11/08/2013 12:43 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

C'mon Provinces, At Least Try to Make Training Better

Federal and provincial labour market ministers are meeting today, and on the agenda is the Canada Job Grant (CJG), a program that looks at changing the way we spend a small portion of the $2.5 billion dedicated by the federal government to sponsor workplace training.

In short, the feds have proposed that, rather than having federal or provincial government bureaucrats decide how best to train those seeking work, employers should be asked to get involved.

CFIB supports the basic design principles behind the CJG and is calling on both the federal and provincial governments to focus on maximizing the benefits of training expenditures. Reports on current provincial training programs show mixed results at best. Research shows that involving employers more directly in determining training needs is actually most effective -- no surprise here.

Small firms currently spend over $18 billion annually on training -- the majority of which is informal, on-the-job training. While we recognize that informal training is perhaps difficult to quantify and measure, Employment Minister Jason Kenney has publicly acknowledged the importance of flexibility in the way the CJG is applied, particularly when it comes to small and medium-sized firms.

Before the meeting, the ministers received a letter from CFIB, urging them to keep certain key principles top-of-mind, in order to make the CJG accessible to small business. They are:

• Recognizing informal training;

• Partnering with private training institutions;

• Minimizing red tape; and

• Recognizing small business cashflow realities.

The federal government proposes leaving 85 per cent of federal training spending in the hands of provincial governments. They are talking about trying new approaches with less than 15 per cent of the money -- and I think it is worth a try.

As usual, the devil is in the details. As long as the feds demonstrate flexibility in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I hope provincial governments focus on improving our training programs -- not just defending the status quo. Unemployed workers and small businesses are counting on you ministers!