NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Programs & Supports for Small and Medium Enterprises
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Public Accounts Committee
Hon. Keith Colwell, Chairman
Mr. Howard Epstein, Vice-Chairman
Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon
Mr. Gary Ramey
Mr. Mat Whynott
Mr. Brian Skabar
Mr. Andrew Younger
Mr. Chuck Porter
Mr. Allan MacMaster
[Mr. Eddie Orrell replaced Mr. Chuck Porter]
Mrs. Darlene Henry
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Terry Spicer
Assistant Auditor General
Ms. Cathleen O’Grady
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Ms. Sandra McKenzie, Deputy Minister
Ms. Elizabeth Mills, Senior Executive Director, Skills and Learning
Ms. Marjorie Davison, Executive Director, Policy, Planning and Professional Services
Ms. Vicki Elliott-Lopez, Director, Workplace Initiatives
Ms. Laurie Bennett, Director, Financial Services
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2013
STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Keith Colwell
Mr. Howard Epstein
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning everyone. I’m going to call the meeting to order. We will start with the introduction of members and I’m going to start with Mr. Whynott.
[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, I am Keith Colwell, chairman of the committee. I’m going to start today’s proceedings with the deputy minister - some opening remarks, please.
MS. SANDRA MCKENZIE: Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the significant work underway to support small and medium-size enterprise in Nova Scotia. I was going to introduce people but we’ve just gone through the introductions so I’ll skip that.
Let me start by saying that it is really exciting to be a business owner in this province at this time. We are in the midst of some of the best opportunities in Nova Scotia’s history and we are focused on getting business and people ready. This is a time for preparation. To that note, we have been working hard to attract new industries and new employers and to build new opportunities for people to learn the right skills to find challenging and rewarding jobs.
It is not just Irving’s workers who will benefit from the opportunities available now and on the horizon - it’s all Nova Scotians. It is the IT companies that will support business growth, it’s the coffee shop owner who will now have more customers, it’s the farmer in rural Nova Scotia who will have to produce more, and it’s our education system that will now have more students. The economic spinoffs are plenty and thousands of businesses, small or large, will benefit.
We know that over the next decade that if we don’t act now, we will not have enough skilled workers to fill the opportunities that will be available in this province. That is a reality, and that is why we have to rethink how we do business. Through increased access to training, money, investments in post-secondary education and access to apprenticeship opportunities we are supporting people like Charles Mmoloke who went from being a dishwasher to getting a full-time job with CBCL Consulting Engineers Limited, as a municipal design technologist. People like Simon Yip felt confident enough in the opportunities in Nova Scotia to return home from British Columbia to take part in the marine repair technician apprenticeship path that was announced this summer.
We are helping people get to the next level, whether that is additional training or attachment to the workforce - people like Darren Weir, who participated in our GED boot camp is now at Eastern College. We are focused on working with both sides, not just individuals but employers as well. In order to continue to meet demands, employers need to pay more, they need to train more and they need to hire without experience. Gone are the days when employers could fill their workforce demands with employees who have several years of experience. The reality is that many of those workers do not have the experience that most jobs require.
We need to grow our workers here at home and Nova Scotian employers need to be the ones giving our workers the experience they need to build a career here. I know that sounds easier than it is. That is why government is focused on partnering with employers to help them become more competitive, to build the workforce of the future.
An example of how we’re doing this is the START Program. START connects unemployed Nova Scotians with little or no experience with employers who are willing to give them the experience, skills and the training they need. This program will help young people get their first experience here at home. It will help recent graduates enter the workforce, it will help apprentices connect with employers and it will help those Nova Scotians who have been out of the workforce for a while to get the skills they need to return to work.
I would like to highlight the apprenticeship element of this program for a moment. We know there will be thousands of opportunities in the skilled trades over the next decade. In the construction sector alone we will need close to 7,000 skilled workers to meet demand. We know that many small and medium-size businesses would love to hire an apprentice to help them with their business demands. The reality is that many businesses don’t have the capacity to take on an apprentice. Programs like START will help businesses with that.
The program provides incentives to business owners to offset the cost of things like training and wages, so that more people are connecting or reconnecting to the workforce and businesses are meeting their demands. The Canadian Tire in Bridgewater has used the START Program to hire five full-time employees, including apprentices, in good jobs in the trades and service industry. Again, it’s about rethinking how we deliver business here in Nova Scotia.
We also know that businesses, especially small and medium-size, don’t always have the resources to provide the training and skills needed. For example, many small and medium-size businesses don’t have HR departments for sure and they don’t have staff tagged with that responsibility. Because of that, we are providing businesses with free HR tools that will help employers recruit, develop and motivate staff. Employers can access information on-line on how to create a diverse job description or advertisement, ideas on how to find and keep workers, and manage a diverse work force. Pierre LaRochelle with AG Research has used this tool and credited it with helping him evaluate his HR practices to ensure his employees’ needs are fulfilled and that people they’re hiring are the best fit for the rewarding opportunities they offer.
Productivity is a key element in growing the competitiveness of a business. Many employers do not have the time or resources that allows for off-site training. Through a program called SkillsonlineNS, we are providing businesses with access to thousands of free on-line courses that promote learning in the work place, from Microsoft Office to the fundamentals of globalization, to occupational health and safety. These courses are providing employers and employees with access to training that would otherwise take them away from their office and would cost thousands of dollars. They can now access the training at their desk or on the shop floor and they can take these courses for free.
The courses include things like 15-minute tutorials and how to work with Gen Y or how to be a good coach. Paul Jamieson with Maritect Investigations and Security Limited in Sydney is using that program and has told us that it changed the way he thinks about training. He has said that his employees will have more opportunities for learning through advanced education sources in areas that influence their jobs.
Welcoming Workplaces is another example of how we are supporting business. This program helps employers engage and retain a more diverse and productive workforce. A free on-line workbook with practical advice and strategies help employers make workplaces more inclusive and welcoming through methods such as making diversity part of strategic business goals and reworking hiring procedures to be more inclusive. It also helps employers be more fair and understanding with diverse groups such as visible minorities, immigrants and persons with disabilities. Since launching these programs in the Fall, hundreds of businesses have enrolled and we are working to make more connections to promote these resources every day.
We also know that having access to the right equipment and resources plays a role in increasing competitiveness. This Fall, our department announced a partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College that will bring mobile training labs and equipment to rural communities across the province. These labs and equipment are providing businesses with the equipment that they otherwise would not have access to. These resources can provide apprenticeship training where it has not been previously available. These units can also be used at career fairs and high school demonstrations to introduce young people to opportunities for employment in the future.
These new training tools give NSCC the flexibility to respond to the needs of industry and workforce to grow the economy. These mobile training labs and simulators will give businesses innovative solutions they need to provide training to their employees. It’s a win-win.
Ultimately it’s about supply and demand. Our workforce is changing and we need to change with it. We are starting to see a shift. Businesses are not just buying what is being sold anymore. They are strategically identifying their needs and the needs of their employees and learning what supports are available to meet those demands. Competition is fierce and we are committed to helping businesses become more competitive. The Productivity Investment Program is designed to encourage business to become more productive, innovative and globally competitive. Our department works very closely with the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism to administer these programs. Our close work allows ERDT to put a labour lens on their work and in return, we have a business climate lens on what we do.
The Productivity Investment Program has two streams: the Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive, called WIPSI, and the Capital Investment Incentive. These programs help business invest in training as a way to increase innovation and overall competitiveness. This training allows employees to enhance their skills so they feel productive and supported in the workplace. Since the program’s inception two years ago, close to 4,000 employees have been trained. Industries such as information technology and oceans technology are benefiting industry and the possibilities are endless.
To that note I want to touch on a really exciting thing the department is collaboratively working on called the Innovation Summit. In the Spring, we are working to bring together educators, trainers, employers and business owners to have a collaborative and interactive discussion on how we can create an environment of innovation in Nova Scotia. We have big ideas in this province and the summit is about getting all the right people in the room to talk about how we support business with resources, policies and research they need to bring their ideas to market on a global stage.
In conclusion, significant work is underway to increase competitiveness. We are in a process of working with business to build a workplace safety culture that will make us the safest province in the country. We are working with employers to better define their role in the apprenticeship system. We are developing programs and pathways for youth to connect to training and education opportunities to build a life here and at home. We are reaching out to immigrants to connect them to business and skills, and we are investing in under-represented groups to attach them to the workforce.
Now is the time for business and Nova Scotians to get ready for the game-changing opportunities that are available. We are focused on collaboration to ensure our businesses are the best they can be.
Collaboratively, with this little team we have here, we hope to be able to answer all of your questions and I thank you for allowing me to open with those remarks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. Younger, you have 20 minutes.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Thank you for your opening statement. I think you referenced to some extent the Irving shipyard contract and so forth. We didn’t get a copy of your remarks but I think it sort of started after the introduction but I think that’s where you were starting it on.
I wanted to ask - obviously we’re hearing a lot of different things about that so there are different ideas of how much impact there will actually be in Nova Scotia. I don’t think anybody will honestly know for sure until it’s all rolled out and I think it would be tough for anybody to disagree with that because we don’t know, out of the $25 billion, how much of that will actually be spent. We know in the latest contract that there may or may not be the same number of ships built. We know that the steel obviously won’t come from Nova Scotia, that’s pretty much a certainty, so that’s a big chunk of that.
I’m wondering, what support measures has Labour and Advanced Education put in place, specifically to target small and medium-size businesses and help them compete for some of the work that might be available?
MS. MCKENZIE: We have been working with ERDT. So the ships table that was originally designed to support landing the contract, by clearly articulating that we were the best at this and if we were allowed to compete into a merit-based contract, we would win, that table continues. So we’ve been working with ACOA and there have been sessions held around the province introducing businesses to the concept of what it would take to compete into the supply chain. Irving has been attending those meetings and they have been explaining the Web site that they have. If you go on to the Web site, it explains what criteria you would have to have to be able to compete into the contracts.
I think I would echo my colleague, Simon d’Entremont’s comments the other day that were recorded in the paper; we can expect, if we are properly prepared, to capture about 32 per cent of the work. Every percentage point that we hit above that will be millions and millions of dollars for the province. So based on the Duke study that was recently done, which really refers to the anatomy of a ship, which is essentially really going down into what the supply chain looks like to build the first series of ships that are being developed, what we have identified as an opportunity for smaller Nova Scotian businesses is really to be able to sell into the first-tier and second-tier suppliers on the ships.
The analysis now that we’re working on will be to make sure that not only do they have the certifications which we can support them through the PIP programming, but also to make sure that we have the proper training that’s happening in the community college and in the universities to anticipate into the future. What we will be doing and have been doing is working directly through businesses, through the regional enterprise networks - when they are established - and through regional development authorities that are established here now.
MR. YOUNGER: Thank you. More of the Duke study - although of course, as you probably know, it doesn’t even address the issue of combat ships, which is the major part of the contract in Nova Scotia. It’s actually a strange study in that respect, it actually looks more at the B.C. model in some respects and what they’ve been awarded and then obviously looks at the Arctic patrol things here. That’s fine, I mean I recognize it does look at things.
You’ve referenced the meetings. Now Irving says that those are their meetings and they invited you guys along and that’s fine, you’re there, but it’s all their tools, they’re paying for them and all that. Maybe it’s not, maybe your guys are paying for them - I don’t know. I’m trying to find out, Irving suggests that that’s their project that they are doing with their Web site and trying to get small and medium-size businesses in the supply chain. What I want to know is what is Labour and Advanced Education doing specifically and how much money are they putting in to try and prepare businesses in the province for that, outside of what Irving is doing on their own? I’m just trying to separate the two, I guess.
MS. MCKENZIE: Right. The first thing you have to do is recognize what goes into building - and AOPS was first, so that’s why the Duke study focuses on that. We will be looking at surface combatants afterwards and we have some time for that.
What we’re doing - this series of programs that I’ve just described, which is working with small and medium-size enterprises to make sure that they are able to be competitive in what is a very competitive workforce right now - we’re also working with Irving on our end on a 10-year rolling workforce plan which is really to get Irving not only to identify what are the employees they’ll need into the future but what they expect in their first two tiers of their supply chain. That’s critical because understanding the specific types of engineering, the specific types of industrial architecture, and the specific types of IT will be critical in terms of identifying what the types of training are that are required. So we are working with them directly on that so that we are able to explain to small businesses and to people who are interested in training.
We are also working with Irving but also in the bigger sense, under the Atlantic Workforce Partnership, to identify what the needs are of small and medium-size enterprise for all of the large projects coming in Atlantic Canada. We’re trying to make sure that the businesses in Nova Scotia also benefit from the large projects happening, particularly in Labrador.
Every one of the programs that I’ve just described is the prepare phase of making sure that both small and medium-size enterprises are ready for business in the province.
MR. YOUNGER: How much money is earmarked in your department for that support related to the ships project? I mean it must have a budget, right?
MS. MCKENZIE: Specifically for ships?
MR. YOUNGER: Yes.
MS. MCKENZIE: No, we do not.
MR. YOUNGER: Why not?
MS. MCKENZIE: Well, because any one of our businesses could be selling into a much larger market than the attaching to the first or second tier suppliers of the ships.
MR. YOUNGER: That’s fine but you had - not Labour and Advanced Education, but the ships table had money earmarked specifically for the promotional campaign around ships so it seems strange to me that there would not be money specifically earmarked and programs specifically earmarked to actually deliver the economic benefit.
The other was a feel-good campaign that may or may not have had merit - that’s another discussion that we’ve all been through before and we don’t need to go through again - but it seems strange to me that you wouldn’t have money then earmarked for the most important part, which is to ensure that businesses - and I’ll be honest, I’m hearing from small and medium-size businesses particularly, that are wondering why there isn’t money earmarked specifically to help them in that respect.
MS. MCKENZIE: Specifically, it would be very helpful if you carried a list of the programs that are available for them because in many cases they’re not able to on-ramp into the supply chain until they’ve demonstrated through a series of contracts that they’re able to deliver to the quality and the standards that are required. These programs are intended to help prepare small business to be competitive not only into the Irving contract but into a much more competitive global supply chain.
If you are suggesting that we hive off money from the community college budget to say this is only for people who may work hypothetically on ships into the future, we haven’t done that. What we are saying is that we are targeting programming to prepare small and medium-size enterprise in the province to be ready for all opportunities that are coming in Atlantic Canada.
MR. YOUNGER: I guess my comment isn’t that you should be hiving money off from the community college and I’m going to talk about that in a second because I think there are issues that are hindering businesses on that side in terms of even reaching that part you’re talking about. A lot of your remarks were focused around preparing businesses for a ships contract but you don’t have money earmarked to prepare companies for the ships contract.
You are absolutely right that it will also allow them to - some of these businesses, anyway - to potentially compete in a global supply chain. You’re also right - and I’m just saying this to acknowledge the fact that these companies need to have certain qualifications and have worked on certain other projects, but the problem is that time is coming up now and there is a ramp-up period for them to get these other contracts under their belt. Otherwise they’re going to miss the opportunities to actually bid in the supply chain.
What will happen is that the more of them that miss that opportunity, the more that have now missed out on the whole supply chain - maybe they’ll pick it up when the combat ships come along or something like that, I don’t know. It’s hard to say, but of course a lot of businesses and companies that end up picking up work - however small - on the AOP ships will already be in the supply chain and already be the well-known and preferred suppliers for the combat ships, which I think we all understand why that would happen. But it’s about ramping them up now; it’s not about hiving money out of the community college.
MS. MCKENZIE: I asked that because I was trying to understand your question.
MR. YOUNGER: It’s not about where the money comes from at the moment. I mean, that would obviously need to be a discussion. I’m just wondering about dedicated programs to help - because those are specific industries; those are specific skill targets and so forth. I recognize that there are other programs and I’m going to talk about some of those in a second.
MS. MCKENZIE: Okay, so all the programs that we’re doing are preparatory for businesses to be able to participate so it would be impossible to say, this money for this training is only going to the businesses that hypothetically may get into the Irving supply chain - as opposed to saying, we’re making money available under PIP for businesses to become certified into ISO 9000 or anything that will allow them - so that’s what we’re doing. Then that prepares the businesses that participated to compete, but it would be impossible on the front end of that to say we’re only going to put this amount of money into these businesses that we think will be competitive into the supply chain, because we can’t anticipate. If you read the Duke study, it’s everything from who makes fishing nets to who makes the small wires that can go in. We believe the best lift is to make sure all businesses that are interested in that have access to that type of training.
Because you don’t have a copy of my notes, I was giving the shipbuilding contract as an example. There are many other growth sectors. I mentioned oceans industries, ICT, financial services and a variety of others. We’re preparing all of those businesses to be successful into the future.
Just specifically on Procurement 101, I’d like - would you?
MS. VICKI ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: A couple of things that we’re actually working on in preparing our small and medium-size businesses. Deputy Minister McKenzie mentioned our SkillsonlineNS on-line training system and we’re actually working with our partners to develop some more on-line training, customized courseware on how to secure a place in the supply chain. We’re calling it Procurement 101 and we’re creating a bundle of courses under the theme “Getting Ready.” So, what do you need to do as a small business to get ready for these big opportunities on the horizon like Lower Churchill, like ships, and in the growth industries like oceans technology?
In addition to that, we’re working with our partners at ACOA to develop in-person training to go along with that because we know that on-line training isn’t for everybody, so our in-person training will focus on those key essential skills. If you’re a small business, you have a great idea and you have a great product, but you just don’t know how to get into the supply chain, we’re developing a 30- to 40-hour program to help people with that. It’s going to focus on things like how do you market your business; how do you leverage social media to do that; how do you network; who do you need to know and who do you need to talk to, to get yourself noticed; how do you create a realistic budget when you bid on a contract; and how do you create a good business case? Those are all things that we’re looking at for our small businesses in the near future.
MR. YOUNGER: Those all sound great. I ran a small, very successful business for a number of years, but I’m going to tell you - like you mentioned Labrador and if that project happens and if it happens on time, that is three and a half years from now that the plant comes on-line - 2017. There are very few small and medium-size businesses that would actually be able to get into that supply chain.
I’ll give you an example. There is a warehouse in Dartmouth that is already receiving the cable for the transmission systems to palletize it to send to Labrador. Now that’s a business they’ve been in for years and so that’s great. There are small and medium-size businesses that will benefit from that shipping, but somebody else isn’t going to be able to get into that business, or one of those, because a lot of those things are already happening. So it’s great that you are running that program, but I don’t think we should pretend that’s going to allow them to compete on a project that is going to be under construction within the next six months - actually, they’re spending money on it already and building the corridors already today.
There are the same issues with the AOP ships, that a lot of programs are great but once they go through those, well I’ve already missed that opportunity. I think the frustration that I hear from some - not all, some are already positioned and I think it would be wrong for me to suggest that there’s no - there are a lot of businesses that are well-positioned to take advantage of things, Composites Atlantic maybe or probably if I thought about it I could think of a few. But in terms of the new ones, on the one hand we have government and the department saying well we’re preparing these companies to compete on these projects. I agree that some of these programs are good and we’re preparing them for something. We’re not necessarily preparing them for either of those opportunities because those opportunities will have passed.
The other part of that, which I want to get in and I have only have a couple of minutes but we might get back to this later is you mentioned the community college side. One of the challenges that I’m hearing constantly, especially on the electrical side - and it probably exists in some other trades but I know it exists on the electrical side - is the apprenticeship problem. A good friend of mine owns a medium-size business - I don’t think they are a small business - it’s an electrical contractor. He is overrun with apprentices at the moment because of the ratio issue. This is something that when you talk to the guys - well talk to some of the guys who are now gone at Irving, some of the higher-ups - they were saying is a problem for them too, this one-to-one ratio of I need a journeyman with an apprentice.
So some of the bottleneck in terms of preparing these small and medium-size businesses is the fact that unlike some other provinces - I don’t know how many others - but we’re on this one-to-one apprenticeship/journeyman thing which means I can’t have two apprentices with me, which then creates a bottleneck at the community college. It doesn’t matter how many people you put through the community college if they can’t get apprenticeship placements. Has anything been done to address that? If so, when is it going to change? The longer we wait, the more people we miss getting through that system.
MS. MCKENZIE: Fortunately in Nova Scotia, we actually already are able to address that. Through our legislation, any business in Nova Scotia is able to apply to the apprenticeship for a ratio variation. That is open to all businesses now in Nova Scotia, it’s just . . .
MR. YOUNGER: That’s good to know and I’ll certainly pass it on but why do they need to apply? I’m trying to understand why the difference.
MS. MCKENZIE: Industry established the criteria for each of the occupations, so industry at the time thought that the businesses needed to establish that there were going to be safety concerns taken care of, that there would be proper supervision in those types of things. Right now there is a provision where any particular business within that occupation can apply into the department and have their ratio looked at.
In the meantime, as the minister announced, we’re also looking at the modernization overall of apprenticeship in Nova Scotia so there’s the opportunity to have the ratio discussion there. In the meantime, any business in Nova Scotia that feels they need to address the ratio can just talk to the department.
MR. YOUNGER: How long do you expect that review of the apprenticeship system to take place? I think this all fits into accessing all these potential opportunities.
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, I think that . . .
MR. YOUNGER: Sorry, I don’t mean to cut you off, but businesses don’t like paperwork and red tape and that sort of thing. That’s great that they can apply for a variance and I will absolutely pass that along. However, I think you probably understand that to them, there’s something I need to apply for and there’s something else I need to send paperwork in on.
MS. MCKENZIE: Right. It’s really important when you’re talking to them to really clearly establish that apprenticeship is a form of employment and not necessarily a form of training. All of those standards have been set by industry. When industry collaborates to say, you know what, this isn’t working for our industry anymore and we want to really be able to look at the rules that we’ve set up for apprenticeship, and how we move forward with that will be established through this review.
It’s timely, in terms of us having this discussion and I don’t believe that it will be an onerous process. As long as we can demonstrate that people will be getting the education and training, that they’ll be getting the supervision, and that they’re in safe environments, I think that’s . . .
MR. YOUNGER: Absolutely, it should be all of those things. Is this something you’re thinking is going to take three months, a year, six months?
MS. MCKENZIE: For the review?
MR. YOUNGER: Yes, and I’m not going to come to you in a year and say, you said it’s a year . . .
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, you will. (Laughter)
MR. YOUNGER: I’ll tell you now - I will, if you say a year and it ends up being two years, but if it’s a year and it’s 13 or 14 months, I’m saying on the record that I understand you’re giving a guess. I’m just trying to get a sense of, if it’s a short review or a long review just to clarify for the member.
MS. MCKENZIE: Actually, we’re not anticipating that it’s going to take a year. However, there has been a lot . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Younger’s time has expired. Mr. Orrell.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: I’ll continue on the apprenticeship side of the program first, if you don’t mind. You’re talking about making sure that the apprentices get their safety, training and supervision through your journeyperson to apprentices. How are they going to be monitored through the journeyperson? Are there inspectors out there that go from workplace to workplace to workplace to inspect that the journeypeople are supervising the apprentices in the appropriate manner?
MS. MCKENZIE: We do have inspection, but I’m going to ask Marjorie Davison to respond to that specifically.
MS. MARJORIE DAVISON: We have apprenticeship training counsellors and they are assigned to particular trade areas or to geographic regions of the province, and then they treat the employer and the apprentice equally as clients. So they do visit and they do check to make sure that the ratio - the one-to-one - the journeyperson is supervising the apprentice. That’s an ongoing part of the program, an ongoing part of the service that is provided both to the apprentice and the employer.
MR. ORRELL: How many times a year would - we’ll say an electrical shop in Antigonish has one journeyperson/one apprentice in electrical, and one journeyperson/one apprentice in a construction company - how often would they be called upon to monitor or inspect their workplace?
MS. DAVISON: There is a difference between the counsellor going in and working with the employer and the apprentice and looking to enforce the actual apprenticeship in the Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act. On the enforcement side, there are two officers who have responsibility to ensure that is happening, that’s complaint-driven. So if there is a complaint that would come in, to look at if there is an issue that there are people working in a company who aren’t apprentices - they’re not certified - then that’s where we would come in and do an enforcement investigation. It’s both of those married together with the people who are going in, working with the clients on a regular basis to ensure that the training is happening under the proper conditions, and then the enforcement being there as a back-up to support that that’s happening.
You mentioned the electrical trade and that is a compulsory trade in this province. It is a trade where we get the most complaints in terms of enforcement. We are working diligently both with the union that’s involved and with non-unionized contractors to improve the situation.
MR. ORRELL: How many people would there be doing those inspections throughout the province?
MS. DAVISON: There are two enforcement officers for the whole province, but they work in concert with all of the other training officers - there are 13. We have inspectors in other divisions in our department and so we also work in partnership with them so that they can be an additional set of eyes when they’re going into businesses, such as our OSH officers.
MR. ORRELL: So they are complaint-driven.
MS. DAVISON: It’s complaint-driven.
MR. ORRELL: Who would the complaints come from?
MS. DAVISON: Normally in the electrical trade, they would come from the IBEW for the most part.
MR. ORRELL: Generally the apprenticeship ratio is one-to-one, is what I’m hearing, and they’re looking at replacing that with two apprentices to one journeyperson. Is that going to be seen sometimes as possibly hiring two apprentices to do the job of a journeyperson that they don’t have here in the province now? Has that been a concern that has been raised?
MS. DAVISON: I think that is a concern. If we’re still talking about the electrical trade or any unionized trade, the one-to-one is in the Apprenticeship and Trades Qualifications Act. That ratio may actually be different in a collective agreement. For instance, based on the monetary value of a project, that ratio may actually be three to one - three journeypeople to one apprentice. So it’s a much more complex issue than just looking at one to one and changing that to a one-to-two situation.
MR. ORRELL: I’m hearing that if there were more journeypeople staying in the province to work, that that may not be a concern of the amount of apprentices, but because of the job situation here in the province, we’re training apprentices to leave the province because when they do get their apprenticeship program through, there are no jobs here so the journeypeople that they were hiring, one journeyperson to the two apprentices, if there are no other jobs for those to take then they’re leaving. The concern would be to get the journeypeople back and work on keeping apprentices here to work.
I’m just worried about the abuse of the apprentices that are going to try to develop the Red Seal, say, and be used as an employer instead of an apprentice and not get the supervision he needs. That’s why I was asking about the supervision, the inspection part of it because if you’re telling me there are two in the province and it’s complaint-driven, well, obviously the apprentice is not going to complain because he’s getting his education and his job and his work; if it’s department-driven or, say, union-driven, IBEW-driven, then I’m okay with that. But if it’s relying on the people who are doing the training or receiving the training to do the complaints, that would be a problem.
MS. DAVISON: Could I just add, though, that as Deputy McKenzie talked about the ratio variance, that process is very non-cumbersome for business although when a business makes that application, immediately an enforcement officer reviews the situation to ensure that the company is compliant with the Act and that there is no abuse of the apprentice in the training situation. Then we feel confident that when we do provide that ratio - and we do this within a number of hours so it isn’t a process that business owners have to wait for - then we feel confident that when we do grant the ratio, that it is to support the business competitiveness of that company.
MS. MCKENZIE: I think the specific questions related to apprenticeship, we just need to put it in a little bit of context. I’m just going to do it really quickly so you can get to your question. The initial review that we did of apprenticeship, this is what it told us: that employer engagement was the number-one thing we could do; that about 25 per cent of the number of businesses that could hire apprentices were hiring apprentices, so we have a lot of room to grow there; and that apprentice completion is our biggest issue, not hiring at the front end and now allowing people to complete at the back end. So there’s a lot we need to do to address apprenticeship in the province. The biggest thing we can do is get employers engaged in the apprenticeship system from beginning through to completion.
MR. ORRELL: I know as a former health care worker, we do the same type of deal with apprenticeships; we supervise students and so on and so forth. It’s almost that it’s mandatory within our workplace that we take a student every so often. Could that possibly be a solution to some of the problems you’re having there?
MS. MCKENZIE: I really think this is the time for us collectively, as Nova Scotians, to think through how we are going to make our apprenticeship system work? How are we going to make sure that young people who are hired, who aren’t going out West to get hired - and we hope that we get them back in year two or year three - if they can be hired in year one in other provinces, why aren’t we hiring them in year one and why aren’t we helping them complete? So this is an opportunity for us to really look at that.
MR. ORRELL: Just the last question on apprentices and I’ll leave that. If the consultation comes back that there’s a need to change the ratio, how long do you think that would take before it is actually put into legislation or into the labour Act that that would happen? I know Mr. Younger kind of asked the same question.
MS. MCKENZIE: I think the most important thing - back to Marjorie’s point - is it’s actually really complex because it comes down to there are actually variations that are able to happen in collective agreements. Just saying, blanket, two to one may not be the right thing for first-year apprentices and it may be the wrong thing for fourth-year apprentices. So the complexities that are there, I think what we need to do is find language that works and allows the flexibility for employers but also to make sure that apprentices are having quality experiences as they move through.
MR. ORRELL: Moving away from that, we know Halifax right now is doing quite well, and rightfully so; it’s the capital city of our province, and in order for our province to do well, our capital city has to do well. We’ve got places like Cape Breton with 16 per cent unemployment and the South Shore with - I think it’s 13 per cent unemployment. What is being done through the Department of Labour and Advanced Education that is trying to combat or help with that situation? I know we’re saying we’re getting ready for ship contracts and so on and so forth, which we don’t know if it will affect us in Cape Breton or not. Is there anything being done that is trying to boost the job rate or decrease the unemployment rate there that’s on the horizon that may help?
MS. MCKENZIE: Every program that we have described is being promoted to small and medium-size enterprise in Cape Breton and the uptake actually is quite remarkable in terms of the businesses that have stepped up and are participating. There has been great leadership in terms of taking people in under the START program, utilizing the on-line training and a variety of different things.
One of the biggest challenges actually in Cape Breton and in other parts of rural parts of the province is business start-up. That’s where it is really important where we work with the Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism to get those start-ups happening in rural areas, so it’s not just growing the existing businesses, but getting more businesses actually established in those areas. Promotion of entrepreneurship and making sure that people are able to offer internship and co-op opportunities in the businesses that are in those areas, to establish people and to link them - that whole suite of programming is in Cape Breton.
MR. ORRELL: You started with business start-up and we’re hearing - I’m hearing especially - the red tape that is involved in starting a business from start to finish. Go to this department, get to that department, get this, get that. Some guys have been telling me it has been taking them 12 to 16 months to go from start to finish. They lose interest and give it up and go back to work for wherever they were working for or maybe even go to work somewhere else. What are we doing to address that issue of red tape and the reduction and to make it easy for people, application in small businesses to go smoothly and maybe deal with a one-stop shop where they go in and are done in one shot, maybe a couple of months and be finished?
MS. MCKENZIE: Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations are moving along with what they call the A2B, which is the Access to Business program where you can come in now - I believe it will be fully launched later this year, I think in June. With the A2B, you’ll be able to come in and use your CRA number, and you’ll be able to go in and input your information once and that will populate all the forms that you’re supposed to fill in. The iteration of that into the future will be that if you can do on-line, you will be able to complete on-line. If you need to be directed toward somebody that can help you, the system will also take you in. So it could be that you’ve identified, I need training or I need to be able to figure out how to get temporary foreign workers or that type of thing - that will take you right into the referrals that are required. That system when it’s up to launch is supposed to streamline what is right now a very cumbersome process for business.
MR. ORRELL: I guess when we talk training and we get into on-line training, some of the private career colleges that are doing on-line training are having difficulty with student loans. Some of the people are saying that because some of the people who take the on-line training aren’t paying their student loans back, they’re going to lose their designation to deliver their programs and services.
I know one in particular with me in Cape Breton is going through that now. They’ve complied with all the so-called recommendations that they need to get into and it hasn’t changed their so-called rating. Is there anything being done to look at that to make sure - I’m talking 30 jobs in Cape Breton and I’m talking an education of across the country. Some of them are under-serviced areas, yes. They are looking at preparing some people that in case some work comes up in those areas that they’re prepared for it and if they’re defaulting, they’re getting penalized.
Is there anything being looked into to try and change that so the school is not penalized for something that someone else did that they have no control over?
MS. MCKENZIE: I can’t speak to that specific business . . .
MR. ORRELL: No, in general.
MS. MCKENZIE: We pay attention to default rates on student loans for a very specific reason. When you start to see them emerge consistently with one particular school, there is an indication that either the screening hasn’t happened properly or people haven’t been well-placed or there was no intention to complete. So what we do is we monitor over a period of time. I’m going to just check if either one of you want to respond to the - I don’t have Ava with me, she’s our senior executive director of higher ed and they’re responsible for private career colleges.
The reason that was introduced is because we would have years of people applying to particular schools with up to 90 per cent to 100 per cent default rates on student loans, being contacted by other jurisdictions, particularly when you have an on-line situation - and I’m not speaking about this particular business - where other jurisdictions were paying defaulted student loans and the same schools were coming up and being flagged in their jurisdiction as being an issue. (Interruption) Yes, five years of data - we look over an extended period of time. So that is a protection for both the student loan, it’s a protection for the people who are consumers in that particular school. We work with the school to try to help them deal with that default rate.
MR. ORRELL: But if they’re complying and people aren’t paying their student loans, would that be a problem for the school? Do they have to screen people financially before they go to the school? I didn’t have to be screened when I went to university because there was nothing on my student loan application to ask my finances when I applied for student loans as far as - or the school’s application for me to ask if I was financially able to pay before the school accepted me. I was educationally able to go so I was accepted. Is it the responsibility of the school after the fact to see that that happens?
MS. MCKENZIE: It’s the responsibility of the school to deal with default rates that are in the red zone over a period of five years, yes.
MR. ORRELL: But do they have any - is the school able to ask financial questions, I guess, to a person who is applying for the loan and if they have no say in getting or receiving a loan, would they have to be responsible for making sure it’s paid back?
MS. MCKENZIE: We’re moving into specifics about that particular company . . .
MR. ORRELL: But it’s going to happen to others, we’re talking on-line and mobile training and so on and so forth. You take mobile training and put it in a remote area and there are no jobs there, it’s going to happen with that, too, so then you’re going to start getting into Marconi and Nova Scotia Community College, if they’re talking about that on-line training. So it could be a problem in the future, I was just hoping that it wouldn’t.
MS. MCKENZIE: Well, we have a number of very successful private career colleges in the province. We monitor default rates in programming in university; we monitor, as well, with the Nova Scotia Community College and we have a very low percentage that would emerge in the red zone.
MR. ORRELL: We talked about getting small businesses and medium enterprises prepared for our ships contract and preparing them for global possibilities. Some of our small businesses just need a little bit of financial support or educational support to survive in the area. You also talked about the increase in the market, there’s going to be more need for Tim Hortons, there’s going to be more need for - are there programs available for small businesses for upgrading equipment - not IT types of equipment - we’ll say a construction company that needed a new tractor, are there programs available for that or does that go through the credit union loan program?
MS. MCKENZIE: Well, the credit union loan program is available to small business but I’ll tell you how that marries up. Under the Productivity Investment Program, there are two streams. One is the training stream, which is everything from investment in workplace essential skills - reading, writing, communication and math - to supporting internships and business, to direct loans to help them do training.
The other half of the Productivity Investment Program is grants to support productivity investments in capital equipment. So, for instance, if a really nice package - particularly for rural areas - is to be able to go to the credit union and take a loan, buy your equipment, make a submission to the CII program - the capital investment - get a 20 per cent rebate on the equipment that you just bought and we also guarantee the loan that you’ve just gotten through the credit union. So it’s sort of a double - so we recognize that access to capital is very difficult in rural areas.
MR. ORRELL: You talked about the START program for small businesses; can you explain that to me? Is that a new program?
MS. MCKENZIE: It is a new program. I’m going to ask Vicki to give you the details on it.
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Actually, START is a great incentive for employers. For those who are familiar with the old Targeted Wage Subsidy program, which is no longer available, it was very focused on the individual and it was very much structured so that every business received half of the wages for, say, 26 weeks. They had to submit wage invoices and there was a lot of red tape, and so as a result of that and as a result of conversations with our sector councils that represent many of our small to medium-size businesses and others who work with business, we created START; START really focuses on the needs of business. It’s an incentive to business to hire somebody who they wouldn’t normally hire and you can get anywhere from $1,000 up to, say, $25,000. It really depends on the nature of the business.
What’s great about this program is if you’re a rural business and you’re in a growth sector like ICT or oceans tech and you’re willing to hire a new . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Sorry, Mr. Orrell’s time has expired. Mr. Whynott.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Thank you very much. It’s good to see you all here today. I’m just going to make a few comments and then I’ll get into some questioning here. I think it’s really important that no matter what job you’re in, you continue to have re-training and always upgrading your training I think it’s important no matter what job you’re in. I think that’s exactly the reason why - just for your own information - two weeks ago, this committee, in fact, had a training session on how to effectively ask questions in the Public Accounts Committee. It’s really unfortunate that the Opposition wasn’t there for that training session and I think that’s important. You know what? It reminds us all because when we sit here, no question, when we have these opportunities - we have a department before us and we want to ask questions, no question, but I think that we need to focus in on what the Public Accounts Committee is all about.
The Canadian Council of Public Accounts Committees has talked about the accountability piece of what we’re supposed to do here at the Public Accounts Committee. So I do want to talk a little bit about budgeting and kind of what we as a province have put in place as far as resources and money for these particular programs, but also the importance of these programs that we have.
It’s interesting because I know that Mr. Younger was talking about the Ships Start Here project and this is quite an important project for Nova Scotia, for our future, and what I’m excited about is the fact that I’m very hopeful and optimistic that our generation - or my daughter’s generation - will not have to leave Nova Scotia anymore, at least minimize it. People that I went to school with had to leave and I think that if we take advantage of what we have before us, Nova Scotia is going to be a place where people will come to for trades work and the like.
One of the things I want to focus on - just kind of put it in perspective here for me - the province, about two years ago, came forward with a jobsHere strategy, focusing on what the needs of the province are for the future. Can you, Ms. McKenzie, talk about - I think there are three pillars in that and can you just mention those three pillars? Do you have them in front of you, hopefully?
MS. MCKENZIE: They are innovation and productivity, going global, and investment in the workforce.
MR. WHYNOTT: How much money was set aside to talk about those three pillars in the jobsHere strategy?
MS. MCKENZIE: I don’t want to limit it just to the money that was set aside. Over a period of four years, I believe, there was over $60 million committed to the streams of jobsHere. Over and above that, of course, would be the $125 million a year that we put into the Nova Scotia Community College, which is the legislated training arm of the province; the $350 million that we invest in post-secondary education to produce the workforce for the businesses that will be emerging - money over and above that for research and development. So it’s not limited; hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars comes out of the investment that’s being made, in everything from ensuring that businesses are not only prepared to go global, but we understand the markets that Nova Scotia businesses are competitive in, through to productivity and investment and innovation investments. That’s everything from productivity and innovation vouchers, which have turned out to be fantastic for small and medium-size enterprise - it’s a grant of $15,000 that they are able to take to the community college or universities to do the research specifically on what they need for their small business. That can be anything from materials through to new techniques, through to how they can modify equipment to become more productive.
Then, of course, there’s the whole stream around workforce development, so it has been a big investment.
MR. WHYNOTT: I’m glad you mentioned the Workforce Strategy because I think that’s another piece. So your department oversees the Workforce Strategy as well. How do the two mesh together?
MS. MCKENZIE: Well, there’s a recognition that Nova Scotia’s value proposition is its people and that’s what we’re going to be competing on into the future. So the three areas that we are really providing a lot of focus on under the Workforce Strategy, the first is that we will be paying a lot of attention to the existing workforce. In the past there was almost no money available to be able to do training for the existing workforce. The government has established, under the productivity and investment, $10 million to be available to training, which was a fund, of course, that we didn’t have before. Our money would have been limited to attaching people to the workforce, so the labour market development money for EI or income assistance, but we didn’t have money for the existing workforce. We’re recognizing more and more now that people who graduate and go into the workforce are going to continue to need training and upgrading for that business to be competitive into the future.
We’re also looking at ensuring that we’re growing the size of the workforce - not only everything from immigration through to ensuring that people from populations that have traditionally not participated in the workforce are supported to move into jobs. Also a big part of that is repatriation, and obviously that is looking at economic opportunity that exists here and the opportunity to bring people home.
The other is Nova Scotians need good labour market information and good career information. Over the next few days there will be a real effort to look at the 66 points of access that we currently have that are really limited to - which under Employment Nova Scotia is really looking at servicing people who are unattached, so really EI recipients and IA recipients, and really looking at how we can provide that information for all Nova Scotians and what that will look like. So everything from how do parents get good information, how do kids get good information in schools through to how to get young people - and the demographic is moving into universities actually older right now - to make good decisions about what they take and how that matches up with opportunities that are emerging in Nova Scotia in our economy.
You could summarize our Workforce Strategy - it would be grown’em at home, make it home and bring’em home.
MR. WHYNOTT: I like that. You mentioned about the PIP program - Productivity Investment Program - there were two streams, one around capital and one around training?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes.
MR. WHYNOTT: You mentioned $10 million. Is that yearly or since the program was brought into place?
MS. MCKENZIE: It’s annual. It has opened up our opportunities so much in terms of what we’re able to do to support business, everything from we’ve tripled the number of workplace essential skills programs that we were offering . . .
MR. WHYNOTT: From what? You tripled it, so what was it before and what is it now?
MS. MCKENZIE: Well, right now we’re serving 3,400 people - 3,400 people participated so it would be one-third of that previously. That is essential skills programming which is raising the reading, writing, communications, math and computer skills in the workforce; tripled the number of co-ops and internships . . .
MR. WHYNOTT: From what to now?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’d have to go back to ERDT to confirm that number before I give it to you. I do know that we’ve tripled it. That’s an area we can still grow and within the training opportunities, everything from really adapting to small and medium-size enterprise where we say, you know, what we’re going to - you have less of a contribution you have to make towards the training and we’ll put more money in, to make sure that you’re participating in training, through to very large companies that are using training to attract the workforce that they require. So it’s a heavily utilized side of PIP.
MR. WHYNOTT: Do you have a rough idea about the co-op program, how many people access it? Any idea - is it 1,000 or . . .
MS. MCKENZIE: It’s under 1,000 and it’s an area that we really need to pay attention to in the province. What we know is that young people in our universities were getting co-ops and internships in other parts of Canada and that we needed to aggressively go after them to attract them to stay here. I don’t want to give - it’s around the 1,000 number.
MR. WHYNOTT: The reason I wanted to get that information was that in the past we - each budget year we spend $10 million.
MS. MCKENZIE: Under PIP.
MR. WHYNOTT: On PIP, which includes the things that we just talked about, correct?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes.
MR. WHYNOTT: So we’re talking over 4,000 people, roughly.
MS. MCKENZIE: There are about 8,000 in total. Up to 8,000 people have participated in training, yes.
MR. WHYNOTT: Eight thousand people who otherwise before would never have received training.
MS. MCKENZIE: They may have.
MR. WHYNOTT: But not through the government programs.
MS. MCKENZIE: There would have been no support, and what businesses were telling us is that the key that we brought to some of those businesses in terms of buying training is they may have been buying training, but it wasn’t the right training. What we helped them do is to buy what they needed and not be sold what was being sold.
MR. WHYNOTT: Sure. One of the things I wanted to mention was, I noticed when I was just reading through the Workforce Strategy, an interesting piece of information and I’ll just read it here. It says, “According to Statistics Canada, investment in education and skills training is three times as important to economic growth as investment in physical capital.” It says, “A recent World Bank study . . . found that, on average, the return was 24% for those enterprises providing training to their workers and -7% for those not providing training.” So we’re getting a pretty good rate of return on our investment for . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Whynott, but somebody has a cellphone. Would they please put it on silent? Mr. Whynott.
MR. WHYNOTT: Thank you. I think that is a significant piece of information and I think it’s important for people to recognize that you can put a dollar figure to invest in a program, but it’s not just about a program - it’s about investing in people. The fact that over 8,000 Nova Scotians are receiving training and more skills development is an important piece so that we can get ready for those opportunities that are before us. I think that is something that we should get out there and shout it from the rooftops because that’s something that we should be proud of and it’s exactly what I was talking about in my opening remarks around my daughter’s generation, who will hopefully be able to stay here in Nova Scotia because of the decisions that we make now.
If we give people the proper tools in their toolbox to have an economy of the future, what better way to do that than investing in people’s skills and training? I know those are skills and training that are happening right now. If we do this now, we’re going to get a heck of a lot better in the future in how we deliver those programs, so I thank you for that. I’m going to pass things over to my colleague, Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. CLARRIE MACKINNON: I’m delighted to have you here this morning. I want to focus on rural Nova Scotia for just a moment. We are, in fact, envisaging something very exciting in the province from a Halifax perspective because just a couple of weeks ago there were 30 industrial cranes set up in the Halifax area. This is great news. It’s important to have a strong, vibrant capital, but in rural areas, for generations and generations, we have had out-migration, first, of course, to the Boston states, as people used to say generations ago, then to the car plants in Ontario, and in recent decades to the West and so on. We’re trying desperately in the most difficult times that the world has seen since the Great Depression, to turn that around. I have to commend you for the programs that we’re talking about today. I think you’ve identified about eight different programs you are involved in and probably many more. For rural Nova Scotia, which one or ones do you see will have the greatest uptake and be most beneficial to rural Nova Scotia? Or are they all?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to get Marjorie to actually speak to those statistics, so we have some statistics.
MS. DAVISON: Just a quick overview of some of the numbers of participation from rural Nova Scotia and the programs that we’ve been talking about today. In the Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive, 52 per cent of all the programs funded have been outside the Halifax area in rural regions. In Skillsonline NS, which is the distance learning that we’ve introduced, 33 organizations in rural areas have participated and that’s just a little bit smaller than what we have in the uptake in the Halifax region.
In the Workplace Education initiative, which is the program that provides the essential skills - reading, writing, problem-solving, math, critical thinking, communications, computer skills - we’ve been doing a lot of programs in a cluster style format so we’ve been working with the chambers of commerce, with the RDAs in the area, to provide programs to small business.
We have 20 province-wide programs that have been happening so that’s affecting the entire province. Then we have 95 specific programs that have happened outside the Halifax region, in rural areas. So we are getting a significant take-up from small business and I think again, it’s the capacity issue and they see this as a way to grow their capacity.
MS. MCKENZIE: I think the other element of this - and of course when we say that Nova Scotians are returning to learning in droves, they really are and they are doing it right across the province. That’s not just a Halifax phenomenon, it’s across the province.
With respect to rural Nova Scotia, I do think that the new commission that Ray Ivany is leading can be extremely helpful to have the conversations about what development looks like in rural areas and is it clustered or are areas open for development in other areas people want to not have development in - what does that look like? - so that people can begin to define it.
What will emerge from the rural discussion will, of course, help us to make sure that our programs can be lined up even more effectively into the future.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you. I think that rural discussion is going to be very important for Nova Scotia. Skillsonline NS was just mentioned and I’m quite excited about that. I understand you can actually get your own learning network by getting involved there. To register on-line, I’m just wondering how much time it takes and how long is the average course?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to turn this over to Vicki. Vicki has just been on a road tour around the province, working with business to get them on-line so she’ll be able to speak to this with a great deal of knowledge.
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Yes indeed, businesses can set up their own private learning network, which is what makes this so exciting. We know that businesses oftentimes - the example we use is when there’s a required training program in a workplace and a business sets up an Excel spreadsheet and they require all their staff to take part in this training program. All the staff have to sign up when they start it and when they finish it on the Excel spreadsheet, and there’s no ability to know whether they really took the training or not.
With Skillsonline NS, they can actually set up their own learning network, which is a lot like a social network, which is very appealing to not just businesses but their employees. Then they can invite people to participate in a training program or a course. They can actually track when the course has started, where they are at in the course and when it is completed. So they can actually see if somebody has completed the course in two minutes, they probably really didn't take the course.
The average training module for a business is about 15 minutes in the area of HR and I’m going to use that as an example because what we hear from small businesses is that they don’t have time. We know that they are the HR person, they are the finance manager, they are delivering services themselves. They don’t have time to sit down and take lengthy courses. The HR courses, in particular, were designed so that if a business has an interview in an hour and they don’t quite know how to interview somebody, they can log on and take a 15-minute HR module on how to interview and what are the appropriate questions to ask, and then they’re geared up to do that interview in an hour.
When businesses set up their own private learning at work, typically we get a response from our partner within 24 hours to help them do that. In addition to that, there are on-line wizards to help them participate in that as well.
MR. MACKINNON: Part of the question was geared to how long it takes to set up your own on-line network or your learning network.
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Minutes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately your time has expired.
Mr. Younger, you have 14 minutes.
MR. YOUNGER: Just very briefly, in response to the member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville, I certainly can’t let his comments go without just commenting that of course you, Mr. Chairman, were there from the Liberal caucus and I apologize to him that I didn’t drag myself out of my hospital bed on that morning to be there. Maybe he should check his facts and find out why some people aren’t there because he may not want to put his foot in his mouth the next time. I’ll be sure to send him a message the next time I’m in the hospital to advise him why I haven’t been there. I’m sure that if he had asked you, Mr. Chairman, that day you would have told him why I was not there. I want to continue on with the important business of this and if he has any further concerns about the questions, maybe they’re just touching a nerve for him and his government.
There are a number of issues that are going on in that department and I want to ask about the recent announcement of a review of the Administrative Penalties program because I think this ties in especially with some of the small and medium-size businesses. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’m correct in saying that probably one of the reasons for this review is concerns expressed by businesses of various sizes. How are small and medium-size businesses - all businesses, I guess, but in particular small and medium-size businesses - being consulted as part of this review?
MS. MCKENZIE: When we went out to do the development of the Workplace Safety Strategy, we undertook a very comprehensive set of discussions and consultations. It was through those consultations that small and medium-size enterprise, both through their industry associations and speaking to us directly, told us that they had some concerns about the way that we were doing the Administrative Penalties program. That was a new program, so I think the best thing that we can do is continue to evaluate it and monitor it and then determine if there are things that we need to fix. What really became clear through the process is that, like other jurisdictions, we had adopted more of an enforcement model and what perhaps was needed is a sliding scale from education through to enforcement. Small and medium-size businesses in no way expressed to us a desire to be less safe. What they said was that in some cases they were unaware that they were in violation.
That prompted us to look at administrative penalties as part of the Workplace Safety Strategy, but because that consultation on the strategy is ongoing and we knew that there was a desire to really get this piece of it right, we advanced a review of administrative penalties. I can just clarify - it wasn’t just business that told us there was a problem; our own staff told us there was a problem. They felt like they were doing penalties when they really felt that they should be in more of an education mode.
What we have done is we’ve launched an administrative penalty consultation, looking at education through to enforcement; engaging small to medium-size enterprise, both through direct conversation but also through their industry associations. What will best work - there will be areas of zero tolerance where there has simply been such a violation that it moves straight through to a fine. They’re helping us define what those areas will be. This is a reflection really of a government that’s very responsive, in terms of hearing there were issues and immediately taking a look at how this could be addressed.
MR. YOUNGER: It’s no surprise that some of your employees would have raised this issue as well, as a concern, just based on some of the feedback I’ve heard from both some of the employees and some of the businesses. Some of the employees just because they felt they were bearing the brunt of some of the people who were upset with this.
There was obviously a change at some point from the ways things had - and I agree with you, nobody out there is saying we don’t want to be safe. I agree with you, I think that’s a fair comment. The sliding scale probably makes some sense because you know there are obviously issues which need to be addressed immediately and there are other issues where somebody didn’t know.
There was obviously a change to move to these immediate administrative penalties for all these violations. When did that occur? Obviously that was a policy change at some point because three or four years ago that’s not the way it was being done, people were being given a warning and then . . .
MS. MCKENZIE: The change was made in 2010 and it really emerged from a desire to create a safer work environment for workers in Nova Scotia. We had some sectors that had rates that were concerning and the effort was to move towards an admin penalty model that assessed a fine if there were violations.
In review we’re determining that, where appropriate, we need to be more of a sliding scale from education through to enforcement. I don’t know if I’m answering your question.
MR. YOUNGER: Has that been implemented now or is that just something you are considering?
MS. MCKENZIE: We’re out in consultation on that now with a proposal.
MR. YOUNGER: Okay, so I guess what I’m trying to understand is - and I understand, I mean there’s a lot of issues around it that have to be consulted and I agree. That is obviously a major issue and I mean - like in most cases, there are some extreme examples on all these things. There was a move to go to this immediate administrative penalty situation which is essentially that you are guilty until proven innocent because, here’s the fine and now you can go appeal it, whereas the other way before, you were really given a warning but even if you were given a notice that was more than a warning, you still had the opportunity to have the case heard.
This sort of reverses that and that decision was made and then somebody has recognized that maybe we need a sliding scale, which is good. I mean that’s the problem, you went from one extreme to the other. Why is it not possible to have that implemented, at least that part of it, the sliding scale, implemented right away?
MS. MCKENZIE: Businesses asked to be consulted, because . . .
MR. YOUNGER: I know businesses asked to be consulted but the one thing that everybody seems to agree on is while there might be other issues that need to be addressed, you still have people out there who are issuing administrative penalties that some of those issues probably should be an immediate penalty but - as you yourself have noted - there are some issues that probably should be a warning.
MS. MCKENZIE: Right, so we’re consulting them on that and they’ve asked for that, so we’re making sure that we listen to them and get it right.
MR. YOUNGER: Well you didn’t listen to them the first, when you switched over to administrative penalties. You didn’t, did you?
MS. MCKENZIE: When we switched over to administrative penalty . . .
MR. YOUNGER: Like, obviously when that change was made in 2010, you didn’t listen to them then. You didn’t say, well, we’re going to go out and if we go in and there’s a sign in the wrong place - I’m talking like if there’s a sign in the wrong place which used to result in a warning and then they’d come back the next day and make sure the sign is there and if it isn’t, then boom, you get a fine, it resulted in an immediate fine.
MS. MCKENZIE: I think when the administrative penalties, and I’m speaking from information that I’m getting here now and I wasn’t in the department at the time, the thought was to follow other jurisdictions that were looking at what was referred to as zero tolerance for safety violations, with I think the good intention of making workers safer. What became clear is that there needed to be more give on the front end, particularly with small and medium-sized enterprise. So there is a responsiveness in looking at this.
It was introduced in 2010 and we began the review in 2012, so in the world of government that’s a fairly quick turnaround time. In addition, we are also consulting them to make sure that this time we get it right. In fact, they’ve asked us not to go out and just come up with something different.
MR. YOUNGER: But in the meantime, you’re still out there issuing - and I’m going to say it again - I’ve said it a couple of times, I think there are things that probably do require immediate attention on that safety side. But I mean, you’ve heard these too - they’ve been in the media and we’ve been contacted by people who - the hand washing sign fell down or was not in exactly the right place and they were issued a fine. That’s obviously on the extreme end - it used to be a warning and then somebody would come back the next day to make sure that was corrected and if it wasn’t corrected, you got a fine - it’s a serious issue. That’s what happened when that system was in place.
While that review goes on, those things still happen and your department - well, you’ve acknowledged that you’ve heard from staff. I’ve heard from staff in the department, I’ve heard from businesses who are like, well, I’m still being told that I have to go out and issue fines for this until this review is done.
MS. MCKENZIE: All I can say is that in 2010 we worked with the OSH advisory committee, which is made up of both business and labour. We looked at best practice across the country and implemented an admin penalty system, which was done with the good intention of making workers safer in the province and that we’ve now, through listening to feedback, are re-looking at the way that we’re doing admin penalties. Again, as I said, all businesses have said they aren’t asking to be less safe - you’re agreeing with. What we’re now looking at is to see what that sliding scale look like at the front end, and we’ll do that in co-operation with the partners.
MR. YOUNGER: When you say best practices across the country, what other jurisdictions have a system like was implemented here?
MS. MCKENZIE: Many of the provinces have a no warning system . . .
MR. YOUNGER: I’m asking because most of the ones that I’ve talked to, people who are experts in the field and used to be some of the top people in your department, and they say that is not the case and, in fact, that for the lesser things like the hand washing signs, there is a sliding scale on that end and there was no tolerance on the top end. I’m not saying they’re right. I’m just trying to understand because the information that I’ve received from people who are in that field - some of the top people - say that isn’t the case.
MS. MCKENZIE: We’ve done a pan-Canadian scan and there are a number of provinces that have implemented a no warning. I’ve been in conversation with them to talk about what our experience has been and whether they want to go down that road. Most of the people who used to be in the department are still in the department and we’re having conversations and they’re part of that conversation.
MR. YOUNGER: When these penalties are issued, where does the money from the penalties go?
MS. MCKENZIE: It goes into general revenue.
MR. YOUNGER: So it’s a revenue generator for the province - it is. I mean, let’s be honest - in 2010, there was a budget issue and we switched to a penalty system. I’m asking because to me, I’ve got to sit here and wonder why penalties for workplace safety wouldn’t go into a dedicated fund to support workplace safety. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find very many workers or unions or even employers in this province who would be opposed to those penalties going into a dedicated fund to support workplace safety.
MS. MCKENZIE: That has come up through the consultation. We’re talking about $600,000 and that has come up through the consultation.
MR. YOUNGER: I’m not saying the province is getting rich off it, but the optics aren’t good. That is more my issue.
MS. MCKENZIE: It has come up in the consultation.
MR. YOUNGER: Through the consultation, has there been any indication of areas where the department thinks it can improve their end on workplace safety training?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Younger your time has expired. Mr. MacMaster.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, my first question is, one of the first things we noticed from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business was that insufficient domestic demand for goods and services in the province is one of the reasons why they feel they’re not doing as well as they could be.
I guess my first question is a couple of things I think about, one is what drives domestic demand? One is population, as population is growing that’s a driver of that. The other is I think about disposable income which, of course, the more money in people’s pockets, the more money they feel they can spend. That’s impacted by things like taxes and power bills. In fact if you look at the main cost pressures for small businesses in Nova Scotia, the first two they mention are energy costs and taxes and regulation costs. So it’s the same for businesses as it is for consumers. What can we do to spur domestic demand to support these small businesses in Nova Scotia?
MS. MCKENZIE: Well that’s a question that I would have probably been better prepared to answer when I was over at Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, but I’ll try to do my best to remember and think about it. So I mean, it’s everything from buy local and not just to buy local but there’s the discussion of a 10 per cent shift could make a huge difference in Nova Scotia, in terms of making an effort to buy 10 per cent of what you purchase in the province so it’s not just going down to the vegetable store and picking up your tomatoes and thinking that you’ve done your bit but actually looking for furniture that may be produced in the province and those types of things.
I do think that Nova Scotia businesses are becoming quite adept at identifying where they can provide services and consumables for other Nova Scotians. I’m quite inspired by the fact that in Chatelaine this year a number of the top 100 women entrepreneurs were actually from Nova Scotia, so seeing those opportunities emerge.
Simple things - I was quite inspired by - I was up for the Women in Business conference in Cape Breton and a simple thing they identified was that every woman business owner was willing to take on a young woman in the business program at CBU, in terms of mentorship. Those are not insignificant commitments by small business owners, to act in a mentoring role.
I believe that increasing domestic demand - I’m going to go off on kind of a workforce tangent here but I am quite enamoured with the notion that we need to, as a province, be very aggressively saying we want to hang on to our youth and that instead of being really somewhat passive - and that’s what we’re trying to do with our programs now, to encourage businesses in Nova Scotia to hire young people. It’s very interesting we’re more likely in Nova Scotia to require two years to four years of experience for entry level positions than they are in most other provinces in the country. That is a simple change. It’s a complicated change but it’s a simple change that we can make in terms of being a no-experience province for entry level positions.
In terms of spurring consumer demand, young people are actually big consumers in the early years of their lives - they purchase houses, they are establishing families, moving in. That’s incumbent on all of us to make those changes.
It’s tough for small and medium-size enterprises to hire. That’s why we’re trying to support them into not just writing in the two years of experience line into the job ad - I’m not trying to take up your time, I was going to finish on this - but to hire no experience, to be willing to pay and to train.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you. I actually have a question, I’ll follow up on that specific matter. Those are some good suggestions and you mentioned buy local. When I think of buy local, I think of natural gas. We have natural gas in offshore Nova Scotia, it’s a commodity that trades across the world. People say, well sometimes the price goes up and down but generally it’s quite low right now and has been for the last couple of years. We’re looking at entering into an agreement to buy hydro power through Churchill Falls. We don’t even know what the cost of it is yet. Do you think we should be looking at buying local, in terms of buying natural gas, which is coming locally, from offshore Nova Scotia?
MS. MCKENZIE: My answer to that one is that’s going to be outside of my department’s response.
MR. MACMASTER: It was worth a try. (Laughter)
MS. MCKENZIE: It was.
MR. MACMASTER: The issue of - I find this strange. I live in an area with high unemployment. I was visiting with the chamber of commerce in Port Hawkesbury yesterday and I continue to hear from them - small business owners - that they’re having difficulty finding people to work. I was at the paper mill about a week and a half ago and there are 30 jobs there in the forestry sector waiting to be filled. It’s a strange situation, but it’s a reality out there.
So we have people who can’t find work, but we also have people who can’t find people to work. How does government link people who may need to retrain for jobs where they’re needed?
MS. MCKENZIE: There are two things that are causing the phenomenon that you’re talking about. One is that people oftentimes will say that they can’t find skilled labour when what they mean is they can’t find cheap labour, and paying competitively is difficult and then people won’t take the jobs - they’ll seek jobs elsewhere. So paying competitively is key and it’s extraordinarily hard for small and medium-size enterprise, so I’m not suggesting for a minute that that’s not something that they’re really up against.
In almost all cases, including the CFIB study - and I had a great deal of conversation with Leanne around this - that when they identified “small”, when small and medium-size enterprise said they couldn’t find skilled labour, they invariably meant labour they could afford. When you find gaps, it’s often pointing to non-competitive wages.
Now there are cases where we have people that their skills are not aligned so one of the things that we’re working on with the community college is to look at what that sort of customized bit of training is required, so you don’t have to go back in and take two more years of a full-blown diploma, but actually do sort of a retooling to make sure that your skills match up with where you want to move. The department has been working more closely with the Nova Scotia Community College - they are the legislated training arm of the province - to make sure that the programs that they’re offering are able to help the workforce retool.
MR. MACMASTER: We’re kind of in a vicious circle, especially in the rural parts of the province because we don’t have the domestic demand - I think of all the retail businesses in the Strait area - coming in for those employers. We have to pay more competitive wages, maybe more meaningful wages. That’s an issue that may be addressed from another angle. Maybe that’s an issue back to power rates or taxes that does play a role in that.
Here’s an interesting one. I met with some people yesterday - we were talking about apprenticeship - and one of the points brought up was Newfoundland and Labrador, I think, has a policy now where they require government to hire apprentices. So you have a lot of young people coming out, they’re educated, but they can’t get a chance in Nova Scotia so they go down the road to Alberta. In Newfoundland and Labrador they have a policy, I think it’s focused on giving experience to young people or people who have just retrained, and also the obvious benefit to grow the labour pool, because if you have more labour to draw on, you can get a more productive province. Is this something that Nova Scotia is looking at, at this time?
MS. MCKENZIE: The START program is intended to be able to give people experience where they may not have had it, so that’s the intention there. In addition, with respect to the apprenticeship, I have had some discussion with colleagues in organized labour to talk about collective agreements and where requirement of experience may not allow for the hiring of apprentices and it has been a very receptive conversation. The intention is to make sure that people have opportunities to come in. That would be the case in government and for the Nova Scotia Community College itself.
MR. MACMASTER: Is government looking at it internally as a policy of government, to look at hiring more apprentices for jobs throughout government? Also, just quickly - because we’re almost running out of time here - what would be the cost of the subsidy under the START program, on average, per job?
MS. MCKENZIE: To answer the first question, I’d be very surprised if it didn’t come up that the government should be hiring apprentices. Through the review that we’re undertaking right now, I expect that will emerge and we’ve identified it ourselves.
As Vicki said, the subsidy can be anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on how the business qualifies and the extent of time they’re hiring the person and the person they’re hiring.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, thank you. Moving along, there’s just one last area here. We see the possibility of a labour shortage, it can be argued there is a labour shortage in certain areas right now. I was meeting with some truckers a week ago and there’s a shortage in that industry.
I think of two major projects. If Churchill Falls goes ahead and the federal shipbuilding contract goes ahead, if there is a shortage in labour that is going to drive costs up - which is good for people in those industries if they are making the increased wages, but many Nova Scotians are not in those industries and won’t benefit from that directly. It will drive up the cost of those projects and both projects - well, in the case of the ships, that’s paid for by taxpayers. In the case of energy, of course we’re all paying for that in our homes and Nova Scotia businesses are paying for it, too.
What steps is government taking to - I guess I should expand a little bit. I think this is really becoming a national issue, like the paper mill they are competing with having people moving West to work out there and it makes me feel like we should be growing beyond the days of provincial protectionism and apprenticeship being managed by the provinces. Is this a matter that is being discussed by provincial Ministers of Labour and is it one that should be at the top of their agenda right now?
MS. MCKENZIE: The four Atlantic Premiers established the Atlantic Workforce Partnership in June. All four Atlantic Premiers agreed that apprenticeship was job one. I’m pleased to say that I’m chairing the deputies of both Economic Development and Advanced Education and all four Atlantic Provinces have come together and identified very targeted projects to move forward - apprenticeship being one of them - to make sure that we actually have a system that we can move workers around.
We’re finding that there are some barriers to that but there are other areas. One of the big ones that we’ve identified is skills in small and medium-size enterprises, business skills in small and medium-size enterprises and we’ll be partnering with our federal, like ACOA and others, to be able to address those projects. Standing together as an Atlantic region will help us address some of the pressures we’re experiencing right now for the draw to the West.
MR. MACMASTER: Okay, thank you. Mr. Chairman, how much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have about one minute.
MR. MACMASTER: About one minute, well, I was going to ask you about the changes to EI. We’ve heard varying descriptions of what it will mean. I’ve gotten some information recently that says people won’t have to take jobs that would make them worse off, either on the income side or on the expense side, like, say, travelling to work where their costs have increased. Will those changes help also get government focused on helping people get retrained for careers? Is that something that Employment Nova Scotia is plugged into and working with these changes, to try to help small businesses in Nova Scotia?
MS. MCKENZIE: Small businesses in Nova Scotia have some concern, in terms of people feeling that they are going to end up with people who don’t want to be in the jobs - they’ve been driven there somehow. So far we haven’t had that experience but we are in early days with the changes to EI and, of course, we are monitoring those. I again say that Employment Nova Scotia is working with all of our clients to make sure they have the skills they need to be able to participate in the labour market.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately Mr. MacMaster’s time has expired. Mr. Ramey.
MR. GARY RAMEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks for coming in. As a person who spent a substantial part of his life in the education system - high school, college and university instructor - I certainly think that training is the key. It looks like we’ve all figured that out, which is great. I would argue, too, apprenticeship is one of the real main keys in all of that and it looks like you are addressing that as well so I’m really pleased to see it.
I have just a couple of quick questions and then I’m going to pass it off to my other colleagues here. I think in your opening remarks, Ms. McKenzie, you mentioned an employer in Bridgewater taking part in the START program? Canadian Tire, Mr. Anaka? True or false?
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, I did.
MR. RAMEY: Okay. He’s a perfect example, I think, of what we’d be looking for there. I think that’s one of the largest Canadian Tire stores probably in the province, with a Mark’s Work Wearhouse attached.
MS. MCKENZIE: He was one of the first sign-ups.
MR. RAMEY: He’s a very astute business person and I’m very proud that he’s involved in it. I’m just wondering - what has been the uptake across the province on START?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: We’ve had 43 businesses, and the program was just launched in October, so that is tremendous uptake. Within those 43 businesses, we’ve hired 89 participants. I think it’s noteworthy that most are in rural areas - Cape Breton in particular, 51 people hired through START.
MR. RAMEY: Fantastic. That was going to be my next question so you already answered it for me. What is the budget for that program? Do you have that figure available?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: It’s $3.5 million.
MR. RAMEY: And those jobs are spread right across the province.
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Correct.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, top-notch. I just have two other quick ones. One is, you mentioned - well, I know there are a lot of different courses within these programs that people can take and I think a few minutes ago you mentioned they can be as short as 15 minutes and they can be longer than that. On average, are they about 15 minutes long?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Varying lengths, it really depends on the topic area and whether it’s a customized course or what we call an off-the-shelf course. People can choose whichever course bundle and whichever course they want, and so it really is dependent on the topic area.
MR. RAMEY: So let’s say the short end is 10 or 15 minutes or something. On the high end, would they go as long as an hour or 45 minutes?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: Could be, yes. I think it’s noteworthy to say, though, that they can pause it at any time. If they’re at their desk and they have 15 minutes, they can start it and when they go back to that course, it will pick up where they left off.
MR. RAMEY: Can I take as many as I want? Can I just go crazy with this stuff if I’m a consumer or am I limited?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: We have over 20,000 course offerings right now, so go crazy. (Laughter) We will be wanting to know that you’re completing them.
MR. RAMEY: Well that’s great. I have a couple more questions, but I’m going to hand it off to my colleague from Pictou East because I think he wanted to finish a question.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much, but I would like to ask a new question and then I’ll turn it over to Mr. Skabar. I hate the term - I shouldn’t say hate - I very, very much dislike the term “persons with disabilities” because they are persons with abilities who face some challenges - great abilities. I’m wondering, all the programs that we’ve talked about today, I don’t think we’ve included that category very much in our discussions and also from a visible minority perspective and an immigrant perspective as well. How are we doing with all these programs for those three categories?
MS. MCKENZIE: START, in particular, is targeted at people who traditionally have not been able to get that first experience so that would pick up the categories that you’re talking about so the START program is addressing those populations.
I think the other tools that we’re providing to employers, which is the HR Toolkit and Welcoming Workplaces, is to help employers to become more welcoming workplaces for persons with abilities and for other populations that have traditionally not been able to enter the workforce, and also for newcomers to the province. There have been two key focuses of that in terms of directly to employers and then there is the incentive to also hire from those populations through the START program. Did you want to add anything else to that?
MS. ELLIOTT-LOPEZ: In addition to that, we also have our One Journey Work and Learn program, and that’s a program where we actually work with a company or an industry that is experiencing a skill shortage. Oftentimes we work with our partners over at the Department of Community Services to recruit people on income assistance and persons with disabilities and under-represented groups to take those positions.
MS. ELIZABETH MILLS: I just want to also add that considerable resources are being applied through the LMA - the Labour Market Agreement - to individuals who prior to that agreement would not have been eligible. Those would have been individuals who were not in the workforce and had not been EI-eligible, so we know that a significant number of people are served through that category.
Specifically on immigration, we’ve been able to access to fund, as well as significant funding from the provincial treasury as well, to improve settlement and labour market attachment. That has resulted in our retention rate going from a low of 37 per cent, the second lowest in Canada, to 70 per cent. The statistics we have from our service-providing organizations is that immigrants now are able to attach to the labour market permanently, much more quickly than they were and in jobs commensurate with their experience.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you very much for that, that’s very impressive.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Skabar.
MR. BRIAN SKABAR: Sorry for getting here late. I’m the member for Cumberland North.
Out of Amherst, we’re right on the New Brunswick border so I’m particularly interested in the Atlantic Workforce Partnership. There is a very good university in Mount Allison, in Sackville, New Brunswick and I’m glad to have it there, a couple of my kids went, but the community college system is growing in Amherst and Cumberland County. Does the Atlantic Workforce Partnership actually have a working committee? Do the Premiers get together? Like, where does that light? Who are the persons or the organizations or the body that actually get together and how is that moving along?
MS. MCKENZIE: The Atlantic Workforce Partnership is ultimately chaired by the four Atlantic Premiers. Under that, the deputies of the Economic Departments and of the Advanced Education Departments are charged with responsibility to address what the Premiers set out as being our priorities, which of course would have included everyone charged to work on apprenticeship. Below that, there would be working groups that would be tasked with very specific pieces of work, so the Atlantic directors of apprenticeship would be looking at apprenticeship.
We are also looking at labour market information. With the cutbacks that have been made to Stats Canada, it’s more difficult now and will be into the future to get good statistical information so that, collectively working together, to be able to have good labour market information in terms of opportunities for Atlantic Canadians is key.
We are also working on the on-line training. That’s an Atlantic-wide effort, so every province is also offering the on-line training that we’ve been identifying. We are also working on training for small and medium-size enterprises beyond that.
MR. SKABAR: Where I was going with this - is everyone doing this off the corner of their desk as just another task? Or is somebody in particular tasked with doing this that has a colleague in New Brunswick, in P.E.I. and in Newfoundland, who get together and this is what they do, that is their job?
MS. MCKENZIE: There is a secretariat that has been established. It is currently in Nova Scotia. My ADM, Jeff Conrad, has moved over to be the lead on the Atlantic Workforce Partnership. Karen Stone, formerly our communications director, has moved over with him as a policy lead. Those are staff who are dedicated to making this work and then they mobilize the staff in the various provinces. So it is a massive coordination effort and I would say that people in every province are lining up underneath it, including the leaders of immigration. So it becomes their work but they’re doing it in collaboration.
MR. SKABAR: I’m so glad to hear that on a number of fronts. Like to my knowledge we train 15 power linesmen per year in Nova Scotia. I believe the bottleneck to be apprenticeships with Nova Scotia Power, but the training for power linespeople - you know what I mean - is so different from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and pretty soon we’re going to be sending power from the tip of Cape Breton all the way through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to the United States and we’re not going to be able to do this at 15 or 20 a year in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Where I was going with this is, is there any move - and I guess apparently now that there’s a body tasked with that, to sort of coordinate the training requirements for people doing jobs like this and things like - I understand that the personal care home workers have different qualifications in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, like there’s no need of it. Is this the kind of thing that the . . .
MS. MCKENZIE: That’s exactly the type of thing that we’re looking at. So we’ve already completed the diagnostic on apprenticeship; we already know where the bottlenecks are between the four Atlantic Provinces. We’re identifying those and the objective is to remove them, and we’ll be identifying other occupations that we need to be paying attention to into the future.
MR. SKABAR: With that, I’ll turn the last moments over to Mr. Epstein.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Epstein.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Thank you very much for the presentation - it has been very interesting. I was wondering if there is any federal government involvement in any of the programs that you talked to us about today. By federal involvement, I would mean both the possibility of federal financing that goes towards support of the programs that you talked about or any federal modelling that might be involved. Is there a dimension of that involved?
MS. MCKENZIE: We, through our department, administer the Labour Market Development Agreement and the Labour Market Agreement that Elizabeth noted earlier. The Labour Market Development Agreement is solely focused on people who have been attached to EI in the last three years. The Labour Market Agreement is for people who haven’t been able to make those attachments. They’re in the order of about $100 million, the programming.
MR. EPSTEIN: I guess what I wondered was whether that umbrella agreement allows some of that money to be used for the programs that you’re talking about at large, or is it purely tied to support of individuals who might be coming off of EI?
MS. MCKENZIE: We’ve been very creative with the money that has been tied to EI, but also, the Labour Market Agreement money has allowed us to extend it to people beyond that and that’s what we’re using to support some of these programs.
MR. EPSTEIN: One of the things that’s very striking about the programs that you outlined is really how comprehensive they are. They seem to me to be very cleverly designed, that a lot of thought has gone into them, and they cover a number of different situations. But I was particularly wondering whether there are programs in other provinces that you’ve been eyeing that do things slightly differently, or perhaps better, or that you are hoping that you might be able to build on or incorporate in Nova Scotia. I’m assuming that there are linkages with other . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Unfortunately, Mr. Epstein, your time has expired. I would give the deputy minister an opportunity now to do some wrap-up - any comments you would like to make.
MS. MCKENZIE: I’d just like to thank you for the opportunity to be here today. We are really proud of the effort that we’ve been making so far to be working with small and medium-size enterprise in the province. We have a lot of different avenues to hear feedback from them and to adjust the programming as required, so it’s no accident that they’ve been targeted and are fulfilling some of the gaps that existed. It’s an ongoing dialogue - we’re always interested in making sure that we are adaptable. It’s our objective to have the workforce be the most prosperous in Canada, so that’s our effort. Thank you very much for your time this morning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Whynott had asked some questions for further information that you committed to. The clerk will send you a note on that. Also, I would like to get - on behalf of the committee - I was listening with great interest about the courses you offer on-line. I wonder if we could provide that to the committee, for the members. I think it would be something all the members could use in their constituency office to help promote that program. That would be great if we could do that. Again, I would like to thank you for coming. It was a very informative session.
Just a couple of things for business we have here. There will be no Public Accounts Committee next week because one of the caucuses will be out of town and the Auditor General’s Report will be February 5th, but there will be no in camera session for the Public Accounts Committee. Also, the next Public Accounts Committee meeting will be the Auditor General on February 13th. Mr. Epstein.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, I have to bring another scheduling item to the committee. Our caucus has now decided to have a caucus retreat in Cape Breton but it will cover the March 20th date that we have scheduled, so I’m afraid all of our caucus will be out of town on that date and I’m wondering if we can agree not to hold a meeting that day and if the clerk can seek to reschedule that day’s presentation. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That will be done, Mr. Epstein. Any other business from the committee?
It has been moved that we adjourn. We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:56 a.m.]