In 2019, Jason Kenney said he was going to put 50,000 Albertans back to work with a massive corporate tax cut. In 2020 Jason Kenney said he was going to put 112,400 Albertans back to work with a massive corporate tax cut, infrastructure spending and by investing in the Keystone XL pipeline. In 2021 Jason Kenney says he’s going put 22,000 Albertans back to work by providing cash to companies and not-for-profits to hire or train unemployed or underemployed workers.
Given his track record it makes sense to be a little skeptical.
This latest job creation effort by Kenney is called Alberta Jobs Now and funding for this $370 million program is coming from both the federal government and the province. It’s the last-minute plan for job-retraining funding from the feds that the UCP nearly left on the table.
Alberta's Jobs Now program is being applauded by employers. The press conference to announce the program featured the support of the CEOs of the Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. Owners seem to love it—but there has been precious little feedback from workers or from the post-secondary sector (which you imagine would be the folks providing the training.)
"Our comparator provinces, BC and Ontario, invested some of the Canada Workforce Development Agreement to expand their post-secondary education system—starting new micro-credentialing programs and increasing apprenticeships seats—while Alberta has slashed PSE funding for three years in a row, and now missed an opportunity to reinvest in new programs that could drive Alberta's economy and society forward," said Dr. Kevin Kane, president of Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations and a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta.
Curiously, the program doesn’t focus on job training
Employers can apply for grants that cover 25 percent of a worker’s salary for a year, up to a maximum of $25,000 per employee. If the employer hires someone with a disability they recieve a grant that is worth up to $37,500.
While the grant can cover training costs, the focus definitely seems to be on salary—a curious decision when half the money comes from the federal government and is focused on job training. As an incentive to keep these workers around for the year the employers are paid the first instalment after 12 weeks of employment and the final payment after a year.
Applications are being accepted and will be accepted until the end of August with a second application period to follow. Employers can apply for this grant 20 times during each application period.
How are other provinces using this money?
Called ‘workforce development agreements,’ the government of Canada has similar funding arrangements with every other province, providing funds that are used on a variety of programs to get people the training they need to get a job.
Like Alberta some provinces have built new programs to react to the pandemic. In February the B.C. government announced that a portion of these funds would be redirected towards a $4 million micro-credentialing program. The BC government worked with 15 public post-secondary institutions to provide short-duration micro-credentials for more than 2,000 people. This effort was specifically marketed at people whose jobs have been impacted by the pandemic. This is in addition to the existing workforce development agreement between B.C. and the government of Canada that funds a variety of workforce training programs.
In April the government of Ontario announced a $15 million dollar micro-credentialing program that is being funded through their workforce development agreement with the government of Canada. Like in B.C. this program pushed people to post-secondary institutions to get more training.
"Albertans don't just need to be retrained coming out of COVID, but all of Alberta needs a multitude of pathways for them to find rewarding careers today and for the rest of their lives. My sector, universities, does not just train people for entry-level jobs but instead develops a series of competencies that will help provide success in all stages of their careers," says Kane.
Micro-credentials can be problematic. Employers can game the system by hiring workers with micro-credentials at lower pay than fully trained and credentialed workers. A construction company could hire someone with a framing ticket instead of a journeyman carpenter, for example. These workforce development agreements are specifically meant for job training but Alberta’s Jobs Now program treats training as an afterthought.
Given the massive cuts that the Kenney administration has made to Alberta’s post-secondary system, and the tumult we’ve seen in the economy and job market, getting more people more training is a smart, long-term plan.
But Kenney and his government would rather shovel money out the door to Chamber of Commerce members rather than invest in the post-secondary sector to make sure workers are getting what they need to succeed.
It’s an approach that is terribly short-sighted, argues Dr. Kane. “Funding private businesses to hire people while laying off thousands of college and university staff seems counterproductive. Alberta needs to stop choosing the private sector over the public sector, and realize that both contribute to a strong economy and healthy lives for our citizens."