Posted: Tuesday, 2 October 2012
(Presented October 2, 2012)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for the invitation to comment on the issue of skills gaps.
My name is Ken Georgetti, and I am the President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Before addressing the issue of a skills gap, we need to define what we mean.
The most recent information we have from the Labour Force Survey and the Job Vacancy Survey tells us that there are currently over five unemployed workers for every available job in the country.
Given this information, it is clear that our major problem in the job market is unemployment.
While some employers, in some sectors, in some geographic regions, may have difficulty filling some specific vacancies in a particular occupation, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has stated, in its labour market projections up to 2015, that we will be facing no sustained, generalized labour shortages.
With five unemployed workers for every job available, our main problem is unemployment — pure and simple.
This is not to say that any gap between available jobs and workers who are qualified to do them is acceptable.
It is not.
But let me assure you that if unemployed workers had the means to identify where the jobs were and had access to the training required to do those jobs, they’d jump at the chance.
Quite simply, if we find there is a shortage of workers with the skills required to fill a specific job — the answer is to train those workers.
What we may have is an “opportunity gap” rather than a “skills gap.”
If workers cannot access affordable and timely training for available jobs, it is an opportunity lost — for the worker, for the employer, and for the health of our economy.
In a report prepared for the G20 in 2010, it was estimated that a one per cent increase in training days leads to a three per cent increase in productivity.
Further, the share of the productivity growth attributable to training is around 16 per cent.
Unfortunately, according to the OECD, the participation of workers in work-related learning has fallen below the rates for workers in many industrialized countries.
At the same time as Canadian corporations are not meeting the level of workforce training being done by our competitors and trading partners, the Governor of the Bank of Canada confirms what we have been saying — that corporations are hoarding cash and sitting on half a trillion dollars in dead money.
Clearly it is a matter of priorities.
So, given the current levels of unemployment, the unsustainable high employment rates of our young people, and the continuing low participation rates of women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, and others in the labour market, we would recommend that efforts to overcome specific and potential skills gaps begin with training our people for the available jobs.
This will need, in part:
- the early identification of emerging skills shortages through sophisticated and timely labour market information;
- employers will need information on their current and future skills needs; and workers need easily accessible information on job trends;
- a rapid response to emerging skills shortages in specific jurisdictions. This response should include identifying training needs and mobilizing the resources to meet these needs; and
- we need to identify where training happens, and create the environment for this training to be improved and enhanced.
In general, we can identify the public school system, community colleges and other post-secondary institutions, and the workplace itself as primary locations for training to take place.
Specifically, in order to ensure that we have an efficient and effective labour market — in which employers can find workers and train their current workers, and in which workers can access the training required to meet their occupational needs and aspirations — our recommendations include:
- maintaining and increasing funding for the bilateral training provisions contained in the current Labour Market Agreements and Labour Market Development Agreements between the federal government and the provinces and territories;
- ensuring that the key labour market stakeholders (employers and workers) are involved in the development of labour market policies and programs through the development of labour market partner forums;
- models for these forums can be found in Newfoundland and Labrador in the Strategic Partnership Initiative, and in Quebec in the Commission des partenaires du marché du travail;
- incentives for employers to provide workplace training, including tax credits for employers who train, and a training levy based on the Quebec model;
- increased support for training in the Employment Insurance system, including work-sharing while working, and extending benefits for workers while in training; and
- continued and restored support for organizations which provide support and encouragement for the development and expansion of workplace-based training such as the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.
It is very discouraging to learn that only 14 per cent of young people say that they were encouraged to enter the skilled trades by guidance counsellors, while at the same time, our government is cutting funding to the primary national organization that supports and encourages the skilled trades through a healthy apprenticeship system.
Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the need for a national strategy on literacy and basic skills, and the embedding of literacy training in all work-related learning.
It is nothing short of a disgrace to think of the lost potential we suffer when we derail the aspirations and disregard the potential of workers due, simply, to the lack of access to programs which address literacy and essential skills.
To reiterate — the answer to our skills gaps lies in our current labour force and the will to develop that human resource to its full potential.