The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been equally felt in Canada. Many members of equity-seeking groups have been disproportionately affected—particularly women, Indigenous peoples, racialized people, young people and persons with disabilities.
Responses to the pandemic have also had uneven impacts, deeply affecting access and participation in education and training opportunities for many members of these same groups.
Building Inclusive Workplaces, a new report in the Skills for the Post-Pandemic World series, takes an in-depth look at how businesses, government and employees themselves can develop an inclusive skills and employment ecosystem that?leaves?no one behind.
The report is written by Eddy Ng, external link (James & Elizabeth Freeman Professor of Management at Bucknell University), Anjum Sultana, external link (National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada), Kory Wilson, external link (Executive Director of Indigenous Initiatives and Partnerships for British Columbia Institute of Technology), Simon Blanchette (Research Associate at the Diversity Institute), and Rochelle Wijesingha, external link (Senior Research Associate at the Diversity Institute).
“While retraining and upskilling will be crucial, systemic barriers may prevent skills from being gained or effectively utilized, and program and policy experts aiming to move the needle need to take these factors into account,” they suggest.
The authors find that several factors contribute to the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic felt by many in equity-seeking groups. For example, these groups are overrepresented in sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, like hospitality and retail, and less present in sectors and industries that have been more able to adapt and grow in the face of COVID-19. At the same time, women, immigrants, Indigenous peoples and racialized workers, as well as youth, are overrepresented in industries that are unable to transition to telework, leaving them more vulnerable to the virus. For those who can work from home, many may not have the capacity to do so due to increased family life demands and inequitable access to the resources and infrastructure they need.
Prior to the spread of the virus, youth from equity-seeking communities already faced challenges relating to skills, especially digital skills. Without equitable access to quality infrastructure and support for online learning, the skills gap is only becoming harder to cross. The cancellation and delays of Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs, especially for those who relied on work placements for part-time income or as part of their program requirements, can also significantly delay crucial skills development for young workers and lead to negative long-term impacts on their careers.
A combination of efforts from governments, employers, service providers, and workers engaged in the skills ecosystem are needed to address these challenges and foster diverse and inclusive workplaces. The report underlines the pressing need for greater access to digital skills and digital infrastructure, renewed commitments to essential skills, and new management and leadership skills for new working arrangements.
The skills to build capacity for diversity and inclusion are also critical. The authors see recruitment processes as one significant area of concern.They ask firms to critically examine whether their hiring practices actually match their skills needs, to start recruiting in previously unexplored places, and to create a more diverse pipeline of candidates by decreasing their implicit, and inefficiency-generating, biases.
“The recovery from COVID-19 represents a great opportunity to “build back better” and more inclusively by addressing barriers that not only existed before the pandemic but which have been exacerbated and made even more salient by it. Ensuring equitable access is critical, and fundamental investments in infrastructures such as broadband internet, childcare and social supports are essential to levelling the playing field.”
EDC steps up to support record number of Canadian businesses
There was nothing usual about 2020. The emergence and rapid spread of COVID-19 early in the year upended lives across the globe, at home and at work. From Export Development Canada’s (EDC) vantage point, it quickly became clear the year would be one of business as unusual.
“The pandemic brought with it a myriad of doubts and challenges to every company, at home and abroad,” said EDC President and CEO Mairead Lavery. “Amid all these challenges our workforce became a key player in the Government of Canada’s economic response to the crisis. By the end of the year, we had provided relief and support to tens of thousands of businesses across the country.”
Early into the pandemic, the federal government expanded EDC’s mandate so all Canadian businesses – not only those that export – could access the Crown corporation’s financial solutions. In part because of this, EDC served a record number of businesses in 2020.
Throughout the year, Canada’s export credit agency worked with 24,305 customers – 69% of which were small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), the backbone of Canada’s economy. Through these customers, EDC’s solutions facilitated $102.5 billion in business, supported 487,948 domestic jobs and generated $64.6 billion, or 3.4%, of the national GDP.
“This has been an unprecedented and challenging time for global markets and the Canadian economy,” said EDC Interim Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Marsha Acott. “Heightened risk in our portfolio due to the economic crisis has resulted in an increase in our provisions for credit losses.”
Despite reporting a net loss of $1.35 billion for 2020, EDC remains well positioned to support Canadian businesses through the remainder of the crisis and through to recovery, Acott said. Based on EDC’s 2020 financial results, the organization will be paying a $7.28 billion dividend to the Government of Canada. This includes a special dividend of $6.7 billion of excess capital from injections EDC received in 2020 to support the Government of Canada’s economic response to the crisis.
Responding to the global crisis
Canadian businesses in 2020 found support through EDC’s existing suite of financial solutions, as well as those created in response to the economic crisis. For example, the number of businesses accessing the Trade Expansion Lending Program, which launched in 2019 to support micro- and small-sized companies, almost doubled year-over-year. Through the 279 customers who accessed this program, which provides banking partners with a predefined capacity to issue loan guarantees to their exporting customers, EDC facilitated $175 million in business.
In 2020, EDC launched the Investment Matching Program to support high-potential companies move forward with commercialization and growth plans despite the pandemic. This innovative program, in which EDC matches investments to companies from the private sector, helped 56 companies through investments totalling $125 million by the end of the year.
The Business Credit Availability Program Guarantee, launched in March 2020, brought EDC together with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and financial institutions across the country to support the immediate cashflow needs of small- and medium-sized companies in crisis. Through this, EDC provided 799 guarantees, guaranteeing $850 million of the $1.1 billion in loans extended to Canadian businesses from their financial institutions.
EDC also administered the Canada Emergency Business Account on behalf of the Government of Canada. Through EDC’s expertise and deep connections with Canadian financial institutions, the government provided $38 billion in interest-free loans to small businesses and not-for-profits by the end of 2020.
Commitment to climate and people
Business success is more than just about numbers. At EDC, sustainable, responsible and inclusive business practices are central to every relationship, partnership and business deal undertaken.
“When we determine our level of success, we’re also looking at whether we did the right things for the right reasons,” Lavery said.
To that end, EDC maintained its focus on providing support to clean technologies in 2020, increasing the number of companies served by 27% over 2019. Through these 288 cleantech companies, EDC’s solutions facilitated $4.5 billion in cleantech exports, investments and trade opportunities – an 80% increase from 2019.
The organization also had three outstanding Green Bonds in 2020, which financed 20 transactions. EDC anticipates 6.1 million tonnes of CO2e will be avoided as a result of these bonds, representing a 46% increase in avoided emissions over the previous year.
And, while EDC committed to supporting all Canadian businesses through the pandemic and toward eventual recovery, careful management of its portfolio in 2020 enabled the organization to meet its first carbon reduction target three years ahead of schedule.
As EDC worked to have a greater positive impact on the environment, the organization also had teams dedicated to bettering the inclusiveness, diversity and equity in and around its business. In 2020, EDC committed to facilitating $2 billion in trade for women-owned businesses by 2023. The first year of that goal saw 920 women-owned and -led businesses benefit from EDC solutions and facilitate $1.14 billion in business.
EDC also launched an Indigenous exporter strategy in 2020 and began work on its first supplier diversity program, which has a goal of creating more opportunities for diverse businesses within its own supply chain. The organization served 77 Indigenous-led businesses in 2020, facilitating $119.3 million in business.
There will always be more work to do in terms of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG). As EDC looks forward, the organization is setting a goal to have ESG embedded in all it does, among the first considerations when looking at potential transactions, and to show leadership in recognizing the importance of ESG performance.