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College Quarterly
Summer 1994 - Volume 1 Number 4
The College Role in Contract Training.
by James L. Vanderveken

Communities across Canada are struggling to gain a foothold in the global economy. As the pace of technological innovation accelerates, business and industrial practices relative to product planning, development and design, financing, manufacturing, marketing, and service will have to be responsive to the realities of the North American market, the European Economic Community, the Asian-Pacific Rim, and the emerging nations of Central and South America. It is the 'hyper' pace of globalization that is responsible for Canada'a current economic malaise and, specifically, Ontario's industrial displacement as thousands of production jobs have been lost due to plant downsizing and closures. The personal toll on individuals who have lost their livelihoods has been devastating. Unemployment and welfare rolls are burgeoning as people scramble to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

In the wake of these tremendous forces, the resiliance of communities working to re-establish their economic and labour market vibrancy is commendable. For example, in the community of Hamilton-Wentworth, such efforts were actualized in a plan referred to as the Renaissance Project: An Action Plan to Revitalize Hamilton-Wentworth. Its purpose was clear: “The Renaissance Project is an attempt by a community group to develop an ACTION PLAN which will help to revitalize the economy of Hamilton-Wentworth and CREATE JOBS.” (Renaissance Project, 1994, p. 2) Within Renaissance, the local education/training infrastructure is regarded as an essential element to any recovery plan, with particular emphasis placed on the potential contributions of McMaster University and Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology.

The Renaissance Project states:

McMaster University and Mohawk College are working on a joint proposal to create a training and retraining facility in the community which will “permit the education and retraining of the labour force for highly specialized technological domains, as well as providing opportunities for lifelong learning made necessary by the rapidly changing demands made by social, environmental and technologies change.” (p. 62)

Implicitly, Renaissance attempts to envision, in the context of one community's economic strategy, a future role for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology much in the same way as Vision 2000: Quality and Opportunity (1990) endeavoured to bring forward a vision of the college system in the year 2000. The common theme reflected in both documents speaks to a new economic and social paradigm in which CAATs must play a significant role if communities and individuals are to survive. It begs the question, however: Are the colleges ready, willing and able to assume the responsibilities bestowed upon them by this new environment?

This discussion will focus its attention on contract training and its potential contribution to the readiness of CAATs to embrace the expanded roles espoused in Vision 2000. It will be argued that, because the college system in Ontario has little choice - CAATs must find new ways to respond to local, provincial, national and global pressures - CAATs have, to varying degrees, a mechanism, namely contract training, which enables them to respond effectively to the pressures of the new age. Through an analysis of The Final Report of Vision 2000 and its attendant Study Team Final Reports and Background Papers, it will be suggested that Vision 2000 inadequately addresses the current state of affairs relative to contract training services within the college system and fails to realize the potential of contract training as a college mechanism to deal effectively with the rapidly changing operational environment of the college system.

Before the discussion proceeds, it would be instructive to provide a description of fee-for-service or contract training activity. Vision 2000 defines fee-for-service activity in the following way: “Much of this activity is non-post-secondary training in narrowly defined job-specific skills; it is usually of short duration (i.e., one year or less) and involves a variety of purchasers, including both the provincial and federal governments, employers, and international agencies.” (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 68) For the purposes of this discussion, the above description is adequate, and the terms fee-for-service and contract training will be used interchangeably.

Vision 2000 devotes a great deal of attention to the future roles of the college system in Ontario. In the discussion pertaining to college fee-for-service activity, the Final Report states: “The fee-for-service area is one which Vision 2000 believes will, and should, become a more important function of the colleges.” (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 69) The section of the Report devoted to fee-for-service activity focuses primarily on concerns relating to the financing of fee-for-service activity, the flexibility of delivery, the need to invest in public institutions, and the accountability of CAATs in this field of endeavour. Several recommendations emerged from the discussion of fee-for-service activity, including the need to establish system-wide guidelines for contract training activity, the need to foster a collective bargaining process amenable to the changeable nature of contract training activity, the need to ensure that the public education/training infrastructure is receiving a fair share of the public dollars committed to skills training, and to impress upon any province-wide training advisory body the need to be accountable to its constituent parts. (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 68-75)

Although the discussion is encouraging, the Final Report's focus on fee-for-service activity is meagre at best. It is common knowledge that to undertake any review, one must first take stock of what is currently in place. Because there was no attempt to create a cross-sectional view of the current contract training delivery infrastructure across the college system, the discussion and recommendations emerging from the Report are potentially flawed, and thereby implicitly undermines the very legitimacy of this form of college activity. Further, the Report fails to recognize the potential of college fee-for-service activity as a means to enhance the college receptivity of the spirit embodied in Vision 2000. For example, fee-for-service activity lends itself well to piloting initiatives which could increase access to the college system for disadvantaged groups, could promote prior learning assessment in industry, and could ensure college flexibility in times of changing community needs.

A number of papers examine the influence of the global economy and the changing labour market on the CAATs. Rianne Mahon, in her paper Toward a Highly Qualified Workforce: Improving the Terms of the Equity-Efficiency Trade-Off (1989), argues that provincially and federally, policy makers must endeavour to balance the training needs of all labour market participants, regardless of skill level and industry sector, and to encourage the development of a high value added strategy throughout the economic spectrum. (p.17) She discusses the need to develop within the labour force polyvalent skills, which would allow workers to accommodate the constant change and renewal in the workplace. (p. 4) For Mahon, the issue goes beyond the need for jobs; she advocates a labour market system whereby all workers have access to training and upgrading opportunities and where occupational mobility is achievable and encouraged. (p. 17) In her opinion, the colleges are strategically positioned to support such a labour market policy in Ontario: “If Vision 2000 set its sights on the development of a community college system oriented to imparting technological literacy and the provision of flexible learning, it can make an important contribution to the province's development.” (Mahon, 1989, p. 16) Mahon convincingly argues the “equity-efficiency trade-off” and suggests that the colleges can be an instrumental policy tool to make it happen. (p. 5) Since her paper primarily addresses labour market policy issues at the macro level, there is no examination of how the colleges will actually respond to her challenge and whether they are operationally fit to do so.

David Wolfe concurs with Mahon's position that, as new technologies emerge, it will be important “to ensure that new labour force entrants are provided with the fundamental skills they require to participate in the emerging economy; and to provide a wide array of learning opportunities and venues for current members of the labour force in need of both fundamental and applied skill upgrading.” (Wolfe, 1989, p. 2) In his paper New Technology and Education: A Challenge for the Colleges (1989), Wolfe argues that with the advent of information technology, traditional preconceptions relative to labour force development and training will be swept aside. (p. 11) Because technology evolves constantly, the technical skills of today will most likely be redundant tomorrow. Alternatively, Wolfe suggests that the education/training system direct their energies on developing a labour force that is academically literate, where the “ability to study, think independently, learn quickly, be flexible, and work with others” are core skills, and specific technical skills revolving in and out as required. (p. 11) According to Wolfe, the college system has a critical role to play: “The role of the college system in transmitting the fundamental skills needed by a diverse array of learners will be critical in providing the skill and knowledge base essential” if Ontario is to succeed in the new economic order. (p. 16) As with Mahon, Wolfe's views of the college system, and their potential contribution to the economic well-being of Ontario, are reassuring. However, his paper provides little if any prescriptive measures for the colleges to consider as they try to bolster their currency.

Peter Warrian's paper Industrial Restructuring, Occupational Shifts and Skills: The Steel and Manufacturing Cases (1989) contributes to the discussion by offering employer perceptions of what they think provincial and federal labour market training policy should look like. It is evident that in the two sectors examined by Warrian, steel and electronic manufacturing, “Managers look to the Colleges to provide the fundamental grounding in generic technical skills. The specific applications training they see as the responsibility of company delivered training efforts.” (p. 12) Warrian's findings buttress the conclusions put forward by Mahon and Wolfe: the colleges are a key mechanism to foster a better trained and productive workforce, one which can adapt to new economic shifts in the future. Mahon, Wolfe, and Warrian speak eloquently of the importance of the college system in serving the training/education needs of today and tomorrow's labour force, particularly in the realm of applied generic skills. Although observers of the college system are quick to forecast the future role of the CAAT, there is little discussion about how the colleges will need to restructure themselves in order to fulfill their expectant roles. Further, the lack of an in-depth structural analysis of the current system and an assessment of how colleges are responding presently to the new pressures, prohibits the colleges from developing the capacity to evolve into the training centres of the future. Disappointingly, the colleges' fee-for-service capacities are neglected as a potential vehicle to acquire the characteristics of the college of the future. As in industry, colleges must move from the economy of scale type training delivery system to an economy of scope type training delivery system, where resources can be shifted quickly and responsively to the current training requirements of industry and society, and where colleges have the capacity to offer customized training services in a fully integrated educational setting. The colleges' contract training delivery infrastructure is well-attuned to the nature of this environment. It would have been helpful if the research had attempted to explore this potential relationship more thoroughly.

The discussion will now examine the position of Vision 2000 relative to college funding and access in the context of college fee-for-service activity. Vision 2000 calls for a more stable funding environment for the college system, particularly in respect to post-secondary funding arrangements. (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 110) Funding for colleges continues to be a major concern, especially in today's environment of fiscal restraint. The Final Report suggests a number of ways that funding formulas could be modified and better coordinated in both the post-secondary and federal/provincial fee-for-service areas. The report complains that “Because of the cyclical demand for skills training, many of the short programs sponsored by these other provincial ministries and the federal government are subject to unstable funding. No long term commitment to funding exists, and training programs to meet identified government priorities are often launched on very short notice, then cancelled or significantly reduced in scope with equally short notice.” (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 116) The Final Report's call for more stable funding, though, may not be realistic. The stark reality is that colleges will have to find the means to become more and more self-sufficient. The new fiscal environment is not necessarily a very friendly one for the colleges. As funding agencies assume greater accountability to the public tax payer, they will be more judicious in the disbursement of their training dollars. The signals auguring this trend include greater community involvement in funding decisions and the tendering of training contracts, particularly at the federal level. The answer for the colleges is twofold: source out non-traditional customers for college services; and ensure that colleges can, in fact, still compete in the training marketplace relative to the product/price mix. For example, employer-based training is certainly one area where the colleges could expand their fee-for-service activity. As the Final Report suggests, “Direct employer-sponsored training is estimated to account for only three per cent of total college revenues, with far greater potential than has been tapped to date.” (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 68) Unfortunately, employers are reluctant investors in training. (McFadyen & Marshall, 1989, p. 1) One of the primary ways employers are enticed into training is through the use of “tax incentives and other forms of publicly proffered financing…” (McFadyen & Marshall, 1989, p. 13) Although McFadyen and Marshall's discussion is inconclusive, it seems that the potential is there if the colleges choose to pursue these resources. Federal purchases of training continues to be one of the primary sources of revenue for college fee-for-service activity. In response to the decline of federal (EIC) direct purchases of training, colleges “are becoming increasingly dependent upon the competitive (indirect) route as a source of federal training dollars.” (Vision 2000, The College System-An Emperical Snapshot, 1989, p. 29) Other sources of fee-for-service revenue, such as sectoral organizations, community-based groups, and international education initiatives, have helped the colleges to diversify their funding base, and have decreased their reliance on traditional funding mechanisms. Hence, fee-for-service activity may in fact help the colleges to maintain levels of service, and thus insulate themselves from the continued downtrend of direct operating grants from the provinces.

Along with standards and accreditation, the issue of access was a central theme of the Vision 2000 Final Report. “The ultimate aim of improving accessibility is not just to recruit more students; it is to help expand people's educational and employment opportunities, and in so doing, to raise the overall educational and skill level of Ontario's workforce.” (Vision 2000, 1990, p. 51) The challenge for the college system will be to serve a very diverse population which has equally diverse educational needs. The issue of access must be considered on two levels: one, ensuring that groups who are educational and employment disadvantaged have access to the college system; and two, establishing college services that promote access. It is imperative, and some would argue, good economic sense that people who comprise the disadvantaged groups, such as, workers in transition (including older workers), persons with disabilities, new Canadians, social assistance recipients, and Aboriginal people to name a few, have the right to access education and training opportunities at the college level. “In a context of a shrinking absolute supply of new workers, and of the mismatches associated with unemployment and underemployment, we simply cannot afford to deny people the educational and training opportunities to realize their potential economic contributions.” (Armstrong & Armstrong, 1989, p. 4) It is also important to revitalize the college infrastructure so as to minimize systemic barriers and promote access. More and more, the colleges are viewed as centres of life long learning, able to accommodate alternative styles of learning through, for example, prior learning assessment services; and offering programs geared to the adult population with multiple entry/re-entry points. College fee-for-service activity has in many ways pioneered access in the college system. Because of federal and provincial equity legislation, government training funds were disbursed to colleges on condition that equity targets relative to trainee recruitment were met. This requirement necessitated linkages between colleges and those community groups who either represented a certain constituency or advocated on behalf of a certain population. Very often, federal and provincial funders were keen to support training specifically tailored to a particular group, for example, women on social assistance or deaf adults. The community linkages grew into community partnerships as the menu of services available to equity groups expanded. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that these early endeavours in the fee-for-service area provided the colleges with the community networks to begin addressing the issues relating to post-secondary access. Further, fee-for-service activity services primarily the adult population. As the youth population declines, so too will the traditional source of students for college post-secondary programs. Adults are emerging as the main clients of the colleges in the years ahead. If the colleges wish to increase their enrolments, they will need to attract more adult students. In order to accomplish this task, they must develop the “capacity to attract and accommodate the educational requirements of the nontraditional (25 years and over) student.” (Foot & MacNiven, 1989, p. 12) Again, colleges are well positioned to respond due to their past experience with adult learners in the context of contract training ventures.

In light of the Vision 2000 recommendations extolling the strategic role the colleges will play as Ontario “makes the transition to the new techno-economic paradigm”, the need for research is becoming paramount. (Wolfe, 1989, p. 16) In reference to the issues discussed in this paper, a more thorough examination needs to be carried out on fee-for-service activity in the college system. Vision 2000 provided a glimpse of the college of the future. This paper argued that fee-for-service activity could significantly buttress college efforts to embrace the future, but that Vision 2000 did not adequately examine current structures, which in turn, prevented the Final Report from fully appreciating its potential contribution and relatedness to several other Vision themes.

The community colleges in Ontario are well positioned to respond to the challenges set before them by Vision 2000. As the new economy is being ushered in, it is apparent that many community constituents are relying on the colleges, in this time of transition, to assist them in bridging the gap between the old and the new economic order. As illustrated by the Hamilton-Wentworth Renaissance Project, local communities are strategizing on how best to attain economic and social prosperity in the face of tremendous global forces of change. Both the community and system perspective concur that colleges of applied arts and technology form an integral part of any revitalization strategy. It needs to be acknowledged that the college system itself, will need to restructure and reskill in order that it can respond appropriately to future demands. In fee-for-service activity, the colleges have at hand a readily available mechanism to facilitate such a process.

References

Armstrong, P., & Armstrong, H. (1989). Choosing Equity and Prosperity: Access to College and the Ontario Economy. Paper prepared for Study Team 2: Colleges and the Changing Economy, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Borins, S., & Holloway, S. (1989). Meeting the Competitive Challenge: Enhancing Applied Research in Ontario's Colleges. Paper prepared for Study Team 2: Colleges and the Changing Economy, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Foot, D. K., & MacNiven, M. (1989). The Determinants of Enrolment Rates and Enrolments in Ontario Community Colleges. Paper prepared for Study Team 1: Empirical Features of the College System, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Mahon, R. (1989). Toward a Highly Qualified Workforce: Improving the Terms of the Equity-Efficiency Trade-Off. Paper prepared for Study Team 2: Colleges and the Changing Economy, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

McFadyen, C., & Marshall, R. A. (1989). Models for Increased Private Sector Financing of Training and Labour Market Development. Paper prepared for Vision 2000: Additional Perspectives on the College System, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Renaissance Project. (1994). Renaissance Project: An Action Plan to Revitalize Hamilton-Wentworth. Hamilton: Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Vision 2000. (1989). The College System - An Empirical Snapshot. Paper prepared for Study Team 1: Empirical Features of the College System, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Vision 2000. (1990). Vision 2000: Quality and Opportunity - A Review of the Mandate of Ontario's Colleges. Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Warrian, P. (1989). Industrial Restructuring, Occupational Shifts and Skills: The Steel and Manufacturing Cases. Paper prepared for Study Team 2: Colleges and the Changing Economy, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.

Wolfe, D. (1989). New Technology and Education: A Challenge for the Colleges. Paper prepared for Study Team 2: Colleges and the Changing Economy, Vision 2000. Toronto: Ontario Council of Regents.


Jim Vanderveken is a Training Consultant in the Contract Training Services Division of Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario.