Canada is not facing labour or skills shortages: report

posted on March 26, 2014


Findings question government’s position that jobs are vacant due to lack of homegrown skilled employees


Findings question government’s position that jobs are vacant due to lack of homegrown skilled employees

As the B.C. government warns of a looming skills deficit and tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers pour into the province each year, a report from Canada’s parliamentary budget officer suggests there is no significant labour or skills shortage.

The findings of Tuesday’s report, titled Labour Market Assessment 2014, go against the grain of the federal government’s position that jobs are remaining vacant because of a lack of adequate homegrown skilled employees where they are needed.

“There is little evidence to suggest a national labour shortage exists in Canada, although there appears to be regional and sectoral pockets of labour market tightness,” the report said, identifying Saskatchewan as one of those markets.

An analysis using Conference Board of Canada data “illustrates that the Atlantic Provinces, along with Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, continue to have a job vacancy rate at or below pre-recession levels, partnered with an unemployment rate at or above pre-recession levels. This suggests varying degrees of excess slack in the labour markets of these provinces.”

Alexandra Fortier, a spokeswoman for federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney, said the report is consistent with the government’s position that there are regional and sector-specific shortages.

“This is particularly problematic in certain sectors and regions where there are thousands of jobs going unfilled because no one in the area has the skills required to fill those jobs,” she said in an emailed statement. “There is a paradox of too many Canadians without jobs in an economy of too many jobs without workers.”

The report comes as 80 employers, educators and government officials prepare to meet in Vancouver on Friday to “develop short to long-term solutions that more effectively utilize B.C.’s immigrant talent to address the province’s skills shortage and meet workforce needs,” according to a news release from the Immigrant Employment Council of B.C., which is organizing the event.

B.C. had nearly 50,000 temporary foreign workers enter the province in 2012, up from 20,000 in 2003. They range from seasonal agricultural workers to youth on working holidays to fast-food employees in northern resource towns.

Saskatchewan, where the report cited the labour shortage as being most acute, had just over 5,000 temporary foreign workers arrive in 2012.

B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond was unavailable for an interview but said in an emailed statement that the report looks at historical data and doesn’t take future labour market needs into account.

“There are a projected one million job openings by 2020 and we know that even if every eligible British Columbian was trained we still wouldn’t have enough workers to fill all of the openings,” she said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said there’s no question B.C. will need more tradespeople in the coming years due to a combination of economic growth and aging.

Getting those people trained is proving a challenge, he said, noting that there is an abundance of apprentices in the trades who can’t find work and become frustrated. Employers need to train more apprentices and government can help by requiring that 25 per cent of workers on publicly funded projects are apprentices, he said.

In other sectors, such as the fast-food industry, Sinclair said employers are going offshore to find workers as a way to avoid raising wages. Teenagers looking for entry-level jobs in communities like Kamloops, Hope and Powell River aren’t getting hired because temporary foreign workers are filling the spaces, he said.

“Those are jobs that should go to Canadians first.”

With files from The Financial Post

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