EDITORIAL: We need to close the skills gap
A record 1.3 million Canadians now make their living in the construction industry. And the sector accounts for more than 7 per cent of gross domestic product. It is one of the country’s leading and fastest growing industries, hiring 600,000 new workers since 1996, according to BuildForce Canada.
Doesn’t look like that pesky skills shortage is going away anytime soon!
So, what is the Canadian construction industry doing about it? Not enough.
There have been significant strides made to develop programs and competitions to entice more young workers to the construction sector, but it’s not happening quickly enough, nor driving the numbers we are going to need to keep machines humming.
A great example of one of these programs is Canada’s involvement in the WorldSkills Competition. Thirty-one young men and women will take part in the WorldSkills Canadian Trials taking place across the country in January and February 2015. The competitors that meet pre-determined Canadian standards will go on to represent Canada in Sao Paulo, Brazil next summer. This type of program provides opportunities for students and generates an increased excitement about careers in the construction industry, but we still need to get more kids involved.
The Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) is also doing its part. Recently it launched a three-year project in St. John’s, N.L. to promote women’s advancement in the construction sector. The federal government, through the Status of Women Canada, awarded CAWIC a grant for $249,900. Working with industry partners, CAWIC will use the money for the Women’s Advancement project to develop an action plan to open doors for women in construction.
These are just a couple of programs that made headlines recently. There are many more being initiated by large construction firms, associations and post-secondary institutions, but the challenge is a lack of unification.
There is still a significant gap between the skills graduates have, and those that are needed for construction.
According to Rosemary Sparks, executive director of BuildForce Canada: “Building and maintenance is becoming more technical and complex, and that opens the field to a whole new generation of skilled workers. People with math, science and technical backgrounds are increasingly in demand in our industry. There’s tremendous opportunity.”
That being said—something doesn’t quite add up. In a recent research study conducted by the Fraser Institute (Do Labour Shortages Exist in Canada?), it was pointed out that a record gap exists between unemployment for adults and youths. The reason for this high level of youth unemployment partly reflects the skills youths have acquired, especially their marked shift from community college to university education over the past decade. The unemployment rate for high school graduates with a post-secondary certificate or diploma is 7.3 per cent. For university graduates it is 9.1 per cent.
Although there is a greater demand for workers with higher levels of expertise in technologies and building material, and there are higher numbers of more educated graduates—there remains a significant mismatch in the skills that are being taught and the skills that are needed.
The construction industry is on the right track in promoting skilled trades and developing programs to attract new recruits, but more work needs to be done at the high school and post-secondary levels. Graduates need to be counseled to pursue courses that provide the sought-after skills that will land them good, high-paying jobs in the future.