Lack of skilled workers could jeopardize economic future: Kenney

The Canadian Press
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A shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge many Canadian businesses face today, Employment Minister Jason Kenney told a skills summit Wednesday, warning it could also jeopardize Canada’s economic development in the future.

The problem would continue to grow as the population ages, Kenney told the one-day conference, which brought together stakeholders to discuss the labour market, employee training and those under-represented in the labour force.

Currently 30 per cent of the skilled trade workers in Canada are baby boomers, Kenney said, adding that they will soon retire.

“They are going to take with them a lifetime of knowledge and skill,” he said.

It’s necessary that an “informed national discussion” take place about the condition of Canada’s labour market, in order to address future skills gaps, Kenney said.

“We can acknowledge that we have inadequate labour market information and we need to do a fundamentally better job of getting granular information by region and industry,” he said.

Skilled workers shortages are looming in specific sectors, he added, but it’s not a market-wide issue. The construction, mining and petroleum sectors are examples of industries that will face serious shortages of skilled workers over the next decade, he said.

Skills Canada, a group that promotes careers in skilled trades and technologies to Canadian youth, has estimated that one million skilled trade workers will be needed by 2020, Kenney pointed out.

“We know we have these huge investments and opportunities, particularly in a huge swath of northern Canada, through the massive multibillion-dollar investments in the extractive industries that will require tens if not hundreds of thousands of skilled workers who are not currently available,” Kenney said.

The summit came less than a week after the government announced major changes to the controversial temporary foreign workers program, which include a cap on the number of foreign workers companies can hire, stiffer penalties for businesses found to be violating the new rules and on-site audits and inspections to guard against abuses.

As Kenney began to speak at a news conference wrapping up the summit, he was interrupted by two protesters who expressed anger over the changes.

Within the first minute of Kenney’s remarks, a protester stood up and shouted about unfair treatment of temporary foreign workers.

“You are excluding people from rights and services. Immigrants need full permanent immigration status,” he said. “This is a mass deportation order.”

The protester was escorted from the room.

Shortly afterwards, a second man interrupted Kenney, this time protesting in French, before he was also escorted out.

Kenney ignored the incident and continued with his remarks about the need to close the expanding skills gaps in certain sectors.

“We spend more than virtually any other country on public investments and job training and skills development, and yet we have unacceptably high levels of unemployment amongst young Canadians, aboriginal Canadians, new immigrants, and persons with disabilities,” he said.

Stephen Cryne, head of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council, said discussions about skills shortages are often short-sighted.

“We’re competing on the global stage for talent. It’s needed to drive our economy forward,” he said, adding that shifting demographics, the globalization of trade and new technologies are worldwide concerns.

In 2012, a McKinsey Global Institute report estimated that by 2020, the global economy could see 90 to 95 million more low-skill workers than employers will need, Cryne said.

He added that this projection highlights the need to compete for workers on an international level, and increase the mobility of workers within Canada.

Kenney noted that skills shortages are propelled by the inability to attract youth into the trades.

Countrywide, there are 13 different apprenticeship programs with specific rules and requirements, he said.

“Greater harmonization of that regime would make it easier for young apprentices to complete their training and give them the mobility to go where the jobs are.”

He cited countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom as places where apprenticeship programs offer youth better employment options, calling the programs “radically better.”

In Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark, Kenney said, about two-thirds of young high school students at the age of 16 enrol in paid apprenticeship programs and graduate at 19 “unencumbered by debt.”

“(They are) graduating with a certificate that is considered to have the same social and economic value as a university degree,” he said, adding that similar programs need to take root in Canada.

Young Canadians present a paradox, said Kenney. They are among the most educated in the developed world, but have an unemployment rate of 13.4 per cent, nearly double the general unemployment rate.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said.

Organizations: Canadian Employee Relocation Council, McKinsey Global Institute

Geographic location: Canada, Northern Canada, Germany United Kingdom Switzerland Austria Denmark

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Recent comments

  • G0OS3
    June 28, 2014 - 02:11

    I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree, minor in Business, and I cant find a job. Employers keep screaming for highly skilled workers but are too cheap/lazy to invest in young graduates. Instead, they ask for the expansion of the foreign worker permits. Today's engineering graduates are tomorrow's skilled workers that the companies are after. Invest in their developments and you will get a skilled and loyal workforce 5 years down the road.

  • Charles Murphy
    June 26, 2014 - 11:39

    That the sad thing about all this, our young people are ask to enroll in a " Course " just to come out and find out there nothing their for them. Would you say that statement is " True ". if you said yes, then you would be wrong. Each and every year we ship in just over 15 million dollars of products fabricate and weld elsewhere, which can be done right here at home, giving our young people the " Experience " they need to become a journeyman, under the eyes of a Red Seal instructor. There so many things we can do at home, to better the life's of our people. " Just need leadership "

  • FedUp
    June 25, 2014 - 22:51

    Young people like my son, a first year welding student, cannot find an East Coast employer to apprentice through because they all want experienced Red Seal. He'll be like all the others and go west, or leave the country. THAT, folks - is why you have a shortage of skilled labour. They have to start somewhere.

  • Rudy Haugeneder
    June 25, 2014 - 21:09

    There are no skill shortages nor will there be any in the future as artificial intelligence and robotics replace humans in every job and professional arena, including medicine, the police and military, education, construction, science and ditch digging. In fact, in the coming years and decades there will be a massive -- massive -- surplus of workers in every field, meaning unless the economic/ political system changes to include a Guaranteed Annual Income for everyone, violent social unrest by the trained jobless masses of all ages will become a permanent feature.

    • Angus
      June 26, 2014 - 06:06

      I hope it works better than the CNC equipment I operate.