Achieving our Potential: An Action Plan for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) in Canada

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Org: Prior Learning Assessment Centre of Halifax
Date: 2008

This report seeks to address the significant issue of recognizing the value of informal adult learning in Canada. It offers insights into the processes necessary for employers, post-secondary institutions and government to recognize learning that occurs outside of the formal system.

The Prior Learning Assessment Centre of Halifax feels that this is not only an issue of vital social justice, it is of serious economic concern if, as a society, we are to promote labour market participation among currently under-represented and under-employed groups.


There is a rapidly increasing public awareness - most evident perhaps among employers and policy makers - that current demographic trends are about to present us with a labour market crisis in terms of both "bodies" and "skills." Scarcely a week goes by without another article in the press concerning this impending challenge.

One critically important option is to promote more active labour market participation of currently under-represented and under-employed groups, which together represent a substantial "reserve" labour force, which includes recent immigrants working in low-skill jobs because their competencies and qualifications have not been recognized.

This report addresses prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR), and does not delve into two other related areas: credit transfer; quality assurance and accreditation. It focuses on how the development of a more integrated approach for recognizing learning can enhance Canada's response to the demographic, economic and social imperatives of the 21st century. It acknowledges the complex evolution of the concept and practice of PLAR and the lack of a coordinated policy context at the federal or Canada-wide level from which to build sustained and cohesive initiatives.

Findings Related to Newcomers

This is a large document (428 pages, 2.01 MB), so we'll focus on the thread related to immigrants. Here are some related statements from the report:

  • Immigrants in Canada are listed as one of three groups that stand to gain the most from effective PLAR.
  • An improved system for recognizing learning of immigrants would offset the brain drain.
  • A trend in Canada has been the use of PLAR methods to assess formal learning by immigrants where academic credential assessment was not feasible or reliable.
  • The primary reason for a low job rate among immigrants (sourcing Statistics Canada Labour Force Study) is the need to adjust to a new life - that is, to deal with a variety of new cultural and social circumstances, to master a new language and different ways of working, as well as to have previous qualifications recognized and to undertake further training and certification. Immigrants say the most serious difficulties in entering the workforce are lack of Canadian experience, lack of recognition of their credentials and language barriers.
  • Census data indicates that the people in greatest need, including recent immigrants, older workers and dropouts from the formal education system, are least likely to get further training... the provision of PLAR services for this group could help up to 4 million adult Canadians view themselves as learners and encourage their greater participation in the labour force.
  • The PLAR process can help immigrants by identifying their skills and experiences and relating those skills and experiences to the Canadian workplace. For those who seek immediate employment, the emphasis on transferable skills helps immigrants focus on what Canadian employers value in the workplace.
  • As Canada looks increasingly to immigration to solve labour supply problems, much more attention will be given to ways to improve and accelerate the integration of foreign born workers.
  • New approaches are needed to ensure that immigrants are able to transfer their competencies and qualifications to Canadian work environments so that their lives improve and that labour supply needs are met. There is already competition among industrialized nations to attract skilled immigrants - and the ability to find rewarding employment suitable to qualifications will be a key factor.
  • This issue of over-qualification is particularly pressing for new Canadians.
  • Dr. Paul Cappon, President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning, emphasized that our fundamentally ad hoc and incoherent approach to immigration, to adult education and to the paradox of unmet educational need within a context of over-qualification, threatens to make the problem (of unrecognized learning) even more severe at the national level - "We have increased dependence on immigration - not because we are 'immigrationists,' but because we have no national strategy to meet human resource demand."

Download Achieving our Potential: An Action Plan for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition in Canada in PDF format.