Amid the ongoing provincewide debate about the quality and quantity of French-language training provided to anglophones and allophones in the CEGEP system, a new report by the Provincial Employment Roundtable (PERT) has raised concerns about the quality and availability of French-language training in the workplace for adults, particularly outside of Montreal.
The report provided an inventory of French-language workplace programs (FLWPs) aimed at “increasing the integration of [non-native French speakers] into the labour market by focusing on the vocabulary and language skills needed to improve their employability.”
In 14 of Quebec’s 16 administrative regions – everywhere except the Lower St. Lawrence and the Saguenay – unemployment rates are higher among anglophones than among francophones. Although nearly 70 per cent of English speakers in Quebec consider themselves bilingual, according to a PERT survey, “a lack of adequate French-language skills has been identified as a significant factor contributing to unemployment.”
“We want to close that unemployment gap as much as possible,” says Chad Walcott, director of communications and community engagement at PERT. “If the government wants to make French the only language of work in Quebec, they…need to invest in the necessary infrastructure.”
The report found that many FLWPs were tailored to immigrants, rather than to Quebec- or Canadian-born workers, and one-third of all programs available were in Montreal. In regions such as the Gaspé, the Côte-Nord, Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Nord-du-Québec, which have relatively low levels of immigration but relatively high levels of unemployment among English speakers, resources were minimal; in the Eastern Townships, the study found four general French-language training programs and five employer-specific programs.
Walcott says the study’s findings show room for improvement in the way employment-oriented French-language training is offered to Canadian-born English speakers in Quebec. “Our research has shown that there is a program offering, but the offering is kind of a patchwork,” he says. “There’s no centralized database where [a learner] can look up the courses they have access to, and at times, the information is available in French only, or outdated. As English speakers who want to improve our French for the workplace, we should be able to find relevant information in our mother tongue. It should also be better advertised.” Particularly in the regions, “if the government wants to scale up the use of French, we want to see them back that up with [French language training] infrastructure, because otherwise we’re dooming the English-speaking community to be further alienated,” says Walcott.
For Walcott, the existing francisation system – where immigrants are given a small stipend and a childcare subsidy as an incentive to participate in free French classes offered by the Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration (MIFI) thorough local school systems – is “an interesting model which has had success.”
“We don’t see why that model couldn’t be applied to the entire English-speaking community of Quebec,” he says.
Under Bill 96, Quebec- and Canadian-born anglophones and allophones are expected to become eligible for government-run francisation courses. Requests for further comment from the MIFI were not returned by press time.