Canada will need one million trades workers by 2020, according to SkillsCanada, and employment minister Jason Kenney says there is a paradox in the current economy that needs to be overcome to meet this target.
“We have to prepare for this paradox of a growing economy with an aging workforce and the current reality of too many unemployed people in an economy that has a lot of unfilled jobs,” he told the recent Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s (CAF) Skilled Trades Summit in Ottawa.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce lists skills shortage as one of the country’s top barriers to competitiveness.
Kenney has been visiting countries around the world where an education through apprenticeship is seen as being on the same level as a university degree.
He pointed to Switzerland, which has three per cent youth unemployment and Germany with seven per cent unemployment.
“We have more young people with university degrees as a share of our population than any other country in the world, but we have 13 per cent youth unemployment.
Those countries, where 60 to 70 per cent of their youth are going into apprenticeship training programs at the end of their post-secondary schooling, see unemployment rates that are half of ours or less.
“We can’t draw a perfect correlation, but we can certainly say there is something interesting going on here.”
In Canada, only 19 per cent of eligible employers hire and train apprentices.
“We spend more tax dollars in Canada relative to our economy than any other major developed country on job training and skills development and the private sector spends less than virtually any other OECD country,” he said.
“We need to incentivize the private sector to spend more on training and we need to make sure the public spending on training leads to real results, is connected to the labour market. It’s not training for the sake of training, it’s not training for jobs that don’t exist and we are doing a better job of it.”
He noted that the national average of 50 per cent apprenticeship completions needs to be raised.
He highlighted government programs such as the Canada Apprentice Loan and the Canada Job Grant as ways to help raise the completion rate. The government has recently secured more employer involvement in the Labour Market Agreements for Persons with Disabilities and is seeking more employer involvement in the renewed Labour Market Development Agreements.
Mobility across all 13 Canadian jurisdictions also impacts apprenticeship completions and Kenney said it is important not to add unnecessary costs and red tape to get Red Seal recognized.
During his speech, Kenney announced $453,000 in funding for CAF to study labour mobility challenges and issues facing both domestic and foreign-trained apprentices.
The project will examine the differences among provincial regulations and training requirements, as well as the obstacles faced by apprentice newcomers with limited experience in the trades.
“The expected results of this project are better integration of foreign trained apprentices into their respective trades in Canada by developing streamlined approaches,” he said.
Kenney said the government is trying to find a reasonable middle ground when it comes to hiring apprentices on federal construction projects, a commitment he announced in May.
“Small contractors that have just a handful of employees or in the province of Ontario with the current apprenticeship ratios, they might not be able to bid on a project if we absolutely require they have apprentices.”
He said he looks forward to working with construction associations on the issue.
“We’re going to be funding about $40 billion in infrastructure projects over the next few years. I would love to see all those projects have apprentices involved.”
The CAF Skilled Trades Summit took place in Ottawa June 1 to 3.