The recession is very much in the news and in our faces daily, but another big economic challenge facing countries such as Canada is finding employees with the right skills to meet the needs of growing industries.
There is no better example of this right now than Newfoundland.
Here is a province that has one of the highest provincial unemployment rates in the nation at 13.2 per cent. At the same time it is dealing with labour shortages.
So what’s the problem?
Mostly it can be attributed to a skills shortage.
Growth in the energy and resource sector in Newfoundland and Labrador are driving the demand for skilled tradespersons such as welders, electricians and plumbers, to name a few.
A $43-billion investment in these sectors has sparked development and growth. Getting the right labour is their biggest challenge. Other jobs related to these industries include engineers, project managers, accountants and service sector employees.
According to some reports there are many factors contributing to this skills shortage. The first is older workers’ lack of interest in retraining and leaving their communities to work at isolated work sites such as off-shore drilling or mining in northern Labrador. Some would rather maintain a lifestyle of seasonal work in either fishing or tourism while receiving unemployment benefits in the off-season.
The second is that since the 1980s, many young people have left the province and found work elsewhere. To get these people back is difficult, especially if they face working in a camp away from the communities they left in the first place.
The third and the most difficult to address is the inability of these new resource/energy companies to provide the same wages, working and camp conditions that employees are getting in Alberta, which is only an extra two-hour flight from Labrador.
It’s not easy to attract seasoned certified tradespeople out of the tar sands when many of them have probably worked for the same company for a number of years and enjoy seniority, benefits and other perks.
There are economists and labour analysts who believe that Newfoundland is just the beginning of what we can expect in the future as Canada’s energy and resource sector begins to boom.
With this boom it is expected that we will have a chronic skills shortage which will be highlighted even more by an aging workforce accustomed to living in urban centres. These workers (not all of them baby boomers and some may be much younger), may not be willing to relocate due to family or other reasons.
According to the Construction Council of Canada within the next decade 319,000 jobs will be required to meet the needs of the resource/energy sector. Yet they anticipate that only 163,000 of Canadians will have the skills to qualify for these jobs.
The domino effect is that the labour shortage will lead to lower output which could inevitably lead to an economic slowdown—just because we can’t find enough workers.
So, if you think what happens in the economy has nothing to do with the average worker, it actually does. Our economic output is linked to the number of us who work and produce value in the Canadian economy.
When you’re looking at your career options or considering a career change the first place to start should probably be an analysis of labour market demand and shortages.
Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College.