Feds plan to revisit skills gap in budget
OTTAWA—It’s been almost five years since economist Don Drummond was asked by concerned federal and provincial labour ministers to find solutions to the mismatched job market that increasingly has worried employers, governments, and workers alike.
But Drummond’s response for governments to spend $13 million—a bargain in the world of social policy—to overhaul and improve labour market information has gone all but unnoticed.
As businesses yell louder about their inability to find the right people, and the unemployed and the underemployed voice equal frustration, the federal government is poised to revisit its labour market interventions, design some new programs to bring together the private sector and under-utilized pools of workers, and demand better results from the provinces.
Will this time be any different?
“We’re not going to find the fix overnight,” reasoned Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, whose job it is to push full-time for a more efficient labour market.
“We get a sense that now, there’s a real momentum and a real sense of the need to engage,” she noted.
“Everyone seems to realize we have a looming skills crisis.”
One of only two recommendations that actually was implemented from Drummond’s lengthy list of 47 ideas was the creation of a job vacancy survey by Statistics Canada.
Now a year old, the survey has enough data to compare this year to last—and give some regional and industrial breakdowns.
At last count, it shows there are about 241,700 job vacancies in Canada, with the highest vacancy rates in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The national job vacancy rate has remained steady for the past year-and-a-half and even at a regional level, it has fluctuated very little.
At the same time, the most recent labour force survey shows there were 1,332,600 unemployed people in Canada.
That’s about 5.5 workers for every available job—providing employers with a large pool of prospective employees.
The problem, say analysts, is that the jobless and the jobs don’t match. And there is not enough sharing of detailed information to reorient training and education to fix the problem.
The job vacancy data suggests there are plenty of positions available in health care, arts and entertainment, mining, and science and technology.
But that kind of information is not nearly detailed enough for the educators, employees, and families trying to anticipate the exact demand for labour, said Angella MacEwen, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress.
The problem may well be on the employer side, too, however. It’s impossible to tell at an aggregate level whether higher wages or better on-the-job training efforts quickly would fill some of those vacancies, she noted.