.

Recommendation 1: The Future Skills Center and WICs should test ways to engage low-skilled adults in learning.

Alignment of adult learning with labour market needs

One of the goals of adult learning is to improve a participant’s labour market prospects. Doing so requires adults to develop skills that employers are asking for. Those skills are constantly changing. To facilitate the alignment of adult learning with changing labour market needs, programmes should respond to both current and future skill needs. Furthermore, adult learning programmes should specifically target those adults, both employed and unemployed, whose core skills risk obsolescence (OECD, 2019[6]).

Through their research agendas and priority setting, Future Skills and the WICs have the potential to improve the alignment of adult learning provision with labour market needs. The NLWIC prioritises proposals that have a skills development component and address current workforce challenges in priority sectors identified in the province’s strategic vision document (i.e. tourism, forestry, and aquaculture, and others). It also prioritises research projects that enhance literacy and digital skills, as well as those that prepare individuals and industries for the “jobs of the future.” In preparing their proposals, applicants must demonstrate that their specific training solution meets a labour market need, which requires applicants to research the labour market and consult with industry stakeholders. Future Skills establishes priorities based on ongoing engagement with labour market partners and stakeholders. The Future Skills Centre also works in close partnership with the Labour Market Information Council to identify in-demand skills and industry sector needs. Given its focus on preparing workers for future labour market trends, the Future Skills Centre and the WICs should exploit skills anticipation exercises (e.g. industry sector forecasts, the Canadian Occupational Projection System, foresight exercises) in setting its research agenda. The WICs, on the other hand, should exploit assessments of current skill needs (e.g. employer surveys, sector studies, and surveys of workers or graduates).

Strong engagement with employers and industry is also key to ensuring that proposed training solutions align with employers’ needs. The Future Skills Council engages industry stakeholders across sectors to build consensus on where Canada needs to focus its efforts to adapt to rapid change. Both the Future Skills Centre and the NLWIC encourage proposals from partnerships, including employers, employer groups, unions, training providers and other stakeholders. Sectoral or network approaches to employer engagement in designing training solutions have proven successful because they help SMEs to articulate common training needs. Further, they take advantage of economies of scale which reduces the time and cost burden on individual SMEs. There are several examples of effective sectoral or network approaches to training solutions both in Canada and internationally. Under the Sectoral Initiatives programme, key sectors of the Canadian economy receive support to address current and future skills shortages through the development of sector-specific labour market intelligence, national occupational standards, and skills certification and accreditation systems. A recent evaluation found that they have been successful in their mandate, but that efforts to disseminate findings could be strengthened (ESDC, 2018[10]). In England, the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot funded employer-led partnerships to find innovative ways to address skills development and workplace productivity. An evaluation found that this network model reduced risks and costs for individual employers by pooling learners across SMEs (Box 2.10). A similar programme in the United Kingdom targeted sector skills councils (Employment Investment Fund, Box 2.10). The Irish Skillnet model offers business owners a learning network of businesses in the same sector and empowers them to determine their training needs and coordinate the delivery of training.

Another way to improve the alignment between training provision and labour market needs is by specifically targeting those adults whose core skills are or will likely become obsolete. Most of the selected projects of the Future Skills Centre and half of the NLWIC projects focus on retraining workers and jobseekers for jobs in high-demand sectors. These projects upskill or retrain workers who are at high risk of displacement due to technological change. For instance, the Future Skills Centre tests an approach to equip workers in retail and meat processing (both sectors that are facing large-scale displacement of workers due to automation) with the requisite skills, trade certifications and professional standards to transition to industries and roles with projected growth (e.g. chefs, cooks, bakers, retail sales supervisor, horticultural technicians and accommodation service managers). Similarly, the NLWIC tests an approach to retrain workers and jobseekers from non-tourism sectors to support a growing tourism sector in rural Newfoundland (Box 2.4). An important difference is that the WICs mostly address immediate labour market needs whereas the Future Skills Centre looks at how to prepare workers for future realities.

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Through their research and engagement efforts, Future Skills and WICs have the potential to improve the alignment of adult learning provision with labour market needs. Many of the selected projects of the Future Skills Centre and the NLWIC focus on retraining workers and jobseekers for jobs in high-demand sectors and/or upskilling or retraining workers who are at risk of displacement due to technological change. The Future Skills Council supports collaboration across sectors to identify priority areas for action to ensure Canada has a skilled workforce. The Future Skills Centre and the WICs should continue to encourage proposals from employer groups and other industry partnerships.

Recommendation 2: Future Skills and the WICs should exploit assessments and forecasts of skills needs in setting their priorities and research agendas.

Impact of adult learning

For job-related training to have a positive impact on labour market outcomes, training must be of high quality and relate closely to skills needed by employers. An enabling environment at the workplace is also essential to put acquired skills to good use. Finally, reliable information about the quality and outcomes of training programmes should be gathered and circulated. Such information helps individuals, employers and public employment services make sound investments in adult learning.

In Canada, reliable information about the quality of training programmes could be improved. A review of the existing evidence base called for “systematic, independent, academic evaluations that use randomised controlled trials” in evaluating the outcomes of training programmes (Jansen et al., 2019[11]).

All projects funded by the Future Skills Centre are required to undergo an independent evaluation that must abide by an evaluation framework. The evaluation framework ensures consistency in evaluation practices and enables comparison between projects. The Future Skills Centre is also working with Statistics Canada to track the medium-term impact of its projects. If findings from these evaluations are disseminated well, this can help to build an evidence base about the outcomes of training programmes. By identifying approaches that work, this evidence can then inform to the direction of investments in existing adult learning programmes and make the case for new investments and improvements to programmes.

While NLWIC applicants are required to demonstrate with evidence that their project addresses a labour market need, projects are not required to undergo a formal evaluation. Funded projects may evaluate existing programmes that have not yet been evaluated, but evaluation is not a requirement for most projects. A key challenge identified by focus group participants was that many community organisations receiving funding to test a new approach do not have the capacity to carry out their own evaluation or manage an evaluation process. They could benefit from support in learning how to share the results of their project in the framework of an evaluation or otherwise. To build this capacity, the NLWIC is considering offering seminars or online resources on how to apply for grants and prepare evaluation guides.

Some countries with similar programmes require that grantees carry out their own evaluations or hire independent evaluators. For instance, grantees of the United States’ Workforce Innovation Fund must hire independent evaluators to examine and report on their interventions. To support grantees, the United States Department of Labor offers online guides and webinars through its WorkforceGPS website on how to prepare an evaluation plan and how to choose an evaluator (Box 2.8).

Other programmes match projects with independent evaluators. This has the advantage of reducing the burden on grantees who may not have the internal capacity to prepare an evaluation plan or hire and manage the work of an external evaluator. As a requirement of annual funding under the National Training Fund, Skillnet Ireland employs external consultants to conduct annual independent evaluations of their sectoral training programmes that cover their inputs, activities, and outcomes.

Evaluating projects based on common outcome indicators enables comparison of performance. Analysis from Laboissiere and Moursed (2017[12]) based on evidence from the United States emphasises the importance of collecting outcome data that enables a calculation of the return on investment (ROI) of a particular project. Employers are more likely to participate and pay for workforce development programmes if they have proof of ROI. They suggest tracking the cost of programme recruitment and training, employer productivity and quality outcomes, retention and speed to promotion (Laboissiere and Mourshed, 2017[12]). To measure the impact on individuals, important metrics include comparison of income of graduates before and after training, continued employment, job promotion and reliance on public support.

The Future Skills Centre and WICs have the potential to contribute to a stronger impact evaluation culture in Canada. The main difference between monitoring outcomes and a real impact evaluation is the use of a counterfactual to estimate what part of the observed outcomes can be attributed to the training intervention (White, Sinha and Flanagan, 2006[13]). An impact evaluation of an adult learning programme generally compares the outcomes of training participants to the outcomes of similar adults who did not participate. The centres that make up the UK What Works Network use a variety of standards of evidence to assess the robustness of impact evaluations. These include the five-point Scientific Maryland Scale (SMS) (Table 2.4) used by the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth. Under the SMS, Level 5 is reserved for randomised control trials. The Centre prioritises impact evaluations that have the potential to score three or above on the SMS when assessing the evidence base.

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Table 2.4. The Scientific Maryland Scale

Characteristics of impact evaluation

Level 1

Correlation of outcomes with presence or intensity of treatment, cross-sectional comparisons of treated groups with untreated groups, or other cross-sectional methods in which there is no attempt to establish a counterfactual.

Level 2

Comparison of outcomes in treated group after an intervention, with outcomes in the treated group before the intervention (‘before and after’ study).

Level 3

Comparison of outcomes in treated group after an intervention, with outcomes in the treated group before the intervention, and a comparison group used to provide a counterfactual (e.g. difference in difference). Evidence presented on comparability of treatment and control groups but they are poorly balanced on pre-treatment characteristics.

Level 4

Comparison of outcomes in treated group after an intervention, with outcomes in the treated group before the intervention, and a comparison group used to provide a counterfactual (i.e. difference in difference). Evidence presented on comparability of treatment and control groups and they are balanced on pre-treatment characteristics.

Level 5

Reserved for research designs that involve randomisation into treatment and control groups.

Source: What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, “About our reviews”, https://whatworksgrowth.org/public/files/Methodology/14-03-20_About_our_Reviews.pdf.

A key challenge in developing evidence on the impact of training programmes is tracking participants long enough to observe measurable impact. Many of the indicators noted above entail several years of observation. With project funding lasting two or three years, there is often insufficient time to assess factors beyond the initial programme implementation and any short-term impacts (i.e. less than a year). Importantly, a meta-analysis of active labour market programmes (Card, Kluve and Weber, 2018[14]) found that classroom and on-the-job training programmes for the unemployed have a positive impact on employment in the medium term (i.e. after two years). In the short term, though, the impact is insignificant or even negative due to “lock in effects” (i.e. training participants suspend job search effort while training). With the investment fund programmes in the United Kingdom that funded skills infrastructure projects, the final evaluation concluded that a longer timeframe than two years after engagement was needed, and that training impacts may take up to seven years to materialise (Tu et al., 2016[15]). One way to track programme participants for longer periods is by linking information about the same person from two or more data sources (e.g. survey and administrative data). But there are caveats associated with data linkage, notably the challenges with protecting individual confidentiality. The Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Linkage Platform, announced in Canada’s 2019 federal budget2, supports data linkage efforts that preserve confidentiality by replacing personal identifiers with linkage keys.

Backlash can follow public investment in workforce innovation if tested approaches prove unsuccessful. Fear that a programme will be shut down unless funded projects are successful could create incentives for biased evaluations, undermining a better understanding about what works. To combat this, and to promote a culture of rigorous evaluation, the Future Skills Centre and WICs should challenge themselves to highlight the evaluation results both from successful and unsuccessful projects. Knowing what does not work when it comes to training and upskilling adults is just as important as knowing what does work. The What Works Network in the United Kingdom has adopted this approach. In their 5-year report, they draw attention to both the types of interventions that did not have expected impacts, as well as those that did. Somewhat counter-intuitively, one What Works Centre found that re-training workers post-employment appears to have a more positive effect on employment rates and earnings than traditional outplacement services provided before the workers leave their existing jobs (What Works Centre, 2018[16]).

Disseminating the evidence from evaluations in accessible ways facilitates its use among practitioners of adult learning. They can then modify programmes for better performance. For instance, the BC Centre for Employment Excellence introduced a webinar and a podcast series, Innovate, Implement and Inspire, which explored uncommon approaches to labour market challenges and featured interviews with practitioners. Lessons learned from projects funded by the United States’ Workforce Innovation Fund are published online as case studies. In Victoria, Australia, the inaugural Workforce Training Innovation Fund showcase held at the Melbourne Convention Centre in 2019 highlighted the results gathered from twelve funded projects that delivered novel training approaches. Skillnet Ireland created an online video bank to showcase the impact of its training initiatives. In the United Kingdom, Unionlearn set up a blog where employers can share their experiences, advice and insights about the impact of workforce development initiatives based on evaluations.

Policy makers can also use evidence from evaluations to improve the quality of programmes at the national level. Evaluations from the United States’ WIF played a key role in informing the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014, which replaced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) (Betesh, 2017[17]). WIOA places more emphasis on the use of evidence-based programming in workforce development policy. The legislation prioritises successful approaches tested under WIF. For example, one WIF project found that offering accelerated career pathways training in manufacturing increased employment rates and quarterly earnings for programme participants relative to a control group (Betesh et al., 2017[18]). The WIOA now emphasises both career pathways and sector strategies in the delivery of workforce development services. In Canada, the Future Skills Office within ESDC was created to ensure the findings from the Council and the Centre are considered by all governments (federal, provincial, territorial) when developing and investing in new programmes.

An important policy action is to synthesise the body of existing evidence so that it is accessible for policy makers and practitioners. The UK What Works Centres perform a useful service in this regard by establishing an agreed set of standards for assessing the quality of evaluations, distilling existing evidence into concrete guidance for policy makers, and filling gaps in the evidence base by commissioning new trials (Box 2.9).

Fostering better use of newly acquired skills in the workplace also encourages higher returns on training. This is still an undeveloped policy area in Canada. Some countries have undertaken initiatives from which Canada can learn. Chapter 3 will discuss ways that the research activities of the WICs and Future Skills could build an evidence base around effective workplace practices that foster better use of skills.

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Box 2.8. United States’ Workforce Innovation Fund and WorkforceGPS

Workforce Innovation Fund

The Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF) supports innovation in workforce development at the systems and service delivery levels. Since 2012, the WIF has provided 45 competitive grants to states, regions, and localities to transform the public workforce system, including breaking down programme silos and implementing innovative approaches to the design and delivery of employment and training services. The Department of Labor finances the WIF to invest in programmes that support, evaluate and enhance workforce investment strategies, particularly for vulnerable populations, youth and dislocated workers.

Each grantee must commission its own independent evaluation. The Employment and Training Administration hired a National Evaluation Coordinator (NEC) to oversee the independent evaluations commissioned by WIF grantees. The NEC provides each grantee with support to ensure that they meet the evaluation requirements and to help them secure third-party evaluators. The NEC also assists the evaluators in complying with evaluation requirements.

WorkforceGPS

Funded by the Department of Labor, WorkforceGPS is an online portal that provides technical assistance for workforce professionals, educators and business leaders. Training materials and online learning resources on evaluation design and implementation are available on the website. An evaluation toolkit provides information about choosing an evaluation model and selecting appropriate third-party evaluators, such as higher education institutions or research firms. For instance, they note that collaborating with research universities to conduct evaluations has advantages: universities often have access to “big data” computing facilities and evaluations can serve as research opportunities for graduate students, which may entail less cost than with private firms or in-house services. The Evaluation Hub Peer Learning Cohort Forum provides an interactive platform for participants to discuss challenges and solutions in evaluation design and implementation.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (2018[19]), Evaluation Toolkit: Key Elements for State Workforce Agencies; WorkforceGPS, “About WorkforceGPS”, https://innovation.workforcegps.org/about.

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Box 2.9. What Works Network in the United Kingdom

The What Works Network was launched in the United Kingdom in 2013, and now consists of 13 What Works Centres. The Centres are independent from one another, operating with different levels of funding and areas of focus such as policing, education, youth unemployment, local economic growth, and health and social care. Each Centre is committed to generating evidence, translating that evidence into relevant and actionable guidance, and helping decision makers take action.

One of the core functions of the What Works Centres is to help practitioners reach judgments by producing assessments of the quality of existing evidence in their field of expertise. The Centres screen evaluations based on the robustness of their research methods, with those using randomised control trials scoring the highest. Of the over 3 000 studies on adult learning identified by the What Works Centre for Well-being, only 25 met robustness standards. The assessments also summarise for policy makers the types of interventions that work, for whom and under which circumstances.

The Centres help to fill gaps in the evidence base by calling attention to those gaps, directly commissioning research, and building the capacity of local and national policymakers and practitioners to generate high-quality evidence. For instance, the What Works Centre for Well-being runs an annual course for civil servants on how to incorporate well-being into policy analysis and has developed a micro-site to help charities evaluate whether their activities improve the well-being of the people they support.

A particularly important role of the Centres is to translate evidence into guidance. Recognising that practitioners and front-line workers have little time to read lengthy evidence reviews, the Centres translate their assessments into short, practical manuals that break down key information into steps. They also disseminate guidance via digital media, and through outreach programmes including practitioner academies, local partnerships, and master classes.

Source: What Works Network (2018[20]), “The What Works Network Five Years On”, www.gov.uk/guidance/what-works-network ; Work Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, “About our reviews”, https://whatworksgrowth.org/public/files/Methodology/14-03-20_About_our_Reviews.pdf.

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All projects funded by the Future Skills Centre are required to undergo an evaluation. Projects funded by the NLWIC are not subject to an evaluation requirement and grantees lack capacity to carry out evaluations on their own.

Recommendation 3: WICs should build the capacity of grantees to monitor the impact of their projects.

Recommendation 4: The Future Skills Centre should establish quality standards for evaluations to improve the impact evaluation culture in Canada, possibly following the Scientific Maryland Scale.

Recommendation 5: The Future Skills Centre and WICs should allocate sufficient funding to track participants’ outcomes from training-related projects over the longer term (i.e. 2-3 years after implementation). This is already part of the Future Skills Centre mandate. The Government of Canada should also support data linkage efforts that enable researchers and policy makers to track training participant outcomes over the long-term.

Recommendation 6: Future Skills and WICs should draw inspiration from international efforts to strengthen their planned dissemination efforts, including webinars, in-person showcases, conferences, master classes, and policy briefs.

Financing

The Future Skills Centre and WICs together allocate a substantial public investment towards adult learning through their competitive grants. These grants are not intended to finance the delivery of adult learning. Rather, they are used to prototype and evaluate innovative models of skills development.

The work of Future Skills and the WICs can improve the financing of Canada’s adult learning system in two ways. First, it can bring to light innovative but cost-effective models of skills development. Second, it can encourage the development of co-financing partnerships.

In Canada, the financial cost of training represents a barrier to participation for individuals. According to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, 19% of adults in Canada who wanted to participate more in training did not do so because it was too expensive (see Chapter 1). This is higher than the OECD average (16%) and is the second most reported barrier for individuals after being too busy at work. In evaluating innovative approaches to skills development, one element of the evaluation framework should be whether the training can be delivered in a way that is affordable for the individual and/or employer.

An effective financing model for adult learning entails a sufficient level of funding provided through a mix of co-financing by government, employers and individuals. Encouraging co-financing arrangements through the projects they support is one way that Future Skills and the WICs can help overcome financial constraints to training. Under current rules, the Future Skills Centre encourages but does not require in-kind matching contributions from successful applicants. Neither does the NLWIC impose any matching requirements on applicants. Some countries with similar programmes require that applicants match the grant with their own contributions, which can induce a greater stake in the project, leading to stronger ownership. At the same time, matching requirements may limit the participation of SMEs who face greater time and cost constraints. The United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) piloted a series of co-investment funds between 2011 and 2016 (Box 2.10). Employers were eligible to propose solutions to skills challenges and successful employers were required to match the investment with their own contribution. An impact evaluation found that the programmes were successful at improving engagement of employers in training, but that SME engagement remained low. Requiring a lower contribution from SMEs is one way to overcome this challenge. In Australia, the Industry Skills Fund targeted growth-oriented SMEs and operated under a co-financing model with the firm’s contribution based on a sliding scale depending on the size and location of the firm. An impact evaluation based on survey evidence found that 42% of businesses would not have conducted training in the absence of the fund, suggesting that it was successful in encouraging small businesses to provide training where they otherwise would not have (ACIL Allen Consulting, 2016[21]).

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Box 2.10. United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills

Pilot co-investment funds to support innovative and demand-led skills solutions

Between 2011 and 2016, the UKCES piloted a series of investment fund programmes to incentivise a demand-led approach to skills development. These pilot funds included the Employer Investment Fund (launched in 2011, supported 87 projects), the Growth and Innovation Fund (launched in 2011, supported 37 projects), the Employer Ownership of Skills initiative (2012-2014), and the UK Futures Programme (2014-16).

The Employment Investment Fund (EIF) and the Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) made time-limited funding available for start-up investments in skills and employment infrastructure, with no participation funding available (i.e. no direct funding for the training of specific individuals). Eligibility for EIF was restricted to sector skills councils, while eligibility for GIF was not. Co-funding of projects was mandatory: the UKCES invested GBP 111 million in 124 projects under the EIF and GIF, and employers matched an additional GBP 103 million. The impact evaluation for these two funds noted that they successfully engaged employers, particularly in sectors with strong supply chains and peer networks (like advanced manufacturing and energy and utilities), but SME engagement remained low. Where SME engagement was successful, strategies included use of specialist brokers with sectoral knowledge as well as face-to-face communication to ensure that the offer met the specific needs of SMEs and to encourage take-up. The investments from EIF and GIF resulted in new online skills diagnostic tools, networks/partnerships and the development of training capacity. However, only one in five projects was expected to be financially sustainable after the initial public investment was spent.

The Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot (EOP) in England funded employer-led partnerships to find innovative ways to address skills development and workplace productivity. Through a competitive bidding process, companies could submit proposals that focused on industrial partnerships with employee representative groups. Employers were encouraged to work together with training providers, trade unions and other relevant actors, to develop their own skills agenda and drive the design and delivery of skills solutions for their workers. Investment funds could support leadership and management training for SMEs and social enterprises. An intermediate evaluation of the programme concluded that the EOP resulted in SMEs providing training that they would not have otherwise. The key element was found to be the collaborative model used by the EOP, which reduced risks and costs for individual employers by pooling learners across SMEs.

Under the UK Futures Programme (UKFP), the UKCES offered public co-investment to employers and industry to design and test their own solutions to emerging or long-standing skills and productivity challenges. The UKFP set five “productivity challenges,” including addressing skills shortages in the off-site construction sector, enhancing skills for innovation management and commercialisation in the manufacturing sector, and developing progression pathways in the hospitality and retail sectors. Employer engagement was most effective when utilising existing networks (e.g. sector bodies) and engaging in face-to-face conversations.

Source: BIS (2015[22]), “Evaluation of the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot, Round 1: Initial findings”, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/412685/BIS-15-178-evaluation-of-the-employer-ownership-of-skills-pilot-round-1.pdf; OECD (2017[23]) Getting Skills Right: United Kingdom, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264280489-en; Tu et al. (2016[15]), “Employer Investment Fund (EIF) and Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) Programme Level Evaluation: Final Report”, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employer-investment-fund-and-growth-and-innovation-fund-programme-level-evaluation; UKCES (2015[24]), “Impact evaluation of the Employer Investment Fund and Growth Innovation Fund: project level learning and performance”, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417738/Review_final_for_web.pdf; UKCES (2011[25]), “Employer Ownership of Skills: Securing a sustainable partnership for the long term, UK Commission for Employment and Skills”, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/305746/employer-ownership-of-skills-web-vision-report-final2.pdf.

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The Future Skills Centre and WICs direct substantial public investment to testing innovative approaches to skill development.

Recommendation 7: The Future Skills Centre and WICs could further stimulate co-financed adult learning solutions by requiring that successful applicants match contributions, possibly on a sliding scale so that smaller firms contribute less than larger firms do.

Governance and co-ordination

Adult learning in Canada, as in other countries, comprises a complex policy field with programmes designed for a variety of objectives and target groups. With responsibility for adult learning split across ministries, levels of government, and often shared with social partners, training providers, or NGOs, strong coordination mechanisms are essential. OECD (2003[26]) called for a co-ordinated approach to adult learning whereby there is “a balanced interaction between a top-down approach – in which governments define structures and financing procedures – and a bottom-up approach that enables local actors to provide feedback on the problems they face and the innovative solutions they have found”.

The new skills-related programmes in Canada support a balance between a top-down and bottom-up approach to workforce innovation and adult learning. Policy responses can be challenging in a federal model where provinces and territories have responsibility for education and training policy. Future Skills has the potential to improve coordination on adult learning policy in Canada. The design of Future Skills is intended to ensure that evidence generated by the Future Skills Centre and Council is disseminated across all governments and to networks of stakeholders. This is achieved by the Future Skills Office engaging with other federal government departments and the provinces and territories to support the integration of evidence into policy and programme design. The independence of the Future Skills Centre may also support coordination efforts. An independent and well-reputed organisation conducting skill assessment and anticipation exercises can facilitate social dialogue about skills needs, as has been the case in Belgium (Flanders), Norway, the United Kingdom and Australia. Balance is essential. While national leadership supports a coordinated top-down approach, the diverse economic and cultural conditions across provinces and territories in Canada justify a regional approach to workforce development. The WICs and LEPCs support such an approach.

Stakeholder engagement is a stated priority for Future Skills, the NLWIC, and the LEPCs. Examples of how to continue to engage stakeholders can be drawn from the experience of Australia’s Try, Test and Learn Fund, in which the Department of Social Services carried out a variety of consultations with stakeholders, including design workshops, early consultations with states and territory governments, and a policy hack to discuss lessons learned (Box 2.11).

The research agendas of the Future Skills Centre and the WICs present an opportunity to improve cooperation between stakeholders in the policy response to changing skills needs. By encouraging proposals from partnerships of employer groups, unions, training institutions, practitioners and other community actors, the Future Skills Centre and the WICs can facilitate coordinated solutions to skills challenges. This is similar to the approach taken in the United States, where the Department of Labor awards competitive Workforce Innovation Fund grants to consortia of state workforce agencies or local workforce investment boards to implement new or untested approaches to workforce development.

The involvement of the provinces and territories in the development and management of Future Skills deserves careful thought, particularly given that five provinces have established their own WICs with similar mandates to the Future Skills Centre. The Mowat Centre argues that “the Future Skills Centre should be seen … as an experiment in the development of a more mature approach to federal-provincial institutional co-governance in Canada” (Parkin, Hartmann and Morden, 2017[27]), and that it ought to be jointly created, owned and managed by all 14 governments (10 provinces, 3 territories, federal government). Future Skills works with the Forum of Labour Market Ministers to support involvement of provinces and territories. This collaboration helps to align priorities, ensure complimentary efforts and share knowledge. While the provinces are not currently involved in the governance of the Future Skills Centre, the Centre holds bilateral discussions with provinces and territories. The Centre is also working with provinces and territories to identify how to have a presence in each region to address regional needs. The Future Skills Centre can foster further dialogue and coordination between the provincial WICs, for instance, through national conferences, promotion of joint projects, and by acting as a repository of good practice.

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Box 2.11. Australia’s Try, Test and Learn Fund

Launched in 2016 and managed by the Department of Social Services, Australia’s Try, Test and Learn Fund tests innovative approaches to assist groups of people at risk of long-term welfare dependence. Two separate “tranches” or calls for proposals were carried out as part of the programme, with AUD 96.1 million allocated towards 53 projects. The programme itself is currently under evaluation.

The open and collaborative approach to policy development is a key strength of the Try, Test and Learn Fund. Recognising the importance of stakeholder engagement, the Department of Social Services reached out to representatives from the community sector, business, academia and the general public in the following ways:

  • A consultative design workshop to seek stakeholders’ inputs on the fund

  • Consultations with state and territory governments

  • A policy hack on lessons learned from the first tranche

  • An ideas exchange with employers, community leaders and service providers

  • Information sessions across Australia to spread awareness of the fund for potential tranche two applicants

Source: Department of Social Services (2019[28]), Stakeholder engagement: Try, Test and Learn fund., https://www.dss.gov.au/review-of-australias-welfare-system/australian-priority-investment-approach-to-welfare/stakeholder-engagement.

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The combination of Future Skills, provincial WICs, and local actors (including Ontario’s Local Employment Planning Councils) supports a balance between a top-down and bottom-up approach to workforce innovation and adult learning. As an independent body, the Future Skills Centre can facilitate better coordination on workforce innovation and adult learning policy in Canada.

Recommendation 8: The Future Skills Centre should play a leadership role in coordinating dialogue between the WICs, through national conferences, facilitating joint projects, and acting as a repository of good practice.

copy the linklink copied!Assessment and recommendations

Overall, Canada’s new workforce innovation programmes stand to improve the future-readiness of the adult learning system in a substantive way. Suggested areas for improvement are summarised in the table below.

Most of the initiatives supported by Future Skills and the WICs focus on the supply side of the labour market (e.g. skills development, matching jobseekers with jobs, reducing barriers for under-represented groups). But the demand side of workforce development – creating opportunities for learning and development within firms – is equally important. An enabling workplace environment amplifies the returns to adult learning by creating opportunities for adults to apply their newly acquired skills. The next chapter introduces the concept of learning organisations, and the role of high-performance work practices in contributing to better skills use and learning within the workplace. It highlights examples of how countries promote such practices within firms, and suggests how Canada could stimulate and promote such practices.

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Recommendations

The following actions should be taken by Future Skills and the provincial workforce innovation centers:

Coverage and inclusiveness

  • Test ways to engage low-skilled adults in learning.

Alignment of training with labour market needs

  • Exploit assessments and forecasts of skill needs in setting their priorities and research agendas.

Impact of adult learning

  • Build the capacity of grantees to monitor the impact of their projects.

  • Establish quality standards through the Future Skills Center to improve the impact evaluation culture in Canada, possibly following the Scientific Maryland Scale.

  • Allocate sufficient funding to track participants’ outcomes from training-related projects over the longer term (i.e. 2-3 years after implementation). This is already part of the Future Skills Centre mandate. The Canadian government should also support data linkage efforts that enable researchers and policy makers to track training participant outcomes over the long-term.

  • Draw inspiration from international efforts to strengthen planned dissemination efforts, including webinars, in-person showcases, conferences and policy briefs.

Financing

  • Stimulate further co-financed adult learning solutions by requiring that successful applicants match contributions, possibly on a sliding scale so that smaller firms contribute less than larger firms do.

Governance and co-ordination

  • Under the leadership of the Future Skills Centre, coordinate dialogue between the WICs, through national conferences, facilitating joint projects, and building a repository of good practice.

References

[21] ACIL Allen Consulting (2016), “Industry Skills Fund and the Youth Stream Pilot Programs: Independent Evaluation Final Report”.

[17] Betesh, H. (2017), Evidence in Action: Connecting Workforce Innovation Fund Evaluation Results to the Implementation of WIOA, Social Policy Research Associates, https://www.spra.com/2017/06/28/evidence-in-action/.

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Notes

← 1. The Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation was initiated in 2015 and closed in 2019 due to a provincial level decision to end funding.

← 2. https://crdcn.org/article/education-and-labour-market-longitudinal-linkage-platform.

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