Budget focuses on retraining
TheStar.com – Ontario Budget – Budget focuses on retraining
March 25, 2008
Rob Ferguson, Queen’s Park Bureau
Laid-off workers in the hard-hit manufacturing sector will get more cash to help keep their families afloat if they go back to school to learn new skills under a â€œsecond careerâ€ strategy in this yearâ€™s Ontario budget.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said some of the 20,000 people targeted by the plan could get as much as $30,000 to pay household bills and tuition, providing they go back to school for a two-year program.
The $355 million effort â€“ touted by Premier Dalton McGuinty as a way for workers to get off the layoff treadmill and find enduring employment in growing industries â€“ is part of a three-year, $1.5 billion â€œskills to jobs action planâ€ detailed in todayâ€™s budget.
The plan will also expand apprenticeship training, with 32,500 new trainees annually by 2011, and expand training centres to help workers find new jobs quickly when their plants or companies close.
â€œWhat we realized was, we didnâ€™t have long-term retraining for that individual that wants to pick up a new trade that takes one or two years,â€ Duncan told a news conference, referring to the second careers program he said should be up and running by June 1 through existing employment counseling services.
â€œIf a sole breadwinner wants to go back (to school), there will be additional help that isnâ€™t available under existing programs.â€
Workers laid off in the previous 12 months will be eligible but will have to go through a screening process that will measure their aptitude, goals and financial need â€“ including the size of any severance payments theyâ€™ve received, officials said.
â€œItâ€™s going to be about tailoring services to individuals,â€ said Duncan.
New figures from Statistics Canada show Ontario has lost more than 77,000 manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2006, with many workers having trouble finding jobs that pay equivalent wages as manufacturing increasingly moves to lower-wage jurisdictions.
Opposition parties said the effort to help laid-off workers is like closing the barn after the horse has bolted.
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory called for corporate tax cuts to attract manufacturers and NDP Leader Howard Hampton pushed for lower industrial hydro rates and a â€œbuy Ontarioâ€ strategy to support provincial companies.
Premier Dalton McGuinty is â€œchasing jobs out of Ontarioâ€ with his governmentâ€™s tax policies, Tory said.
â€œThere is nothing here that will save the jobs that are disappearing at an alarming rate,â€ he told reporters.
With job losses in forestry and manufacturing pushing the lost job total closer to 200,000 in the last few years, Hampton said the effort to boost second careers is pathetic.
â€œTraining for 20,000 when 200,000 have lost their jobs is pretty thin gruel,â€ he said. â€œDo they catch the next flight to Fort McMurray?â€