DIY Government-Funded Training?

Nova Scotia’s Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive (WIPSI) program (which could also be called the “Let a Thousand Consultancies Bloom” program) has existed since 2010 and since 2014 has been “an initiative of the Canada-Nova Scotia Job Grant.” The program gives Nova Scotia “[b]usinesses, social enterprises and revenue-generating non-for-profit organizations” money to train workers.

That training, according to the program guidelines, is expected to:

• improve productivity
• increase innovation
• support the introduction of new technology, machinery and equipment, or work processes
• increase inter-provincial and international competitiveness
• foster workplace diversity

Funding is provided via three “streams,” namely:

Stream 1: Small business/social enterprise and revenue-generating not-for-profit (50 or fewer employees)
Stream 2: Medium & large businesses/social enterprise and revenue-generating not-for-profits (More than 50 employees)
Stream 3: Business Industry and Sector Organizations and Associations, and Private Sector Unions, representing industry and business in the Province

Businesses in the first stream must contribute 50% of any training costs over $10,000; businesses in the second stream are expected to contribute 50% of the training costs, period.

Training is to be provided by an “eligible” training provider and these include:

• Recognized learning institutions such as community colleges, private training centers and universities
• Industry associations or private sector unions may provide employer-endorsed training to their membership (e.g. sector-based productivity training such as lean manufacturing)
• Other training providers, where the applicant demonstrates that a training provider is qualified to deliver the training and meets the program objectives

 

FOIPOP

I’m talking about WIPSI today because I recently ran across a completed freedom of information/protection of privacy (FOIPOP) request that referenced it.

The applicant, identified only as a “Business,” had asked the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education:

In relation to the Canada-Nova Scotia Job Grant, please provide a list of all projects approved, including the amount of funding given (Federal and Provincial) and the Training institutions for the years 2014, 2015 & 2016.

The applicant was entitled to all the information, which focuses mainly on WIPSI funding, and covers a time period mostly covered by the rules laid out in the Canada-Nova Scotia Job Fund Agreement of 4 July 2014. Prior to this agreement, WIPSI existed but had somewhat different rules, as you will see in a moment.

The information “Business” received is now public in the form of a a surprisingly entertaining list that leads down no end of rabbit holes — like the one I tumbled into when I read that entities as seemingly disparate as the Bridgewater Retirement Center Inc and Inventive Marine had both received funding ($28,500 and $30,200, respectively) for training from an outfit called Magnanimous People Strategies. (“Bring Your Whole Self to Work and Be Magnanimous!”)

Or the one that opened up when I read that not one but five organizations had received a total of $392,475.80 to hire a company called Symplicity Designs — identified variously as “Simplicity,” “Simplicity Designs” and “Simplicity Organizational Designs” — to do…I’m not sure what.

It seems to involve making the world which, “With the exception of our environment and the threat to our food supply” is a good place, an even better one. The proof that such improvement is possible?

If that wasn’t the case  there is no way this family, in its fourth generation of entrepreneurial enterprise, could have evolved from farmers to roofers to white collar executives to educated socially and environmentally conscious organizational designers carving out their own value-added niche.

That is a winning argument if you think “socially and environmentally conscious organizational designers” are more valuable to society than roofers or farmers — which, having once tried to eat a socially conscious organizational design while sheltering in a value-added niche, I do not.

I encourage you to choose your own adventure through these listings, I promise you, it’s hours of fun. In the meantime, I’d like to focus on a couple of familiar names I found and consider how they apparently managed to cut out the middleman and provide their own (government-subsidized) training.

 

Shannex

“Shannex” is, of course, the senior-care empire of Port Hawkesbury businessman Joe Shannon.  It appears only three times in the FOIPOP dump, but one of those appearances is very interesting:

CompanyApp#Training ProviderAmount Approved
Shannex5Shannex Inc.$22,419.50
6Dalhousie University$46,886.00
7Dalhousie University$41,696.23
Total$111,001.73

Do you see what I see? Application #5? Shannex not only applied for funding for some unspecified type of training for its employees, it also, apparently, provided that training to its employees. How does that work?

Well, according to Lisa Jarrett, spokesperson for the NS Department of Labor and Advanced Education, it doesn’t anymore, but it did then. Jarrett told me in an email:

In regard to Shannex’s approved application #5, they applied to the WIPSI program on June 30th, 2014 while undertaking a large internal training initiative that met the objectives of the program. At this time, internal training was eligible under the program.

The WIPSI guidelines changed in Fall 2014 to align the external trainer requirements with the accountability requirements of the Canada Job Grant. The Canada Nova Scotia Job Fund Agreement was signed by both Federal and Provincial parties on July 4th, 2014.

So, yes, Shannex received government funding to train its own employees but apparently that used to be kosher.

 

Municipal Enterprises Ltd

Carl Potter’s Municipal Enterprises Ltd (part of the Municipal Group of Companies and also known as Dexter Construction) appears on the list 10 times:

CompanyApplication #Training Provided ByAmount
Municipal Enterprises Ltd10Dexter Institute, Global Knowledge$45,597.00
11McGill Executive Institute$6,741.00
12Alogonquin College, SMU, Athabasca, Green Ed Service, MDC Int'l, Dexter Institute$33,954.00
13Dexter Institute, Dale Carnegie, HEDSA$24,187.00
14Dalhousie University$6,847.50
15All-Tech$5,112.50
16NSRB, Asphalt Institute, TTCC, Dexter Institute, Global Knowledge$7,317.19
17Global Knowledge$12,589.38
18Dexter Institute$24,000.00
19Simplicity Designs$12,500.00
Total$178,845.57

 

The notable thing here, other than the sheer number of applications approved, may not be immediately visible to the naked eye. This will help:

Yes, the Dexter Institute — cited in funding applications 10, 12, 13, 16 and 18 — is owned by the Municipal Group. What does it teach? How much does it charge?

The Dexter Institute offers two registered programs: Heavy Equipment Operator and Heavy Civil Skilled Worker. Both programs involve approximately seven weeks of classroom theory, six weeks of practical training, and a roughly three-month paid work term. Graduates of the program are guaranteed an offer of employment. Acceptance into the program is competitive. There is no cost to apply; tuition for successful applicants is $8000 plus applicable taxes.

Like Shannex, Municipal Enterprises is getting government funding to pay itself to train its own workers, but because it owns the institute doing the training rather than simply funding “internal” training, this is all right and tight. Said Jarrett:

WIPSI guidelines Sec.4 indicates eligible training providers must be recognized learning institutions such as community colleges, private training centers and universities, Industry associations or private sector unions may provide employer endorsed training to their membership (e.g. sector-based productivity training such as lean manufacturing) or other training providers, where the applicant demonstrates that a training provider is qualified to deliver the training and meets the program objectives. The Dexter Institute meets these eligibility requirements.

 

Limits?

For the record, Municipal Enterprises, with 19 applications, is far and away the leader in this list — the next closest, with 12 applications, is Hercules SLR, a Dartmouth based “securing, lifting and rigging firm.”

I asked Jarrett if Municipal Enterprises’ 19 applications meant it had received WIPSI funding 19 times since 2010. She replied:

Applications are numbered according to the number of times an organization applied not necessarily received approval. Applications that are declined are counted.

But were those first nine applications approved or declined? Why not throw a reporter a bone? (I’ve FOIPOPed the department to get the figures from 2010-2014 and will update when I receive an answer.)

I also asked Jarrett if there was a limit to the number of times an employer could receive WIPSI funding and Jarrett said:

WIPSI Guidelines indicate the limit is $10,000 per employee per year.

But there is, apparently, no limit to the number of times the same company can receive funding.

Jarret said the department receives, on average, 350 to 375 applications for WIPSI funding each year and the ratio of approved to declined applications varies:

In fiscal year 2015/16, 64% of applications were approved while the remaining 36% were either declined or applicants withdrew. In fiscal year 2016/17, 68% of applications received were approved and 32% were either declined or applicants withdrew.

 

Canada Job Grant Revisited

Still from Canada Job Grant ad.

Still from Canada Job Grant ad.

The Canada Job Grant (CJG) was controversial when it was first announced by then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in 2013, mainly because it attempted to claw back $300 million of the $500 million given to the provinces for training each year, jeopardizing programs targeted at disadvantaged Canadians, oh, and also because the Harper government spent $2.5 million advertising it before it even existed.

Then-Employment Minister Jason Kenney had to back down on the more controversial aspects of the agreement to get the provinces and territories to sign on (Quebec never did) and he also had to agree to a two-year review of the program conducted by the Forum of Labour Market Ministers (the FLMM, made up of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for labor markets).

That review was conducted by consultants Goss Gulroy and delivered in January 2016. The consultants evaluated the Canada Job Grant’s effectiveness in meeting two goals:

a. Increasing the participation of Canadians in the labour force and helping them develop the skills necessary to find and keep meaningful and long-term employment, and

b. Increasing employer investment in training to ensure that skills are better aligned to job opportunities, including addressing evolving labour market demands or sectors facing skills mismatches or shortages.

After acknowledging the program had been operating for less than a year in some jurisdictions, the consultants reported that:

In terms of the participation of Canadians in the labour force and helping them develop skills, while just over 37,000 participants were funded to take training through the CJG, the reviews found that there is limited evidence of increased labour market attachment among participants. This was in part due to the fact that employers largely supported participants who were employed prior to the training and the short time frame permitted for follow-up with all participants to determine if changes have occurred. Also, there was little evidence that the number of hours worked or wages have increased.

“Labour market attachment” means “job,” in case you’re wondering. So 37,000 Canadians were trained but it didn’t help those among them who were unemployed find “jobs.”

As for encouraging employers to spend more on training:

In terms of incrementality (that is, whether there was increased employer investment in training), the analysis of the [Provincial/Territorial] reports found that the number of individuals being trained likely increased compared to prior to the program’s introduction due to the leveraging of the CJG funding to expand employers’ training budgets. However, the findings on the incrementality of the employer investment in training through the CJG are mixed. The degree of incrementality appeared to vary across jurisdictions and by the characteristics of the employers. Among the jurisdictions that reported a figure, the percentage of employers that indicated they would have invested in training without the funding ranged from 35% to 68%.

In other words, who knows?

But the consultants do note that employers are very satisfied with the program and it seems safe to assume this is especially true of employers who supply their own training.

 

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