by Nicholas Wyman.
To prepare an informed, competitive workforce for today’s economy, it’s critical to emphasize skills development and create clear pathways for job-seekers.
Working against this idea is Nova Scotia’s current reality.
Today, 1.3 million Canadians are unemployed, while around 230,000 positions remain unfilled. This is not to mention the hundreds of thousands of workers in sectors that are in a state of underemployment. Many of these people are working in jobs that are not representative of the skills they have or could easily gain.
Why? Because businesses can’t find people with the skills they need to get the job done.
The Now or Never report published by Ray Ivany said Nova Scotia fares well in comparison with other provinces in terms of workforce education and training. Over half of Nova Scotia’s workforce meets the “skilled” test: they are working with a trade certificate or college or university education.
This rate is better than the Canadian average. But considering that Nova Scotia had 44,000 people looking for work in 2014, with 5,100 job vacancies at the time, being above average is still not good enough. And these figures do not include local underemployment — the really hard-to-measure “skilled worker, working in an unskilled position.” What can be done to close the gap?
First, review the school curriculum. Upgrade the qualifications that young people can get while they are still in high school. By forging strong partnerships between educators and industry, you ensure that students graduate with the right skills and experience to transition directly into high-demand careers.
Second, strengthen literacy, numeracy and practical skills. It is important to engage young adults through a dynamic and modern curriculum that builds up essential skills like communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking — the skills employers seek.
Third, government and communities need to develop education and training strategies that keep pace with global and technological change — and forge partnerships with business.
Fourth, businesses need to maintain a long-term commitment to skills. Investing in apprenticeship programs and opportunities for employees to upskill allows employers to cultivate their human capital, ensuring their future workforce and competitive advantage.
Fifth, raise the status of skills. Culturally, we can raise the esteem of vocational pathways so that young adults see skills training as an option for the labour force.
For job-seekers, the current demand for skills offers exciting opportunities to launch well-paying, respected careers in a wide variety of industries, without taking on student loan debt. It’s understood that actions like curriculum changes cannot happen overnight. But what might be misunderstood are the changes that business can enact now.
Businesses that employ skilled workers should consider having a skills-building program, directed by a straightforward approach that includes:
•Designing apprenticeships or training around the company’s business needs. These programs shouldn’t be about charity, but about creating value for the enterprise.
•Offering attractive pay to apprentices and offering each of them a “career ladder” to more challenging and better paying positions.
•Assigning a mentor to each participant. An effective mentor transfers valuable organizational knowledge while providing support and guidance. Young adults and their mentors develop bonds of loyalty that lead to employee satisfaction and retention.
•Giving a “hand up” through skills-building is a powerful way for managers to help their organizations while addressing nagging social and economic problems.
Businesses in regions like South Carolina and Manchester, U.K., institutionalized these kinds of changes, and they have paid off very well. Besides, it’s an excellent way to do well by doing good. And in Nova Scotia, it must be now.
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