John MacLaughlin, Manager of Program, Business and Partnership Development, and one of the authors of the discussion paper Menial No More: A Discussion Paper on Advancing our Workforce through Digital Skills discusses reactions to the paper since its release as well as his response. We invite you to respond and ask your own questions in the comment section below, on Twitter, Facebook or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year, I thought it would be a good idea to write about the OLC’s experience in workplace essential skills and reflect on the changing nature of entry-level or low-skilled employment I saw in the hospitality, manufacturing and food processing industries. It became difficult to ignore the implications these changes have on workforce preparation. Menial No More is an attempt to capture some of the labour market consequences we are seeing in Ontario, Canada and in other jurisdictions. Indeed, not long after Menial No More went to print, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) published a report outlining issues in workforce skills and innovation. The report noted the significant increase in skills required for ‘low-skilled’ vocations and the dilemmas facing employers in this context. The OCED paper also noted the scant attention being paid to the skill inflation in these jobs, and questioned whether generic basic skills training can actually address the needs of people going into these jobs. These are important issues with real ramifications – not just for policy makers and basic skills providers – but for the range of individuals who have traditionally used these jobs to get a foothold in the labour market.
Since the release of Menial No More, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout much of the province and I have been pleasantly surprised by the response from basic skills providers, policy makers and other stakeholders. As a discussion paper – it has created discussion. A couple of things need some explanation. I have encountered some debate over the use of the terms STEM and Digital Skills and whether we are using the right terminology in describing workforce changes. It is probably correct that neither STEM or Digital Skills quite captures the nature of the shifting skills requirements in entry-level employment. A more accurate description would be skills-biased technological change, however the unfamiliarity of that lexicon is an impediment and does not provide an accessible framework for an important conversation. Of course, the conversation should not focus on the correctness of the terminology, but on the magnitude of technological changes and the kinds of assistance our employment and training system can provide to the most vulnerable in our workforce.
Last week I was at a meeting of literacy and basic skills providers when the topic shifted to Menial No More. Almost everyone agreed with the sense that employers were expecting more from entry-level employees. The conversation became much more thought-provoking when we started to talk about who should be providing the unemployed with these new skills. A number of people thought that it was an employer’s responsibility to provide the training for these skills. Indeed, this is not a unique sentiment, as I have heard similar views from senior policy makers. During that discussion, I openly wondered whether we should be leaving the responsibility of training our most vulnerable to employers and industry. I think publicly-funded institutions have a real role to play in this form of training and it was interesting to note that most of the literacy programs I talk tothink that learners would greatly benefit from an injection of vocational training. The question then becomes: how does a literacy and essential skills program do this? What would such programming look like? And how can this be orchestrated in terms of funding?
Over the coming months, I will post on the themes and discussions emerging from Menial No More and provide some links to other initiatives that can provide a template for ongoing conversations. I welcome others to offer insights to this blog as we look toward enhancing our basic skills system.
To read a copy of Menial No More, please visit http://www.on.literacy.ca/whatwedo/lfw/menial_no_more.