“Canada as a nation just doesn’t work well enough and we seem to have trouble ‘getting our act together’ when it comes to competing with other nations because of under investing in lifelong learning.”
– Red Wilson, headed of the Competition Policy Review Panel
Over the past 20 years, public administration has been moving into new areas of activity as it adjusts to pressures originating in the political and technological arenas:
· in response to real and apparent misdeads, there has been an unrelenting effort to determine who is responsible for what and then to hold those responsible accountable for results. This has led to development of new forms of accountability and oversight.
· in response to continuous improvements in computer processing speed and storage capacity, there has been an explosion of creative work in data analysis. It has prompted Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, to declare the end of theory and the beginning of a new era of data exploration and “super crunching” that gives policy analysts powerful predictive tools.
Forms of performance measurement and program evaluation have been around a long time, but the technical capacity to measure outputs and outcomes was feeble. However, the roar of scandals past has upped the ante with regard to the need for more explicit ways to assess performance.
The connection between economic performance and education and on-the-job training is an example. In fact, if there is anything certain in social science research, it is the linkage between educational attainment and the availability of skilled labour to economic growth. Ireland has attained the highest student-population ratio in Europe by expanding its post-secondary programs in international business, engineering, and information technology. The Asian Tigers have placed a strong emphasis on vocational training, engineering, science and mathematics education at the post-secondary level. It has paid off.
Consider also the importance of on-the-job training. A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Learning, The 2008 Composite Learning Index, provides an impressive trend analysis of the state of formal learning and training in Canada. Tucked away in one of the chapters on the four pillars that support the learning environment is an interesting analysis of the degree to which the private sector is providing on-the-job learning opportunities for its employees.
There is graphic evidence of serious shortcomings. According to Statistics Canada’s biennial Workplace and Employee Survey, only 56% of Canadian workplaces offered some form of workplace training for their employees in 2003; in the U.K., it is 90%, in Denmark, 85%. OECD stats show Canada ranks 14th.
Effectively, this means that Canadian companies are investing 40% to 50% less on training and education than other developed countries.
These findings are important because there is sufficient evidence from diverse published sources that job related training contributes to the direct success of Canadian companies, their shareholders and their employees: in short, to our prosperity as a nation.
In particular, the evidence suggests that companies benefit from increased productivity while employees have the advantage of “improved job performance, higher wages, and improved career opportunities” when on-the-job training is offered. For example, in Australia a series of case studies of a number of company training initiatives reveals that, after looking at productivity, sales, staff turnover, and training costs, the rate of return of the companies’ training investments varied from a impressive high of 30 percent to a moderately low 7.1.
It should be clear from the CCL studies that Canada is underperforming in the area of lifelong learning when compared with leading OECD countries.
There does not appear to be any pedagogical reason for Canada to lag behind other countries. In fact, our access to “super crunching” will continue to provide us with greater insight into the predictive validity of training with regards to our economic well being. One possible non-analytical barrier could be the constitutional ambiguity of which level of government is responsible for promoting on-the-job training. This undoubtedly complicates the accountability framework and diffuses responsibility for various elements of lifelong learning. However, this should not be a reason for Canadians to be deprived of such a critical factor in our economic success.
Lifelong learning is a key to both a productive public sector and a thriving private sector.