Somewhere, beneath the florid appeals to New Brunswick’s angels – to its fairness, justness, competence, impartiality, integrity, and respect – lies a plan to exorcise the province of its equally durable demons, its languishing labour force and perishing skills.
Thus begins the David Alward government’s glittering, new Labour Force and Skills Development Strategy, inscribed as if on tablets come down from the mount: “New Brunswick has a proud history of innovation and national and international leadership. We have flourishing multinational companies and thriving small- and medium-size enterprises.”
And yet, o brothers and sisters, woe still walks among us: “New Brunswick is, however, facing challenges that cannot be solved quickly. . .a median population age that is older than all other provinces, a shrinking youth age group, a decreasing birth rate, and an adult literacy rate that limits employment options for some.”
What shall we do? For starters, we shall engage in the making and reading of charts, specifically the “GNB Strategy Map”, in which a “stronger economy” and an “enhanced quality of life” are possible even though we must, henceforth, live “within our means”.
This implies that “all working-age New Brunswickers and newcomers” will have “an opportunity to participate in the labour market” provided “that they have the right skills to match provincial labour market needs.”
How shall this be accomplished? It has something to do with stimulating “the creation of quality jobs” for citizens, fostering “private sector business growth” and “driving economic development efforts” to, in the final analysis, “provide value for tax dollars. . .achieve a sustainable budget” and “prioritize, optimize and improve processes” in government.
All of which suggests, if little else, that this government is no slouch in the report-writing department. And, to be fair, the document does contain no fewer than 44 “action” items, some of which actually make sense.
Still, one can’t help suspect that, a mere 12 months before the next election, many of these measures have lost much of their utility. They would have been more effective three years ago when the problems that beset the province’s labour force were just as clear, if not as acute, as they are today.
“In coordination with other partners,” the government intends to “develop labour market information products to assist with selecting relevant post-secondary education and employment opportunities in New Brunswick.” What’s more, it will encourage “employment counsellors” to “visit students beginning in middle school and again in high school to provide awareness of occupational forecasts and related skills requirements.”
The strategy is also big on collaboration to wit: “Government will develop a coordinated approach with departments and other partners to ensure that all parties entrusted with growing the economy, work together and are aware of each others strategies and programs, i.e., New Brunswick Business Council, Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick.”
It will also “work with employers to increase their knowledge of the benefits and opportunities surrounding posting of jobs on the Job Bank and assist them in developing job and position descriptions.”
In fact, the key to the plan’s success, it seems, is its “many-voices” approach, for “to meet (the) challenges facing the province, strong, collaborative partnerships are required not only within government, but with communities, industry, businesses, educators, and labour to ensure that New Brunswick has the human resource capital to meet the needs of the labour market.”
Again, though, we’ve known this for years. What’s different now, apart from the fact that things are getting worse?
The frayed achilles tendon of this report – indeed, of virtually every version of a prosperity agenda since before Bernard Lord was premier – is the specific who, what, where, when and how much.
It’s one thing to declare that “Government will work towards ensuring that all high school students have a transition exit plan prior to graduation” or that it will likewise “work with the early childhood education sector to strengthen the sector’s capability to administer high-quality programming by its members for the benefit of young children.”
It’s quite another to spell out the actual mechanics. That’s what a proper, useful strategy does.
One must assume that this government has a real plan.
Sadly, this particular document, as loftily well-intentioned as it may be, just isn’t it.