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Precarious Employment Threatens Adult Education

By WENDY TERRY - December 7 2013

On October 24th I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Toronto Workforce Innovation Group. The topic of the meeting was the Cost of Precarious Employment to the Community Well Being and included a panel presentation on this topic.

What is TWIG? What is Precarious Employment? How does if affect adult education?

The Toronto Workforce Innovation Group is Toronto’s Workforce Planning Group, one of 252 Workforce Planning Boards across Ontario funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, College and Universities. In the December 2011 issue of Learning Curves, in the article “Toronto Group Offers Latest Information on City’s Job Trends” Twig’s Executive Director Karen Lior, said “ Our job is to tell the story of our labour market. We focus on issues specific to Toronto, give resonance to labour market changes and issues, and we strive to make sure that information is accessible.”

By going to TWIG’s web site you can find a wealth of labour market information, and looking at this is a good place to start when deciding what educational programs to take. The TOP Report, Toronto’s Opportunities and Priorities Local Labour Market Update 2013 is found here. Also their Routes To Employment Resources which has Toronto-specific labour market information in Toronto’s l0 leading employment sectors, and includes programs that help people into these sectors including training and employment.

In the TOPS report section, Overview of Labour Market Conditions, it was noted that “Toronto’s labour force continues to face higher unemployment numbers rates than other Canadians (9.3% to 7.8%), due to the steady increase in part-time, contractual, employment.” This is one definition of precarious work.

That brings us to the panel of at TWIG’s AGM. Dr. Wayne Lewchuck, of McMaster University presented some findings from the report “It’s More Than Poverty” prepared by the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) research project. Wayne is one of the report author. and TWIG is part of this joint university-community (ICURA) project. You can find this report on

What is precarious work – temporary, part-time, on call, contract, no benefits jobs – not permanent not full-time. These are some of the findings: only 60% of GTA workers today have stable, secure jobs; precarious employment has increased by nearly 50% in the last 20 years. The report notes that “participants in precarious employment often report uncertainty about having work in the near future, what it will pay and what their hours will be.” The report goes on to say that “this type of uncertainty can affect household income, well-being and community connections.” The report did not identify participating in adult education as a community connection that would be affected but I made the connection while listening to the presentation.

Adults have participated in adult education largely as part-time evening students since the 1960’s. In fact there are more part-time students taking one course, one night a week, than full time students taking four or so courses a week. The parking lots are fuller on campus at night than they are during the daytime. Going to school part-time was a way to move on up at work, to do better.

This adult student lifestyle requires that you had the same night free for several months, some disposable funds to pay for tuition, books, transportation, babysitting and some food between work and class. If you are working on call and have low and unstable income, how can you manage this.

It has always puzzled me that although we talk about a lifelong learning society we rarely if ever see the costs and benefits of adult learning as a factor in studies on employment or well-being.

The cost of educating one’s children is regularly factored into household income and expenditure studies but not the costs of continuing to educate yourself throughout the years. Lifelong learning despite the necessity of continuing to learn is not factored into these studies.

In fact, adult education is often seen as a default if you can’t find work not as an ongoing activity despite the rhetoric about lifelong learning.

Adult students rarely have associations that lobby for them but educational providers have associations which lobby. They need to think about what their income would look like without the tuition from adult students, and speak up, facilitate forums for their adult students to speak up and work with community groups to help those adults, who can’t afford the time and money to go to school, to be heard.

The continued growth in precarious employment threatens adult education.

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