Toronto

Ontario paid $1B for job retraining — without knowing which industries needed workers: AG

Although Ontario poured more than $1 billion into employment retraining programs last year, fewer than 15 per cent of those graduates found a job in their new field, according to a blistering report from the province's auditor general Wednesday.

Only 15% of people who went through skills training found a job in their new field, AG says

Ontario's auditor general found that the province spent $1 billion on employment training last year, but only about about 15 per cent of graduates finished with a job. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Although Ontario poured more than $1 billion into employment retraining programs last year, fewer than 15 per cent of graduates found a job in their new field, according to a blistering report from the province's auditor general Wednesday.

That's largely because of a gap Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found within the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development: it failed to track where the market most needed new workers. 

And taxpayers got hit twice. 

Not only did Lysyk question whether the program spending was worthwhile — but fewer than 38 per cent of people found any type of full-time job after their retraining, translating into less income tax revenue for the province. 

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said the province needs to analyze the labour market when deciding how to fund skills training. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

As it stands, Ontarians laid off from one job may be trained for another industry that doesn't need new labour. 

"Our audit found that key programs offered by Employment Ontario are not effective in helping Ontarians find full-time work," the audit said. "The Ministry lacks the details and timely information it needs to ensure that funding is directed toward areas that will bring sustainable employment."

To change that, Lysyk recommended the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development draw on the labour market data it already pays community-based boards across the province $6 million to collect.

It should then use that information to ensure that skills-training funding aligns with the trades and professions where employees are in demand, the auditor said.

Playing hooky

And then there are those who don't retrain at all — a grown-up version of skipping class that wastes millions in public funds. 

Those playing hooky from their retraining programs are legally obligated to return any advances the province paid them to cover their education. The same principle stands for those students who don't submit receipts. 

Instead, the auditor general found that the ministry decided to write off $26.6 million over three years that it could have legally collected. 

Provincial officials acknowledged that the government has struggled to recoup these advances. And in its response to the auditor's findings, the ministry issued a statement saying that it now requires participants to file receipts every quarter. 

But Lysyk called for an even stricter approach.

The auditor said the province should only give students up to two months of funding before starting a retraining program. Any subsequent expenses should be reimbursed only after a receipt has been submitted, the audit recommends.

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