Future of Work

Ryerson University wins bid for the Future Skills Centre

Ryerson University Flickr, Umair Khan

The federal government has selected a consortium led by Ryerson University to become the Future Skills Centre, multiple sources close to the process have told The Logic. The arm’s-length organization is meant to fill Canada’s employment skills gap, aided by a $360-million government fund.

Joining Ryerson in its winning bid is the Conference Board of Canada, an economic trends think tank; Blueprint, a policy research organization; the Brookfield Institute, a Ryerson-affiliated think tank; and Magnet Network, a non-profit employment network created in partnership with Ryerson and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

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The consortium will be responsible for distributing the funds over six years—$23 million in the first year, $48 million in the second year and $73 million for each of the remaining four years, according to guidelines in the call for proposals.

Talking Point

The arm’s-length federal initiative is meant to fill Canada’s employment skills gap, aided by a $360-million government fund. Along with Ryerson, the winning consortium includes Conference Board of Canada, the Brookfield Institute, Blueprint and Magnet. Sources familiar with the selection process raised concerns around the consortium’s capacity to meet the criteria laid out in the application process, with one source telling The Logic the way the Future Skills Centre was set up “guaranteed a suboptimal outcome.”

The Future Skills Centre was born out of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth—led by then-McKinsey managing director Dominic Barton—which conducted extensive consultations in 2016 on, among other things, how to best equip workers for the future labour market. In February 2017, the council recommended the federal government commit more resources to skills training and retraining, and to do so through a Future Skills Lab (since rebranded as the Future Skills Centre) and an associated Future Skills Council.

The federal government issued a request for proposals (RFP) on May 24, in which it called for applications from non-profit organizations that are both nimble and capable of managing the $363-million fund. The RFP process closed in mid-July with four bids, three of which were led by Ontario universities—Ryerson, the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo—and one led by Social Research and Development Corporation (SRDC).

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Sources familiar with the Future Skills Centre winning bid, who spoke to The Logic on the condition of anonymity because the winner has not been officially announced, raised concerns around the consortium’s capacity to meet the criteria laid out in the application process.

“What they’re trying to do is create an institution to get people to work and into better work—the centre should stimulate a number of pilots to do that,” one source said. “Will Ryerson be able to address what the needs are in Manitoba, what the needs are in Alberta?” The source added that they worry the Ryerson centre will focus resources on Toronto-based jobs in the information technology sector. “We need sales talent, we need talent in the care sector—not just IT.”

Another source raised doubts around the consortium members’ experience with the work they’ll be tasked with, including managing large budgets and evaluating project outcomes.They all do interesting things, but none of them are remotely qualified to actually analyse what constitutes best practice (which is what the Skills centre is supposedly about),” they told The Logic via email.

The Logic reached out to several people involved with the winning consortium; they declined to comment.

Someone else with knowledge of the RFP told The Logic that, while Ryerson may not be suited to lead the project, none of the other bidders were, either. “I don’t think Ryerson was the wrong choice, necessarily, given the way the proposal process was set up,” they said, noting that the process prohibited entrepreneurial applicants—those, the source said, with valuable insights into the problems the Future Skills Centre aims to solve. “I think people have concerns that the way it was set up guaranteed a suboptimal outcome.”

The centre will have to deploy its first round of funding by March 2019, according to guidelines laid out in the RFP. The 15-member Future Skills Council has yet to be selected.

More to come