Training: For Self-sufficiency or Dependency?

by Linda MacDonald

A society built on competitiveness is one which inevitably produces losers as well as winners. Predicated upon the struggle for access to and acquisition of scarce resources, such competitiveness ensures that some will gain a greater share of these resources, while others, to their detriment, will have to make do with less.

Training is one area which in recent years has become a scarce resource as technological change, economic recession, and high unemployment impel greater numbers of people to extend or return to learning as a way of enhancing employability. While learning is acknowledged to be a significant mechanism for promoting equity, there remain imbalances between equality of opportunity on the one hand, and equality of results on the other.

When women's access to and participation in training are examined, the impact of a competitive approach can be seen both in terms of equality of opportunity as well as equality of results. Shifting emphases for the expenditure of the training dollar have resulted in diminished funding of traditional areas of women's training and, correspondingly, diminished participation by women in publicly-funded training. Since the shift in training dollars was in response to anticipated labour market demand for specific occupations, it can be concluded that women's failure, except in very small numbers, to access these priority courses has made this segment of the population less competitive in the job hunt, less self-sufficient economically, and more dependent upon others for their well-being.

In 1985, 52% of all women were in the labour force. Women currently comprise 41.2% of all workers. It is predicted that women will account for 70% of the growth in the labour force in the next ten years (Dodge).

The realization of this prediction is based on women's overcoming a range of barriers both situational and dispositional. At present, women are not well disposed to look for employment or training in the areas of highest labour market demand, e.g. tool and die maker, forest products technician, computer systems analyst, marine rigger. Yet the failure to make adjustments in career choices can doom women to sustained high unemployment and continued economic dependency. It is also predicted that up to one million women may be unemployed by 1990 unless women are more responsive to labour market demand (Menzies).

Education and training are essential strategies for women to make adjustments to labour market demand, technological change, and self-sufficiency. The opportunities for accessing education and training include both publicly-financed training and privately-operated schools and institutions. It is ironic that women, that proportion of the population with the least access to financial resources, also have the least access to publicly-funded training. Females are the only population group in which the majority of learners pay for educational costs from their own funds (Cross). Women are confronted with paying the full cost of their training and education, or doing without it.

The most widely distributed single source of training in Canada is the range of training programs funded by the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission and operated by the provinces either directly or through the community college system. These publicly-funded training programs are, at least in theory, equally accessible to both men and women. In practice, the situation is often quite different, resulting from prejudices on the part of counsellors, potential students, and employers about what is appropriate behaviour for women. In 1982, the imbalance in women's enrolments led the Minister responsible to announce the targeting of 30% of training seats for women.

This 30% reserve is often under-utilized because women do not receive adequate information and support, and lack a clear understanding of what is involved in training and also employment in non-traditional jobs.

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