Skills mismatch hurts firms
Organization calls for concrete steps to ease shortfall
Skills held by new graduates and workers hitting the job market often don't match the skills employers need and that is exacerbating labour shortages across 14 critical sectors that rely on highly-skilled technology workers, according to the Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists.
At the organization's National Technology Conference held last week in Winnipeg, employers, educators, government officials and industry observers came together to try to tackle the issue and others.
"The skills mismatch means we're constantly being questioned by employers looking for the next worker - the worker with the right skill set," says Isidore LeBlond, chief executive of CCTT. "We want to make sure we're teaching the right (skills)," he adds.
Perrin Beatty, president and chief executive of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, notes in a recent Conference Board of Canada report that federal changes to immigration policy are "encouraging" for employers, adding prearrival credential assessments are also a good step. More needs to be done, however.
Canada imported more than 5.2 per cent of its population in a single decade as businesses tapped into the global workforce and programs such as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
"A deepening shortfall of skilled workers and the growing mismatch between the skills needed and those available has evolved into a skills crisis," he writes. "The Canadian economy faces a deep structural problem."
A "critical issue" that had previously been "hidden" by the recession in "now fully apparent," adds Beatty.
LeBlond also attributes part of the skills mismatch - and the resulting shortage of labour - to workers and employers who haven't been keeping pace with technological changes by pursuing lifelong learning.
"(Workers') skills are slowly evaporating and they're not as useful to their employer as maybe they would like," he says, referring to this group of the "substandard worker."
LeBlond's organization advocates for a stronger federal government push to focus on areas such as increasing the number of paid co-op placements and internships - a move that would help both homegrown Canadian graduates and immigrants looking to gain Canadian experience.
In the board's report, Glenn Feltham, president and chief executive of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, says Alberta alone has estimated a skills shortage of more than 114,000 jobs over the next decade, primarily in science and technology, the skilled trades and health care.
"But what we are hearing from industry leads us to believe the shortage in Alberta will be far greater," says Feltham.
One survey participant reported an 87 per cent turnover rate in downtown Calgary and above 30 per cent in the field.
It will take several solutions to address the skills mismatch and labour shortages. Aboriginal education and workforce development, initiatives to get more women into technology fields, keeping older workers and retraining them, along with sharing of labour market information to better forecast demand for specific skills are all needed.
Small-and medium-sized businesses are being targeted, in particular, because they lack the resources larger corporations command. "They need some kind of assistance," says LeBlond. "It takes a federal initiative to get this going (and) moving forward."
There are also efforts underway by CCTT to work with companies to share best practices on global hiring procedures. "We, as Canadians ... don't really understand how higher education (works) in the rest of the world," he adds.
Beatty says the skills mismatch issue that will continue to result in crippling labour shortages for some industries is bound to continue unless concrete steps are taken now.
"The skills shortage is becoming one of the great challenges facing Canada," Beatty says. "We will all need to confront it."
Canadian labour shortage in tech fields
Skills mismatches cost the federal government about $8.1 billion in lost gross domestic product.
The issue is growing and affects sectors that account for 60 per cent of employment in Canada, particularly manufacturing, health care, natural resources, professional, scientific and technical services.
At least 15,000 new workers are needed by 2015 in the petroleum industry.
About 81,000 workers will be needed in the next decade in mining.
More than 100,000 workers are needed for the information, communications and technology (ICT) industry over the next decade.
ECO Canada predicts 100,483 environmental workers will be needed within ten years to replace retirees.
The electricity sector requires 45,000 new skilled workers by 2016 (almost half of the existing workforce).
The construction sector expects 219,000 of its workforce to retire by 2020.
Technology-related jobs in highest demand include those with highly technical skills, trades, engineers and IT professionals.
Source: Conference Board of Canada /Gandalf Group
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