Opportunity to train workers in federal budget

Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation sees a huge opportunity for New Brunswick to train its workforce with the new program, to be known as Canada Job Grants, announced in the federal budget on Thursday.

Skills training program requires province and employer to match federal funding

New Brunswick has a huge opportunity to train its workforce with the Canada Jobs Grant program that was announced in Thursday's federal budget, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Kevin Lacey, the Atlantic director of the federations, said overall Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered a "ho-hum" budget that will neither hurt or help the average taxpayer.

He said he was most interested in the skills training program which will provide up to $5,000 of federal money per person.

owever, that amount would have to be matched by both the employer and the provincial government for a total of $15,000 per worker.

"In New Brunswick in particular we have a real problem in that areas like Moncton are areas of relatively low unemployment and you go just an hour out of the city and then you have areas of very, very high unemployment," Lacey said.

Lacey calls it a "very, very good program" that will allow younger workers to take advantage of training opportunities.

He said it will allow workers to prepare for economic opportunities in the shale gas industry or an east to west pipeline.

"We don't have the skills to take advantage of those opportunities, we need workers but we have no workers to fill them so potentially this could be very, very good," Lacey said.

"But the province has to kick in a third of it."

Craig Brett, an economics professor at Mount Allison University, said he worries the new skills training program will put New Brunswick, which is already struggling with a large deficit and frozen federal transfer payments, in a tough position.

"The real problem with cost-shared programs with Ottawa is that the province also has to find the money to kick in or they don't get Ottawa's money and they feel pressure to come along if every other province is signing on to it," he said.

Brett said he believes New Brunswick needs a diversified economy.

"Even if shale gas holds an economic opportunity it's a risky economic opportunity, it always is, and any kind of resource development particularly in the oil and gas industry is a risky prospect, there's ups and downs to it and we tend to forget that," he said.

Private sector expected to contribute

Lacey said requiring the private sector to contribute to the new skills training program could be a challenge for employers but he believes they have a responsibility to pitch in.

"Up until now a lot of companies have relied on governments to kind of push this training along," said Lacey. "But we need them to take the bull by the horns as well to get the workers they need."

Lacey said right now employers are relying too much on bringing workers from overseas which he calls "silly."

"Like in St. Stephen, New Brunswick where the Ganong family bring in workers to work the factory," he said.

"In an area of very, very high unemployment it doesn't make any sense that while we're immigrating people to take jobs in a province that has one of the highest unemployment rates in all of Canada."

Lacey said something has to give and it's time to try a new approach.

"There's too many opportunities for the provincial government to not try and take advantage of those reforms because if we don't they're going to pass us by and we're going to be talking many years from now about deficits and the problems of our economy."