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Recently I had the chance to talk to a laid off assembly line worker who I will call Gerry. He has a grade eleven college high school education which enabled him to land a factory job at Accuride. Canada. He & his wife ‘Emma’ worked swing shift trying to pay the rent, car payments and put a little away for their two children’s education.

Recently Gerry’s union told him that he was to be laid off for an indeterminate amount of time. The Unemployment Insurance counselor has informed him that because he has worked for three years that he is eligible to receive a check of $413. per week. Did you know he asked me that the maximum insurable earnings have been frozen at $39,000 per year?

It seems that with pluck and sweat with a little bit of luck each of us can rise above the circumstances of our birth. But, having a good work ethic doesn’t always guarantee employment without a marketable skill.

A while back I wrote a column on the closing of many of our factories where I told the readers that we Canadians are faced with the demise of our industrial base. Northern Telecom and most recently Beta Brands, Accuride Canada, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors are the role models for change. Welcome to the new reality that lay offs and downsizing/closing of our industrial base in London is here to stay.

Folks, we in Canada can’t compete on a fair playing ground with the unskilled labour forces in China/India/Mexico. Unless, we are all willing to live at the life style of our third world cousins we will have to change.

Post secondary education be it college/university or skilled trades is a must to keep us competitive.
The Globe & Mail recently reported that Canada’s U I surplus was fifty billion dollars. The Governments initiative ‘Passport to Employment Program’ will offer to pay the cost of tuition/books for up to one year of education while you are drawing your U I benefits . You have to be approved by a staff Career Counselor and attend a half day information session. If you have questions please call 519, 660-6888.

If our laid off workers do not retrain they are akin to the harried mouse on the factory floor treadmill running- but- going no where. Check out Stats Canada and you will find that we have an ageing shortage of skilled tradesman: electricians, plumbers, carpenters.

We need to have our high school students have the opportunity to learn marketable skills when they are in school. How about a new idea that co-op grade 11/12 students are paid by the employer/Department of Education. I wager that we would have a lot fewer teens (30%) quitting school without a diploma. Employers could be given tax credits to offset the cost of training.

Unless the unions, business and provincial/federal governments work together Canadians will continue to lose our competitive edge. We have a choice: pay me now or pay me later. If things don’t change they will stay the way they are.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com