The Department of Advanced Education and Skills is reeling from restructuring and scores of layoffs, but a new report released Wednesday indicates there’s a lot more work left to be done.
On Wednesday, government officials confirmed the 2013 budget will lead to more than 100 College of the North Atlantic employees getting laid off as the government privatizes adult basic education programs. Hundreds of people lost their jobs earlier this month when the department cut funding to employment assistance services provided by third-party operators.
Both programs were addressed in a 472-page report by former auditor general John Noseworthy, which looks at the whole of the Advanced Education and Skills department to streamline services and make things run better.
The report paints the picture of a dysfunctional department where employees are deliberately dishonest about their budget needs, and programs are poorly monitored, and don’t serve the function for which they’re designed.
“For the most part, the department is not strategic in its decision-making processes,” Noseworthy wrote. “Service flow for clients is disjointed and unnecessarily cumbersome.”
Noseworthy found that budget submissions from programs in the department are “knowingly inaccurate” because different sectors of the department request more money than they need to ensure that they’ll get enough to continue to operate.
Staff across the department can’t electronically share information, and in some cases, they have to fill out paperwork to share information about clients.
The department was created more than a year ago as a marriage of the old Human Resources, Labour and Employment along with post-secondary education programs, including Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic.
Noseworthy found in the past year, nothing has been done to get those parts to work together. “To date, there has not been any formal integration of these organizations, which has undoubtedly contributed to the current disjointed service delivery model.”
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the whole government adventure with creating Advanced Education and Skills, and then the process of getting Noseworthy to study it, is all evidence that the government did things backwards. “They slapped all of this together with terrible results so far,” he said.
Parsons said Minister Joan Shea really should’ve studied how to integrate the different parts before they merged the departments, instead of afterwards.
On Wednesday, reporters learned that Shea has decided to privatize adult basic education programs, saying it can be done more efficiently by taking it away from the College of the North Atlantic.
Shea said the government hasn’t actually been tracking students who are subsidized by the government to complete adult basic education programs, to see how many are graduating, and whether their programs are effective.
“We don’t have clear results on any of the graduations to say which places do better,” she said.
One thing the government does know is that the program at the College of the North Atlantic costs three times more than comparable programs elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, so Shea is convinced that by privatizing, it can be done more cheaply. “We think that we need to continue to offer the program, but we can do it more effectively and more efficiently,” she said. “What we do know is that the cost to go to a community group or to a private institution is less than what it costs to go to the College of the North Atlantic.”
Noseworthy’s report is extremely detailed, with scores of recommendations. Shea wouldn’t say what exactly her top priority is when she starts implementing the recommendations; she’d only say that she’s definitely going to get to work on them.
“We’re going to take that report, we’re going to go through it now, recommendation by recommendation,” she said. “We want to make sure as a department that we don’t shelve the report — that it becomes a working document — and we’ll work through the entire report.”