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How the Macro Level of Decision Making Affects the Micro Level of Courses for Adults

By WENDY TERRY - July 15 2021

Canada – A Learning Nation Dec., 2020 Report
Often as adult learners we are focused on finding a course at a time we can make it, that meets a specific learning need, the micro level. But there are activities going on at a macro level which shape what we are offered at the micro level. Canada- A Learning Nation report describes the work of the Future Skills Advisory Council, an advisory council to the federal Ministry of Employment Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. This report came out in December 2020 but I just found it scanning the net for what I can’t remember now.

In past, I have written about the lack of Canada-wide and province-wide information associations for adult education so that no matter what level you work at: program management or front-line teaching or what sector university, college, school, community program, career college you would have some sense of what was going on in the field of adult ed. There used to be an Ontario Association for Continuing Education, and a Canadian Association for Adult Education but not anymore, not since the 1990’s. There were also associations in each province but not anymore. So we find out what is going on by happenstance.

So what did the Council advise the Ministry to do? They developed five priorities.
One, Helping Canadians make informed choices: Two, Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning: Three, Skills development to support indigenous self determination; Four, New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation: Five, Skills development for sustainable futures. In the Introduction they note “We live in a complex global environment characterized by rapid technological innovation, climate change, and unforeseen events”
So how specifically could each of their priorities shape what course adults access at the micro level.

One, Helping Canadians make informed choices

Priority One notes that Canadians need labour market information to make training decisions. They note “It is essential to create tools that organize LMI (Labour market information) in user-oriented ways, so people can find precisely what they want as simply as possibly-without information overload.” Good luck with that one, the problem with being referred to a website is so often it takes so long to read through it to find specifically what you want to know. You want to talk to a real person. The last sentence in this section ( Recommendations 1.1) comments that “Success will not only involve new tools and technology, we can also draw on the wealth of expertise held by Canada’s career counseling professions.” And we would add employment counselors experience.
Also in Section 1.1 of the Recommendations section for Priority One, they note, “We need to leverage data science, artificial intelligence and other new technologies to aggregate and analyze large data sets. … Looking forward, LMI (Labour market information) tools would make it easy for people to enter information on their skills, experience, interests, goals and personal characteristics. These tools would then generate personalized, credible pathways for learning skills development and employment opportunities.” Sigh this seems way too utopian, magical even.
Take ONCAT, the Ontario Council for Articulation and Transfer founded in 2011 whose task is to “enhance academic pathways, reduce barriers for students looking to transfer among Ontario’s public colleges and universities and Indigenous Institutions” On the website, there are 268,110 course equivalences and 1997 transfer pathways. Sounds like information overload but you can talk to a Transfer Advisor. Thank heavens.
However, we have been watching this site since its founding to see if they are listing equivalences for Continuing Education courses, ones not noted as an equivalent to a day school course. So far, they have not taken this on. I have just checked in again.

If you read the ONCAT site, you can see the constant work such a data base requires to develop and maintain as well getting educational institutes to supply data, which is an issue. So to add your personal information, even if you were self aware enough of your characteristics, goals, interests, etc. to such an educational database that is also linked to employment opportunities to give you a personalized pathway as suggested above in Recommendation 1.1 sounds like a Herculean task.

The Workers’ Educational Association, publisher of Learning Curves, has always pushed for access to career counselors and or employment counselors as they can help you know yourself better, they know their local labour market and educational providers to help you develop a personalized pathway. In 1994 I was a member of the Premier’s Task Force on Lifelong Learning which lead to the formation of the Ontario Career Counselors Association. Why not fund these service providers where they work to spend more time helping their clients instead of investing in more data bases?

In Section 1.2 of the Recommendations section for Priority One, they note “LMI (Labour market information) needs to shift from a focus on occupations, tasks, and credentials to a more comprehensive focus that includes the skills required to be successful as jobs continue to change.”

In Section 1.3 of the Recommendations section for Priority One, they note, “Collaborative discussions among colleges, polytechnics, universities, other training providers and employers are advantageous for the development of learning and training that meet the changing labour markets needs.” Again good luck with this one, as a Past President of the Ontario Association for Continuing Education and a past Board member of the Canadian Association for Adult Education, I found adult education sectors are not into talking with one another. For instance community colleges do not talk to or accept course credits from career colleges. Community programs do not have an association where they talk to one another as they are competing with one another for students from the adult population. Universities and College do talk more to one another as they have developed bridges from college diploma programs into university degree programs. School boards rarely talk to colleges or even community programs as they are all offering upgrading programs and therefore competing for student enrollments. Each provider is looking for enrolment in their specific program, as that is how they are funded. If they collaborate, will they then lose enrollments to their fellow programs.

Two, Equality of opportunity for lifelong learning:

For Priority Two to promote equality of opportunity for Lifelong Learning, structural and systematic barriers need to be removed. In this part of the report they point out “The evidence is clear that many groups are under-represented in growth occupations…”. In the Recommendations 2.1 section of the report, they recommend “that employment and skills development programs, services and supports be explicitly designed to be inclusive and address the distinct barriers and circumstances of under-represented groups These programs, services and supports should also link them more clearly with skills and work most likely to be in demand.” In the action areas summary to they note “Apply user-centered design.”

Community based programs are most often focused on user-centered design. For example, The YWCA Toronto runs a program to train women for the skilled trades. The skilled trades are well paid and as older workers are retiring so there are promising job prospects here. To find a comprehensive listing for community programs go to 211 Toronto Select Employment and Training and you will be lead to a sub menu that includes Academic Upgrading; Apprenticeship; Career Counseling (Pathways); Employers Staffing Assistance; Internationally Trained Professionals; Job Search support/training; Newcomer Employment Programs; Older Workers; Self Employment/ Entrepreneurship; Work Experience and so on.

In Recommendation 2.2 they suggest to include access to “wrap around supports”. These are the supports such as daycare and transportation assistance that help individuals overcome some of the practical challenges when they want to develop skills and get jobs. Again community based programs are more likely to include these supports. So as before check out the 211 listings listed above.

In Recommendation 2, they note that “Many Canadians want to learn in th the workplace rather than pursuing classroom learning outside of work hours.” Most colleges have a Corporate Training department. Search Corporate Training in the website for a college, have a look, then talk to your employer about how the college could help them offer on the job training.

In Recommendation 2.3 they suggest “…governments should examine a broader range of fiscal tools that could be used to support individuals like the Canada Training Benefit.” Learning Curves wrote up this Canada Training Benefit development in the Spring 2020 issue page 3.
Learning Curves always recommends our readers to go to the Financial Services of their school, explain their situation and ask if there is financial help. There often is even for Continuing Education students, ask.

Three, Skills development to support indigenous self determination;

At the beginning of Priority Two, the report states “Canada is not a land of “one size fits all” solutions.” That diversity includes the learning needs of indigenous persons. I would recommend our readers go the report and read this section.

In Recommendation Section 2.1 the first Action area notes “Embrace the philosophy of “nothing about us without us.” Ensure Indigenous Peoples , governments and organizations are at the centre of designing, developing and implementing culturally appropriate support to strengthen success in post-secondary programs and certifications.”
In Recommendation 3.3 they note “almost 40% of Indigenous Peoples live in rural and remote communities. Under Priority #2 the Council underlined that improved broadband access is essential to future skills and employment opportunities for everyone in rural and remote communities. This is equally true for the Indigenous… ”

Four, New and innovative approaches to skills development and validation:

Well in Recommendation 4.1 I learned some new adult education terms, for one: nimble training models. The report notes that: “ The old approaches to training do not always meet the needs of rapidly evolving workplaces, which is driving the demand for more customized, just-in-time training solutions that are more responsive to these changes” Nimble training is the new concept.
Other terms that come up with this idea are micro-credentials, upskilling, reskilling, modular programs, flexible entry dates, continuous intake and… In my latest analysis of courses it seems to me I saw glimmers of micro-credentials and flexible entry dates. For the Fall issues of Learning Curves I will have a more systematic look

Five, Skills development for sustainable futures

In Priority 5 they note that “Canada’s smallest employers face some of the economy’ biggest challenges… However, those employers often lack the resources needed…”
Often when we think of adult education we think of getting a course or credential that moves us up in a large organization. However small and medium-sized enterprises are key in every Canadian community. They gave a good statistical picture of this. “Of Canada’s 1.18 million businesses, 98% employ fewer than 100 people and almost three-quarters, have fewer than nine people.” They go on to note: It’s also important to recognize the contribution of the non-profit sector to Canada’s economy. In 2017, almost 2,400,000 Canadians were employed in the public and non-profit sectors…” In the Action for 5.1 area they note we should “Simplify training solutions for SME (Small and Medium –sized Enterprises). We add, it would be good to develop outreach initiatives to SME’s, to show them how “nimble training models” could help them meet their organization’s learning needs. Then develop it for them. Learning Curves would like some nimble training to learn how to market our community paper through social media.

In Recommendation 5.2 the Council advises we “develop and expand access to training for digital skills and emerging technologies in particular artificial intelligence. Thank heavens they gave a definition of Artificial Intelligence and it’s significance. “Artificial Intelligence, a class of technologies that are able to learn on their own, will be especially transformative over the coming decade” And I just got caught up with Zooming and ordering on line now I have to do AI.

They go on to note “The recent pandemic showed that digital skills are essential to ensure organizations across all sectors can continue to operate applying new business models…” SME’s had to switch to taking on line orders and curb side pick up.

They go on to note that “Cybersecurity…is an important issue that often requires digital sills development beyond the capacity of small employers. Learning Curves, a social enterprise, that funds the WEA it’s publisher was recently hacked. Our President who now works from home, told me the rate of hacking of computers for those working from home has skyrocketed. I need to now learn basic cybersecurity. I need to look for this in this fall’s continuing education offerings.

In Recommendation 5.3 they advise us to “Develop skills strategies to support Canada’s successful transition to a low carbon emissions economy. I can see this adult education change taking place at my car dealership, an SME, their mechanics are being given time off the job to go to training sessions on how to service electrical vehicles.
In conclusion, the Council challenges people to identify how they can take action on these issue, to help drive “how best to convert good ideas into effective action; how best to turn today’s good examples of into tomorrow’s common practice; and how, to spark creative thinking to tackle the challenges that we have yet to solve…”
This federal advisory Council’s recommendations at the macro level will affect what courses adults will be offered at the micro level.

Check out these federal macro-level groups for more big picture developments and think how they might affect you at the micro-level:
Future Skills Council
Advisory Council on Economic Growth
Labour Market Information Council
Future Skills Centre
Essential Skills Framework
Forum of Labour Market Ministers

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