By Gavin Moodie

The report of the Premier of Ontario’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel released on June 23 is a useful advance on the ‘skills gap’ commentary common in much discussion of the relation between education and work in Canada and elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 11.17.33 AMThe panel was chaired by Sean Conway, former Minister of Education, and Minister of Colleges, Universities and Skills Development and current visiting fellow at Ryerson University. The panel members were: Carol Campbell, Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at OISE; Robert Hardt, President and CEO of Siemens Canada Limited; Alison Loat, co-founder of Samara, a charitable non-partisan organization to improve political participation in Canada; and Pradeep Sood, Chair of Highbury Canco Corporation, a food processing company.

The report’s title ‘Building the workforce of tomorrow: a shared responsibility’ reflects its future orientation in preference to a preoccupation with perceived current problems. It also reflects the report’s advocacy of cooperative action by employers, educational institutions and government bodies, again in contrast to much commentary which lays most responsibility on one of those actors.

The report’s most interesting advance in Ontario public policy is its presentation of an intermediate position on workforce development between the ‘let the market rip’ approach of England, many USA states and elsewhere, and the corporatist approach of the coordinated market economies of Germany and elsewhere in northern continental Europe.

The report proposes many measures, each warranting a separate discussion. The report’s general technique is to recommend intermediaries to foster educators’ and employers’ mutual communication, collaboration and adaptive change. The intermediaries would not be of any one sector, but would per part of civil society, as it is sometimes known.

Thus the report recommends ‘specific partnerships between post-secondary institutions and employers’ (recommendation 1-3) to foster matching of programs and employment opportunities, an intermediary to match co-op opportunities and students (recommendation 3-2), and intermediaries ‘to design and implement industry-recognized experiential learning projects’ (recommendation 4-4).

The overall strategy would be coordinated by a Planning and Partnership Table jointly chaired by representatives from employers, education and government which ‘should not be a government-driven body but rather a mechanism in which all partners are invested and action is their primary concern’ (recommendation 1-1).

The Planning and Partnership Table would be supported by a Workforce Planning and Development Office in the provincial government, which ‘should have an inter-ministerial orientation and be outward looking’ (recommendation 1-2).

The Ontario Government announced that it ‘will continue to work with the panel members in the next few months to develop actions informed by the report’s recommendations’ and that ‘The panel will use the remainder of its mandate to work with the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and other ministries to develop projects that will implement recommendations in the report’.

A subsequent post will consider the report’s proposal for ‘modernized’ apprenticeships.