Dire Shortage of Skilled Tradespeople Looming in Canada

The need to tap into new pools of talent in the skilled trades is urgent, says report
By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
September 19, 2021 Updated: September 19, 2021

Canada has a shortage of tradespeople that will worsen this decade unless educators, employers, and policy-makers respond, according to a recent report by the Royal Bank of Canada.

“Educators, employers, and policy-makers will need to address chronic problems in the trades pipeline, tap into underused pools of talent, and address a widening digital skills gap amid rapid technological advances in the workplace,” states the report titled “Powering Up: Preparing Canada’s skilled trades for a post-pandemic economy.”

The report says the nation could be 100,000 skilled tradespeople short within five years, including at least 10,000 in the 56 Red Seal trades and the rest in the 250 provincially regulated trades. Workers in trades critical to the anticipated infrastructure boom amid post-pandemic economic recovery, including industrial mechanics, welders, and boilermakers, are in particularly severe shortage.

In addition, by 2028, over 700,000 skilled tradespeople are expected to retire. In manufacturing alone, one-quarter of the workforce is aged 55 or over, and less than 10 percent are under 25.

Jayson Myers, CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (N-Gen), who was quoted in the report, told The Epoch Times that better direction in high school would result in more tradespeople.

“We’re losing a lot of people, a lot of really potentially highly skilled, motivated kids that don’t know where to go. One thing that’s really shocking in Canada is that the average age of apprenticeships is something like 27. That’s basically 10 years lost out of a life. We’re not providing the guidance that people need,” Myers said.

“We’re losing a lot of kids that like to learn with their hands and like to learn by doing things, and don’t like an academic career.”

The RBC report said a “perception problem” persists that associates the trades with “heavy, dirty physical work best suited to students who lack the aptitude for ‘white-collar’ careers.” In addition, “Women made up just 11 percent of new registrants for apprenticeship programs in 2019 and continue to represent less than 4 percent of workers in the most in-demand trades.”

Immigration has not solved the problem, according to the report, which noted that immigrants make up more than 21 percent of the Canadian population but accounted fo only 8.7 percent of apprentices in 2018. Then in 2019, Canada fell short of its goal of bringing in 3,000 skilled tradespeople and admitted only 2,365 through the Federal Skilled Trades Program.

Myers said many students enter apprenticeship programs in Europe at the age of 14 or 15. For Canada, he believes better collaboration would be more effective than pouring more tax dollars into trades training.

“Sometimes they give out a lot of money. Everybody takes the money and then hunkers down, and it’s a siloed approach to education and training. I think we really need to think more about collaborative approaches,” he said.

“We’ve got to … motivate kids and bring them in, and a part of that is making sure that the education system is working closely with industry, even when it comes to bringing in speakers to the classroom who can talk about what they’re doing, or organizing school trips once they can, or maybe it’s a virtual tour of a manufacturing facility to see what it’s all about.”

This approach is greatly needed, since according to the RBC report, the four Western provinces and Atlantic Canada are projected to have shortfalls in certification completions and requirements in the Red Seals trades by 2025.

In particular, “the future of manufacturing is going to be much more technology intensive, much more digital. So everybody is competing right now for people with digital skills, tech skills. … And it’s not just in manufacturing, it’s in construction, it’s mining, resource development, and so forth,” Myers said.

The CEO said N-Gen has been “remarkably successful” at helping companies to improve the skill levels of their employees, gain more skills, and better manage operations. For such companies, the needs of the future have already arrived.

“What we’ve tried to do then is work with them, help them understand what their requirements are, and then help them select what training programs might be best suited for each individual employee and for the type of company that they want to run. There are a lot of training programs out there, and a part of it is just navigating your way through,” Myers explained.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of industry-led initiatives that are not necessarily circumventing the college system or the university system. Those are important for the basics, but for onsite training, or manageable training, a lot of that’s online now and is being developed by industry.”

The RBC report noted that indigenous Canadians currently make up a greater proportion of apprentices than their share of the population. And given that they are the fastest-growing cohort of Canadian youth, they have the potential to be an even bigger presence in the skilled trades workforce of the future.

Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.