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Essential Skills Ontario Discusses the Skills Gap

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) took some time to talk with its member, Essential Skills Ontario, about one of the most pressing challenges facing Ontario employers – skilled labour.

Executive Director, Lesley Brown, discusses the current challenges and opportunities facing the province, and shares some practical advice for the business community.


OCC: Many businesses in Ontario are unable to access the skills they need when they need them. What is Essential Skills Ontario doing to address the skills gap in Ontario?

ESO: Essential Skills Ontario is presenting a series of four research briefs entitled Becoming State of the Art. The first paper, Industry Shared Approaches, provides examples of employers and service providers working together in the co-design and delivery of training programs to enable a more skilled workforce.

One example of Industry Shared Approaches comes from 2010 when Essential Skills Ontario ran 16 workplace training programs across Ontario, including at The Fairmont Royal York, where staff learned basic computer skills to use on the job.

OCC: Essential Skills Ontario was formerly known as the Ontario Literacy Coalition. With a new name and strategy, how will Essential Skills Ontario work with the business community going forward?

ESO: The world has changed considerably – technology is rapidly advancing, markets have become global, free trade is expanding and knowledge-based societies are emerging. Literacy and a range of essential skills are now critical for productivity. Our new name reflects the changing nature of skills needed in today’s modern economy.

Essential Skills Ontario has been working closely with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the business community for several years to connect employers who are looking for better skilled workers to the training system and pilot workplace training programs.

There is considerable work that still needs to be done. Essential Skills Ontario looks forward to working with industry to find efficient and effective solutions.

OCC: In your experience, what are the key success factors for companies that have favourably navigated the skills challenge?

ESO: Companies and businesses that have been able to ally with community colleges and technical schools and build referral relationships with other service providers are seeing dividends.

Clearly, regions that can align education and training with economic development will provide higher quality services for both business and employees.

In many areas the training system is difficult to navigate and business is not always seen as a customer. Having said that, Essential Skills Ontario can help both large and small businesses find training solutions.

OCC: What advice do you have for small businesses who have limited time and money to invest in skills?

ESO: This is an area where we look towards the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and other business associations to provide leadership. Currently, our employment and training systems are not always designed with small businesses in mind, despite the fact that Ontario’s economic prosperity is directly tied to the growth of medium and small enterprises.

Our recent research brief, Industry Shared Approaches, offers some creative solutions, including how employers and service providers can co-design and deliver training to address the mismatch of supply and demand in labour markets.

OCC: It has been an exciting year. What is next for Essential Skills Ontario?

ESO: We have much more excitement coming up over the remainder of the year, including webinars and our Becoming State of the Art series, which encourages innovation in the delivery of literacy and essential skills training.

In October we also will be hosting the events Literacy and Essential Skills at Queen’s Park to recognize the importance of skills training to the province, as well as our 25th Anniversary Celebration to commemorate what the organization has accomplished over the past 25 years and where we are going in the future.


If you would like to learn more from Essential Skills Ontario or share your own insights about the issues discussed in this article, please contact Kelly Pritchard, Corporate Engagement Manager, at kellypritchard@occ.on.ca or post a comment in the comment box below.


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