Revolutions are messy. They disrupt and challenge what is currently in place, without fully revealing what is to come. When living through revolutionary times, it is easy to think that the full story can be known. We tell ourselves narratives that make the changes of the day less painful or more aligned with our own values, interests and beliefs.
The Talent Revolution is also messy. There are many topics and technologies, groundswells and gurus all competing for attention to help paint a picture of the Future of Work.
The Federal Budget gives us a few clues that are worthy of note. Before the budget came out, government spokespeople signaled that older workers and later-life training would be a focus. On budget day, the new Canada Training Credit was introduced. It provides Canadians with a notional account that collects $250 per year to be used toward retraining, to a maximum of $5,000 over the course of a person’s lifetime. I believe there is one hopeful and one disappointing clue buried in the introduction of this new credit.
Hopeful: Encouraging culture of life-long learning and career development
The existence of this credit is an important signal. It encourages Canadians to consider taking ownership of their own training throughout their life and not just early in their career. In fact, the small annual amount accrued should reinforce that there can be significant training and career shifts that take place later in one’s career. Someone who has worked for a longer period will be able to take advantage of a more meaningful benefit, presumably allowing for more significant skill and career development. It is a benefit that is structured to support older worker training and development. That the credit offers a relatively modest amount of funding is something to improve upon over time and should not overshadow the cultural implication of the credit’s introduction.
When compared with other countries, Canada as a nation does not rank high on scales measuring cultures of life-long learning and innovation. I am curious to see if the Canada Training Credit, which takes 20 years to accrue to its maximum payout, shifts the discussion and culture. Will parents provide a different type of modelling for future generations as they explore new training 10, 15 and 20 years into their careers? This credit is a baby step towards a more ingrained culture of life-long learning and individual career ownership and agency.
Disappointing: Outdated perspective on aging, longevity and workforce engagement
If we are looking for clues to indicate how ready Canada is to re-imagine the world of work and create a future where everyone can thrive, there is one aspect of the Canada Training Credit that disappoints. The Credit is structured so that Canadians have until age 65 to use the amount that has accrued in their individual notional accounts. Why 65? We know that Canadians are living and working longer. That unemployment among older workers is a significant problem and that one of the fastest growing cohorts of entrepreneurs is women aged 55+. Why introduce a new approach to life-long learning, training and career development and then limit its use to an age that was set as the retirement age in the 1930s when life expectancy was only 62 years?
The introduction of this age limit has clear and powerful underlying consequences. In “The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work,” my co-author and I identify and dispel with data the five myths that keep companies and countries from making smart workforce decision and policy. The new Credit falls victim to 3 of the 5 myths. First, it reinforces the false belief that there is a “best before” date for workers. Second, it communicates that there is a chronological, universal age at which training is no longer appropriate, needed or useful. Finally, it asserts that retraining workers over age 65 is a poor investment. These three myths are all false, prevalent and powerful. They sound reasonable. But the data shows that they are not. This new Credit only reinforces these pernicious myths, adding legitimacy to beliefs that limit productivity in every industry, company and community across Canada.
Life-long Learning? Really?
We need to examine the underlying stories and narratives being told as new policies, announcements and company programs are implemented. A culture of life-long learning and commitment to career development is powerful as we navigate the talent revolution and shape the future of work. Let’s just make sure we truly understand what “life-long” actually means and the opportunity it can present.