Prepared for the Canadian
Labour Congress Training and Technology Committee
Prior Learning Assessment
& Recognition (PLAR):
A Statement of Labour Values
This document was based on extensive discussion
and broad consultations with representatives from the Canadian labour movement
from January 1998 to early 2000. Sessions were organized by the research
network for New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) at the Ontario Institute
for Studies in Education/University of Toronto. Our sincere thanks go out
to all those who took part, including representatives of the CLC, OFL,
MLEC, CSTEC, CLFDB and a large cross-section of national and international
For more information on NALL
call 416-923-6641 ext. 2392 or visit: http:/nall.oise.utoronto.ca
Accepted by the CLC Training and Technology
June 26, 2000
What is Prior Learning Assessment
and Recognition (PLAR)?
What is PLAR? A CLFDB Definition
Can PLAR Programs Help Workers?
A Labour Vision of PLAR
Guiding Strategies for Labour and PLAR
Issues in Implementation
We Want to Employ PLAR Programs to Assist
Labour Educators and Trade Union Activists Accomplish the Following Goals
Unions Do Not Advocate the Following
A CLFDB Definition
“Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition
(PLAR) is a process of identifying, assessing, and recognizing what a person
knows and can do. The process can take various forms and the outcomes
can be used for a large number of purposes relevant to the goals of individuals,
labour market partners [including unions], and society at large.
PLAR is a process which can be used to look at what a person knows and
can do. It may allow an individual to get some form of recognition
for the skills and knowledge he or she has. PLAR should give equal
value to learning and skills whether these come from school, community
work, on-the-job training or other life experiences.
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition
may mean receiving credit for a certain level of education or vocational
training. It could also mean that education or training from another
country will be recognized for jobs in Canada. It may mean that credits
earned at one school can be transferred to another place so course do not
have to be repeated. Or, it may mean recognizing that a person has
all the skills necessary to do a job, but not the required [formal] education.”
Excerpt from “Prior Learning
Assessment and Recognition: Learning has no boundaries” published
by the Canadian Labour Force Development Board, #35 January 1997
For the past decade Canadian unions have
been grappling with the problem of how to deal with emerging Prior Learning
Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) programs. In fact it was the Canadian
labour movement which insisted that PLA have an "R" -- for the "R"ecognition
of informal knowledge - added to its name.
With the developing interest in PLAR the
labour movement sees a long-awaited opportunity for the formal recognition
and validation of workers' life experiences and work skills - their
informal learning. PLAR offers the promise of credits and academic
equivalencies that could, in turn, open up new collective learning
opportunities for working people.
Labour’s support for Prior Learning Assessment
and Recognition is grounded in the general principles of equity and access,
which guide all of labour’s efforts with respect to training, education
and employment for working people and their families.
Over the years, unions have defended Canadians'
right to free public education and training in one of Canada's two official
languages, free apprenticeship training and free community college and
university tuition and the need for universal access to education regardless
of age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, financial
circumstances, work situation or citizenship status.
Labour has fought for free basic adult
education, including secondary school education, basic skills and second
language education for new Canadians. Unions have also fought to ensure
transferability and portability of education and training across Canada.
Improving working peoples' access to education
and training has been central to labour's agenda. This is where the main
promise of PLAR lies. We believe that workers deserve academic credits
for informal learning that is acquired through their jobs and family, their
unions and community.
However, we acknowledge that for each apparent
benefit there may also be an associated risk. One of the potential hazards
we recognise is that of PLAR being used by employers to extend their authority
over workers. If PLAR is left solely in the hands of employers, it has
the potential to become a tool used against - rather than for - working
We feel that labour must work to implement
a form of PLAR which speaks to workers' collective well-being and interests.
This document attempts to frame both the potential and the problems
which are presented by PLAR.
Can PLAR Programs Help
Central to the purpose underlying PLAR
is the recognition that significant learning occurs outside the
classroom - through informal study and everyday learning within the home,
community, union local and workplace.
Properly implemented, with the emphasis
on the recognition of workers' prior learning, PLAR can lead to the following
rights and benefits:
A Labour Vision of PLAR
Increased access to training and education
Academic credit for learning acquired through
our job, union, community and family.
School credits for informal knowledge, fulfilling
some of the requirements for local school or college courses.
Enhanced career and job opportunities with
the development of our knowledge and skills.
Greater control of our training and skill
development, with the focus on' training that workers identify as both
necessary and desirable.
Increased portability of skills and credentials.
Recognition of our existing skills, demonstrating
that workers can "do the job" without a certificate, diploma or
We celebrate the potential for PLAR’s recognition
of working peoples' informal and experiential knowledge. Labour supports
PLAR initiatives which provide academic credits for the "street smarts"
and informal knowledge that workers have acquired.
PLAR’s promise to open doors to further
continuing education is in accord with labour's goals with respect to improving
education and training.
In our pursuit of a labour vision of PLAR,
we will be guided by the following principles:
Guiding Strategies for Labour
Organized labour supports PLAR initiatives
which contribute to remedying systemic injustice. We want to eliminate
the barriers to learning, working and earning.
PLAR must work to strengthen, not undermine,
the public education system. Labour will oppose programs which undermine
the public education system and labour-based programs. Furthermore, as
the CLC Protocol on the Delivery of Training, Education and Employment
Services makes clear, initiatives like PLAR must affirm the principles
of equal access and equitable support for a public education system.
Workers must be entitled to the social programs
and contractually-negotiated support necessary to the realization of further
education and training. For example:
Workers must have scheduled time away from
their paid and unpaid work responsibilities. They need childcare and other
supports to pursue learning.
A pan-Canadian training tax for employer-paid
education, training and upgrading of employees is needed.
PLAR must be focussed on the recognition of
working peoples' knowledge. Recognition is the identification (through
portfolio assessment or other means) of workers' skills and knowledge,
gained from work and life experiences. Assessment may involve more
testing or other measures to earn PLAR credits, but must involve labour
input and fair and transparent processes.
Prior learning is the recognition of already-existing
knowledge and is best evaluated through portfolio assessment or other participatory
The outcomes of PLAR must be designed to benefit
working people as a whole. Using PLAR to ‘sort’ workers into categories
and invent greater divisions among workers based on their credentials is
not an acceptable outcome.
Issues in Implementation
PLAR programs and “tools” must be jointly
accepted by all parties, including labour unions, business, education
institutions and education workers’ unions. Unions must co-determine the
content, procedures and delivery of training programs. The assessment process
must reflect, and be driven by, consistently applied guidelines which have
been developed and agreed upon with full labour representation.
PLAR programs must provide for the recognition
and crediting of labour-based education and union activities. Labour education
and union activities represent a significant area of skill and knowledge
development. Labour education and training should be recognized as well
as the knowledge acquired in paid and unpaid work, the community and other
Critical thinking and well-rounded citizenship
(not narrow ‘performance outcomes’ and ‘employment competencies’) must
PLAR’s recognition and evaluation policies
and practices should be learner-centred, thoroughly outlined beforehand
clearly understandable by participants.
PLAR must not be used, directly or indirectly,
to undermine existing practices and negotiated contractual provisions including
those covering job classifications and pay scales, education and training,
hiring, promotion, layoffs and seniority rights.
The awarding of PLAR credits must not be bound
by narrow, standardised testing. We recognise that the fundamental problem
with standardised testing is that the context of informal learning is lost.
Labour is not opposed to a joint, participatory
or internally regulated assessment and recognition procedure.
Central to the principles guiding PLAR are
that participation and involvement must always remain key elements of PLAR
assessment and recognition.
These guiding principles can only be safeguarded
where unions have ongoing, formal input and control in the implementation
of PLAR programs. Workers and unions must be involved at every stage of
Portfolios which recognize learning are vastly
preferred over external testing and rigid assessment tools. Labour needs
of training programs, determined with labour input, based on cross-Canada
standards and recognition of workers' skills, abilities and
PLAR must not shortchange workers via the
use of standardised assessment tools
There are risks when the employer or a third-party
is in sole control of a PLAR program. Access to confidential employee disclosures
and information must never be a vehicle used against workers. In any PLAR
program, confidentiality of all records must be guaranteed.
Confidentiality must be guaranteed
Labour's role in workplace and community PLAR
must never become mere tokenism. Labour must always have the right to equal
representation in organisations developed to deal with PLAR matters. Labour
must have the right to appoint its own nominees to these bodies through
our Provincial Federations. Labour members must always speak as labour
representatives first when they participate in such organisations.
Labour's voice must remain intact
Individual workers should not be expected
to use their own time and money to upgrade to changing standards, whether
for higher skills, or just different ones. Otherwise, lifelong learning
will be in danger of being individualized and privatized.
PLAR programs must have equal access and
As it is currently constituted PLAR tends
to focus on already advantaged, skilled workers and ignores semiskilled
and unskilled workers in the most need of training and education. PLAR
must also focus on basic skills programs, ESL and pre-apprenticeship programs
which support women and others routinely barred from trades and technology.
PLAR is also an important potential tool for immigrant workers whose skills
have not been recognized.
PLAR programs must focus on ALL workers
We want to employ PLAR
programs to assist labour educators and trade union activists accomplish
the following goals:
Unions Do Not Advocate the
encourage collective interaction (not individualization);
strengthen the public education system (not
privatize education and training);
provide programs that are equitable, universal
and free of race, gender, cultural, class and other biases (not geared
to assist the already-advantaged);
encourage training that is worker-centred
and worker controlled, with union input at all stages of the process;
provide universal and portable programs (not
tied to one employer or job);
provide programs that are genuinely voluntary
(not mandatory or coercive programs which use workers' education records
as a weapon against them).
An end-run around apprenticeships
Employers may be tempted to use PLA to
avoid proper apprenticeship training and provide quicker, customized "designer"
apprenticeship. We need to stay away from 'lust enough" training - that
is 'lust enough" for what employers want, or training that excludes generic
skills which are not immediately needed by employers.
Competency-based standards and their dangerous
Without proper vigilance, PLAR may be
in danger of aiding competency-based occupational standards set by private
corporations. We need vigilance to deflect the corporatisation of the public
education system and maintain principles of non-interference in its curriculum.
Shifting training costs to the individual
If PLAR is established without labour's
input, workers may be expected to pay for their training with their own
time and money. Workers must not be assessed against constantly changing
occupational standards set by corporations. Collective responsibility for
training needs to be recognised by both employers and government.
Undermining national education standards
A corporate or industrial sector approach
to occupations, skills and training inevitably threatens pan-Canadian standards.
An institute-by-institute or corporation-by-corporation approach potentially
impedes the development of nationally-recognized standards.
In closing, we believe that, with labour's
full participation, PLAR has great potential to help workers have their
current skills recognized and credited in order to increase access to education
and training; to give workers the opportunity to demonstrate that they
perform on the job without the need for formal credentials.
The labour movement supports people's continuing
pursuit of learning for their own personal fulfilment and the emancipatory
potential of PLAR for working people.
NALL - Year 2000 Statement
of 'Labour Values' on PLAR
Sawchuk, Peter H.
(1998). "This would scare the hell out of me if I were a HR Manager:
workers making sense of PLAR" in Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference
of Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education. Ottawa:
University of Ottawa, May 1998.
learning capacities in the community and workplace project: final
report of the industrial workplace skills and knowledge profiling research.
Toronto: Advocates for Community Training and Education for Women.
education and PLAR: A workers' perspective. (video tape,
approx. 22 min.; produced in association with Advocates for Community Training
and Education for Women). Toronto: Centre for the Study of
Education and Work, OISE/UT.
to CEP Local 2000-O on Learning. Toronto Communications, Energy
and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
Vanstone, Sue. (1998).
A worker perspective on informal learning and PLAR: Interview
material for the NALL Labour Caucus on PLAR. Toronto: NALL