Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Yet Another Failure of The Corporate Community

We hear everyday about the grim prospects that our young people face - protracted periods of unemployment, underemployment and contract work have become the norm, rather than the exception, even for those with extensive education. Even going back to school to pursue graduate studies or certificate programs offers no guarantee of gainful employment. Indeed, my own family has personal experience with this problem. My son, with a Master's Degree, had to move to Alberta for meaningful employment, and my daughter, also the holder of a Master's as well as a post-grad certificate, is still struggling to find her place.

We are told that the culprit is a weak economy, with businesses reluctant to hire and invest during times of uncertainty.

And yet we are also told that Canada has a shortage of skilled workers, so much so that the federal government is fast tracking applications from foreign workers to take jobs in our oil, our shipbuilding, our mining, and our construction industries, to name but four.

Clearly, something is very amiss.

An article in The Globe and Mail helps to illuminate the problem. Entitled Why training workers in Canada beats importing them from abroad, it argues that training a domestic workforce is the much preferable alternative to importing temporary workers, for some pretty obvious reasons. However, it asserts that there are several obstacles to the pursuit of such a sane strategy.

One of those obstacles is the Harper regime's attitude toward temporary workers. It recently announced "that it intends to bring in an extra 3,000 skilled tradespeople next year," a decision which may elicit great delight amongst employers but one that betrays the national interest if it is being used as a cover to import workers whose only asset is a willingness to work for a lot less than Canadians.

A recent example of the above is HD Mining International, a Chinese-owned coal mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C. that has won approval "to bring in as many as 200 Chinese workers over the next few years, even though it is paying them substantially less than the going rate, with no benefits."

This corporate interest in exploiting cheap labour, abetted by a government that seems, at best, indifferent to workers' rights, is exacerbated by companies' refusal to train workers through apprenticeship programs:

Apprenticeship – the time-honoured tradition of experienced journeymen training the next generation – remains a foreign concept for the vast majority of employers. In spite of generous government incentives, more than 80 per cent of employers who use skilled workers don’t offer any, according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.

A little research confirms that the government incentives described above are indeed generous and include the following:

Ontario Businesses looking to hire and train a new apprentice in a specialized skilled trade, may be interested in filing for one of the following government grants and tax credit programs:

Ontario Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit (OATTC) – A provincial refundable tax credit equal to 35% – 45% of the salaries and wages for a qualifying apprentice or $10K per year to a max of $40K over the first 4 years of applicable apprenticeships.

Federal Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit (AJCTC) – A federal non-refundable tax credit equal to 10% of the salaries and wages for a qualifying apprentice to a max of $2K per year for each eligible apprentice.

Apprenticeship Employer Signing Bonus – A program providing $2K in non-repayable government grants for registering a new apprentice in a sectors with high demand for skilled trade workers.

Employer Bonus Program – A program providing $1K in non-repayable government grants for employers whose apprentices complete an apprenticeship program in any trade or occupation.

Despite these incentives, corporate Canada seems, as it always does, to look only at the very short-term, with no thought to any responsibility it has to the wider community. Even a company the size of Irving shipping, "which has a $25-billion deal to build 21 combat ships for the federal government", recently announced that it will spend the paltry sum of "$250,000 a year to train and recruit local students." It also promises to offer some apprenticeships, but given the fact that it will need to attract "1,500 [skilled] workers ... over the next decade," it seems like an anemic effort at best.

I will close by giving the final word to the Globe article's penultimate paragraph:

Training workers is a long-term investment. It requires patience. Research by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, which lost its federal financing this year, shows that companies get back $1.47 for every $1 they spend on apprentices. Over the life of a four-year apprenticeship, the gain can reach as high as $250,000 for a single heavy equipment mechanic as the apprentice becomes more productive and generates revenue.


  1. For thirty years, Lorne, governments have sold off public resources -- airlines, airwaves, Petro Canada -- to private interests.

    John Kenneth Galbraith -- that Ontario farm boy who became a pretty good economist -- wrote that the result has been "private wealth and public squalor."

  2. I have a friend, Owen, who is a great Galbraith enthusiast, and often cites him when we discuss the current sad state of affairs. Without question, his clear-headed wisdom is badly needed today.

  3. China exports workers in order to depressurize social tensions at home - the Harper government calls them 'temporary foreign workers'. Then Canada sells out our resource industries, refuses to train Canadians to fill the new industrial jobs and allows the new 'investors' to import their nationals to take the jobs.

    'Here for Canada'? What a load of bullshit. 'Here for Corporations', especially foreign stated owned corporations, is more like it.

    Once thing is certain, though; the Harper government is definitely not here for Canadians.

  4. We can only hope that increasing numbers of Canadians will realize this, Anon, before it is too late.

  5. Part of me (the part that has been out of work for almost a year now) wholly agrees with the outrage of this article, but the problem isn't just that the government isn't funding its own students or making room for skilled canadians, part of the problem is that many canadians dont want to be laborers. In general there is a sense in our parents who look down on their own underpaid long hour work wages and expenses that this type of work isnt worth it (unless you are in the military, but then again, there is a strong anti-military stance in our population too.) Beyond our parents though, there is also the sense that public school do nothing to make being a skilled laborer look appealing, we are taught how the horrors of labor have been cast off by revolutions and intellectual movements, we are taught the environmental horrors of many of these jobs, we are taught that math and poetry and science and technology in the form of computers is the place for creativity and genius (and that we are all very smart for the most part) and not in the trades. In graduation people are usually encouraged to go not to collage but to be a teacher, or a scientist or a mathematician (not poet or writer really, cause there is no money there, just dedicated dreamers working for charity) A great many people just don't want to be skilled laborers, we want to be abstract laborers or revolutionaries (which is an abstract historianist) mostly because of the strange polarity in our culture between laborers and intellectuals that goes back to Plato's Republic and is front and center when someone looks down on you cause you want to build something with your hands and not just buy it or get it from someone else.
    In some ways, pulling in people who have no choice but to work makes sense, but it exposes the dilemma of our culture's mind set and attitudes to work. Here is another way to put it, when someone hears of someone wants to enter the trades, their motive is usually financial security and we as their peer groups say what ever, you'll have money but what about your soul, then we become amoral scientists and sociologist and professors in english departments or pharmacists who dont take a care in politics settling for financial security cause we did all that damn work getting our souls all educated for the sake of our person. But yet, we are the same as those we decourage from entering the trades. It is a nasty cultural problem that has to be addressed by the schools and by the parents and teachers, not just corporations and the government.
    I hope that makes sense and thanks for reading.

  6. Anon, I think you make some excellent points here, and I think you are quite correct in your description of traditional attitudes to trades, etc. and that there has undoubtedly been great emphasis on becoming educated to enter a profession.

    While I have nothing concrete to base it on other than a general feeling, I think those attitudes are slowly changing, partly as a result of the uncertain futures that so-called 'educated' people face, and also as a result of a rejection of the either-or mentality those attitudes represent. Can't a person pursue a so-called 'manual skill' while at the same time be intellectually engaged with the world? I really don't think they are mutually exclusive, and given the great wealth of information and knowledge available literally at the tips of our fingers, there is increasingly little justification for that prejudice.