What are you doing to prepare for the future of work? If there’s one thing experts can agree on about careers in the age of automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence), it’s that lifelong learning has become critical to success. In a world where every company is a technology company, expertise has a shorter shelf-life than it used to.
So, it’s no wonder nearly 60 per cent of professionals in the U.S. today are investing their own time and money to upgrade their job skills. At home, the average number of learning hours per employee is also on the rise. Yet many Canadian firms are reluctant to foot the bill for continuing education, spending even fewer dollars overall than their American counterparts (about 81 cents for every dollar in 2017).
Lo-and-behold, federal and provincial governments have a solution. Created to close the skills gap and grow the Canadian economy, funding programs exist to help you upgrade your skills or altogether upgrade your career—potentially free-of-charge. Here’s a list of some of Canada’s biggest and best funding opportunities to help get you started.
Canada Job Grant
The Canada Job Grant is a joint federal-provincial initiative offering financial support to employees for job-related education and training costs.
In Ontario, for example, the Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG) lets employers pay for two-thirds of training costs covering up to $10,000 per employee at eligible schools. The program is constantly evolving, and as of April 1, 2017, companies can also receive 100 per cent funding of up to $15,000 to hire and train new workers. (If you’re interested in a full-time certificate program at a coding bootcamp or career college, this funding increase means you could learn for free.) Included in the COJG is $500 per student for textbooks, software and other training materials, as well as $500 for travel expenses if classes are more than 24 kilometers away.
To find out more about funding in your province, eligibility rules, or how organizations can pool resources to support shared training goals through the grant’s Consortium Stream, visit the Canada Job Grant website.
Second Career, which is offered by the Ontario government, provides people who’ve been laid off or are working temporary jobs with up to $28,000 to develop in-demand job skills. But the funding program doesn’t just cover tuition. It can also be used to pay for books, manuals, workshops, transportation, living expenses, and childcare.
Unlike the Canada Job Grant, learners who receive funding through Second Career are required to pay a portion of tuition and training fees themselves. How much will depend on your gross (before tax) household income, current expenses, and other factors. Canadians receiving Employment Insurance are eligible for this program.
To apply to Second Career, you’ll need to do some education comparison shopping: Employment Ontario wants you to consider at least three different training options, including one at a college of applied arts and technology, and a second at a private career college. Resources like Ontario Colleges (public colleges) and CourseCompare (public and private institutions) are available to help you navigate the changing education landscape.
The Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP)
The Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) allows you to withdraw $10,000 per calendar year up to a total of $20,000 from your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) interest-free. (Remember, any money you take from your RRSP is normally treated as income and taxed at your marginal tax rate.) The interest-free withdrawal can be used to finance full-time training and education for you, your spouse or common-law partner.
As with the First-Time Home Buyers Tax Credit, you will eventually need to replace what you’ve removed from your RRSP. The Lifelong Learning Plan gives you up to 10 years after your first withdrawal to begin putting that money back, provided you continue to study on a full-time basis.
To determine whether the Lifelong Learning Plan makes sense for you, you should forecast your income and taxes for the year in which you plan to make your withdrawal. Personal finance expert Preet Bannerji argues almost no one uses the LLP, but certain circumstances, like collecting a severance after you’ve lost your job, for example, could push you into a high tax bracket even while you study full-time. In this case, using an interest-free withdrawal from your RRSP to pay for a needed credential could be a prudent financial decision. Whatever your circumstances, make sure you’ve done your homework before investing hard-earned retirement savings into education.
Corporate Funding & Government Assistance
Undergraduates will already be familiar with the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), Ontario’s largest source of funding for post-secondary education. But there are other, although less substantial, kinds of education funding out there.
Yconic, a membership-based platform focused on connecting brands with the student community, will help you find more than $180 million in scholarships across Canada. Opportunities range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, but an index with full details, including application deadlines, can be found online.
CanLearn, a government-operated hub for student grants, scholarships and legal advice, will similarly help you accelerate your search for public funding opportunities. Look to the area marked “Student Grants” for a list of full- and part-time grants awarded based on financial need.
Finally, don’t discount schools themselves. Private technical colleges like BrainStation, HackerYou and RED Academy offer merit-based scholarships of $1,500 or more to Canadians interested in learning digital skills like web development and digital marketing. Likewise, traditional colleges and universities award a wide range of merit and needs-based scholarships to successful applicants each year. Contact the schools and academic departments you’re interested in to learn more about these opportunities before applying.
Whatever your career goals, it’s clear that education doesn’t end with a bachelor’s degree anymore. Finding smart ways to fund professional training and skills development is one way to guard against an uncertain future and set yourself on a more meaningful and productive career path. It’s not, in other words, too late to decide what you’d like to be when you grow up. And in a fast-changing digital economy, that may be good news for employees and employers alike.
Robert Furtado is the founder & CEO of Canadian education marketplace CourseCompare.ca. If you’re interested in learning in-demand digital skills, you can explore Canada’s top-rated web development courses, data science courses, UX design courses, digital marketing courses, product management courses, social media marketing courses and more at CourseCompare.ca.
Note: Robert Furtado is the partner of Ratehub.ca Co-Founder Alyssa Furtado