Education and Influence: How Canada can become more valuable to the world

So here’s how it starts. One day I’m sitting here thinking about a merit based labour market. What is that? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a labour market based largely upon expanding trades to cover as many people as possible with the goal of allowing people to develop their own individual credentials (merit) and thereby increase their value to society. Remember that job you once held as a prep cook? Well in a merit based labour market, you’d be a chef’s apprentice and carry a Chef’s Apprentice Seal. You now have a credential that is transferrable between jobs in a local (provincial) economy. This credential (the seal) is yours, personally, and is held as long as you are active in the industry and in good standing with the Chef’s “Guild”.

This sounds pretty good but how does this apply to other countries? Before I answer that, let’s take a look at the labour market a little closer. A large part of the labour market, particularly in the hospitalilty industry is foreign workers. Many of these come from commonwealth countries. Currently those countries have an agreement which makes it easier to get a work visa in other commonwealth countries. In other words, workers from Britain, New Zealand and Australia are given easier access to work in Canada, for example. It really doesn’t make any sense to offer this deal on work visa when our standards of education and training are different in each country, does it?

This is how Canada becomes more influential: I propose an International Commonwealth Red Seal Program. Workers will be able to build their credentials in any of the commonwealth countries and retain those credentials at home. This would allow serious, driven, ambitious workers from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. and perhaps India to develop their credentials while working abroad. By taking the lead on standarizing education and training Canada can be a leader in the world, perhaps influencing education and industry in surprising ways.

To be clear, I am proposing a set of shared standards not a centralized government. We would simply be asking other commonwealth governments to join, as equals, an agreement to implement these common standards as a way of making it easier to exchange labour and encourage stability in industry (particulary in hospitality, which is known for having a higher turnover).

Going forward, more trades and fields of study could be standardized too, allowing for all countries involved to benefit economically. The obvious counter arguement to this being that we would become susceptible to “brain-drain”, as it is sometimes called. This is not true, however, in a merit based labour market because “unskilled” labour is being converted to “skilled” labour by virtue of work experience and (presumably) an online or trade school education. In other words, if a Chef from Canada leaves to work in Australia, he or she can be replaced over time by an “unskilled” worker with the drive to become a fully accredited Chef, in lieu of an already fully accredited Chef. Also, the fact of a worker being able to learn on the job means the delay of finding money to pay for education, thus remaining “unskilled” for a period before entering post-secondary school, is removed. Also the worker would not be unskilled for the full duration of the education but rather acquire skills as they go.

At this point we can enter a discussion about “work-education balance”. How much time should we devote to education and how much time should we devote to paying it off? Moreover, are our wages related to the value of our education? Nothing is more depressing perhaps than having a debt over your head for tens of thousands of dollars, only to come to the realization that you are working for only a little more than minimum wage. You now have a debt that will last for 30 years and you haven’t even bought a house. So is this disparity due to wages being depressed or education being over-priced? Maybe both. Learning on the job would make the disparity much more evident, but perhaps also lead to a broader discussion of how this became the norm in our society. If we are being honest, we should always compare the wage of the entry-level jobs to the total cost of the education because the bigger the disparity between them and the bigger the difference in pay between entry-level jobs and the highest paying job in the field, the more important it becomes to have an actual future in the field or risk being saddled with the aforementioned debt load.

The other major risk factor is life circumstances. When things change for a student, it could mean dropping out of university or college and losing any value the education may have had. If the student leaves after two years, for example, there is a good possibility they will not get a job in the field because they will not get offered a degree or diploma upon exiting the course early. With a merit based labour market however, this is not true because merit is recogninzed as it is acquired. Every year complete is recognized in the form of “levels” so the student in the example above would be considered a “Level-2” or “Second-year” Apprentice and if circumstances change very little can be lost.

In summary, we could have a vastly more rewarding system for developing our talents and skills than we currently have available. Perhaps it’s time for a system by the people and for the people.

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