Feds announce doubling of funding to union-operated skilled trade training programs

Ottawa says moves to fund union training programs, loosen temporary foreign workers restrictions complement each other in addressing labour shortage

Federal employment minister Carla Qualtrough announces additional funding to union training programs for skilled labour at the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers' Local 118 chapter in Delta, B.C. | Chuck Chiang/BIV

The federal Liberal government is doubling its funding to skilled-trade training programs operated by Canadian unions to $84.2 million over the next four years, officials announced today.

The funding increase, announced by federal employment and workforce development minister Carla Qualtrough in Delta, is included in the federal budget announced last week. The announcement also includes a “labour mobility deduction” of up to $4,000 annually that eligible trades workers can apply for to cover travel/relocation expenses.

As well, Qualtrough said Ottawa is also dedicating $2.4 million to create a “union-led advisory table” consisting of organized labour and trade associations. The group will be tasked with “advising government on how to help workers navigate the changing labour market” with a focus on “skilled, mid-career workers.”

“When contemplating a career, we want more Canadians to consider entering the skilled trades and to understand the exciting, well-paid opportunities that these jobs present,” Qualtrough said of the announcement. “Currently, only about one in 15 high school students in Canada are considering this for their first choice career. 

“These investments will help us ensure that when a Canadian wants to enter the trades, they have the training and resources they need to do so and to thrive.”

The announcement comes roughly a month after the Liberals reached an agreement with the NDP to keep Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government in power for the next three years.

However, Qualtrough said the new funding for unions is targetted specifically at their roles as trainers of trade workers – which is crucial given Canada’s current shortage of skilled labour in certain sectors.

“Our economic recovery is actually starting to outpace the ability of some employers to find workers,” she said. “Therefore, we think a lot and we hear a lot about labour shortages. Increasingly, labour shortages mean we need to step up our efforts to help connect Canadians to good jobs and training.”

Today’s announcement also follows another move targetting the labour shortage earlier this month, when Qualtrough announced that Canada is loosening the restrictions around the Temporary Foreign Worker program to allow some sectors to bring in workers where they are needed.

The loosened restrictions mean that employers in seven sectors “with demonstrated labour shortages” can fill up to 30% of their total workforce with foreign workers. Other industries were also allowed to up their allowable foreign labour quotas to 20% - up from 10% prior to the change.

Critics have said that the move may adversely impact the Canadian labour market in terms of suppressing wages, but Qualtrough dismissed those concerns in saying that the loosening of temporary foreign workers restrictions complements today’s move to fund more training of home-grown trade talent.

“We need to make sure that we are maximizing the workforce participation of every working age Canadian and new immigrants in this country,” Qualtrough said. “... But at the same time, historically we know that we also need to attract talent from around the world. 

“We need we need temporary talent here now,” she added. “And then, in the long term, we need to think about and re-conceive our pathways to stay here full-time if people want to.”

Qualtrough also noted that temporary workers – if they are hired in a unionized setting – have to be offered the same salary and benefits as union members.

“We want to make sure that people are getting paid fairly,” she said. “... So it's really an attempt to, in no way displace Canadian workers, but in fact complement the work that has been being done by Canadian workers.”