Education and the budget

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier


Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

Canadians are facing an educational paradox with the following two contrasting issues.  First, there are shortages in many areas of our labour force, but there’s also a mismatch between the education and experience requested and the actual education/experience of the Canadian worker. Second, future projections predict that half of current human labour activity will be replaced by robots.
To give a specific example, consider truck drivers. Many transportation companies report they are having trouble finding qualified truck drivers and available positions go unfilled.  Truck drivers can earn a good salary and one would expect that younger unemployed or under-employed persons would seek to become skilled in this area. However, recent developments in transportation technology indicate that within the next ten years, at least 50% of trucks will be fully automated and not require drivers. So, any person looking at the transportation sector for employment as a driver will ask “what will happen to me in ten years when my skills will no longer be required?”.
But truck driving is not the only area of employment that will be affected by developments in artificial intelligence and robotics. High skilled technical jobs will also be affected. Engineers, health workers, trades workers and professional jobs such as managers and financial planners are all susceptible to replacement by artificial intelligent machines. Estimates by knowledgeable prognosticators point to a reduction of 50% in labour force demands within the next twenty-five years.
Thus, there is a serious problem with current approaches to labour force availability and job prospects. Today’s job vacancies need to be filled by trained personnel, but these jobs will become redundant within the person’s working life.
An essential component to addressing the problem of immediate need and future obsolescence is continuous learning. The recent federal budget seems to offer a partial recognition of the issue. Specifically, it proposes a refundable tax credit (the Canada Training Credit) that allows individuals to accumulate $250 each year to a maximum of $5,000 to pay for training. There are a number of conditions and requirements attached to the proposal, but the main question is “Is this a viable part of the solution?”. Does this even begin to address the current and future problems (which are very different) facing the Canadian labour market?
Education is a provincial responsibility and any educational proposal by the federal government must be approved and implemented by provincial governments. Past efforts by the federal government acting alone have come to nothing.
How will the proposal affect provincial (especially Quebec) adult education
programs? Any meaningful solution to the labour paradox must involve all players: workers, students, educational institutions, accrediting agencies, all levels of government, and society at large. Finding a solution means starting now. A nice promise in a budget geared to an election is not going to work. The latest Quebec budget contained promises relating to kindergarten, but nothing on adult training or retraining.
One of the most significant and urgent issues facing the Canadian economy and well-being of its citizens remains largely ignored by our politicians at both the federal and provincial levels.