Canada’s jobless rate refuses to fall below 7%, while employers increasingly complain they can’t fill vacancies for high-wage jobs. What’s going on? This MacLeans article explains.
The future of jobs in Canada
On a recent February evening, Karl Eve received an emergency call from a restaurant owner in Canmore, Alta. The busy eatery had suddenly found itself with no hot water, even though the basement hot water tanks appeared to be working fine. A plumber with 10 years’ experience, Eve eventually traced the problem to a malfunctioning dishwasher and got the hot water flowing again—much to the owner’s relief.
It’s the sort of detective work Eve says he loves about his job. He also likes that his plumbing business, which he runs with his wife in nearby Exshaw, provides his family with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. But it was a career he very nearly missed. Never a fan of textbooks, Eve ended up toiling in a southern Ontario gypsum mine after high school. It was only after moving to Alberta years later that he considered a career in the trades. A chance meeting at a church potluck led to a ride-along with a local plumber and, ultimately, an apprenticeship. “I discovered there was a lot to learn, especially when it came to math,” Eve says of his four years of training, which included eight weeks a year in a classroom. “The amount of education was very surprising to me, but in a positive way. I grasped it with both hands, so to speak.”
Eve’s story is more rare than it should be in Canada. Many consider the trades to be low-paying, go-nowhere jobs, if they consider them at all. But it’s a perception not grounded in reality, as Eve’s healthy hourly rate of $90 to $135 suggests. Nor is it one Canada can afford to maintain. Numerous studies warn Canada is facing a massive shortage of skilled workers over the next few decades as millions of baby boomers hit retirement age and exit the workforce.
At the same time, the nature of work itself is changing as the country transitions to a so-called knowledge economy that relies on a well-trained and highly educated workforce to produce value-added products and services. Those without the necessary skills could soon find themselves unemployable. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimates there will be 550,000 unskilled workers who won’t be able to find work by 2016. By 2021, it says, the number could be well over a million. At the same time, it’s estimated there will be 1.5 million skilled job vacancies in 2016, and 2.6 million by 2021.
Economists call it a skills “mismatch.” The country is in dire need of engineers, health workers and skilled tradespeople. Yet tens of thousands of students continue to pursue degrees in the arts and humanities. The result is an unemployment rate that refuses to fall below seven per cent (about 13.5 per cent among youth), while employers increasingly complain about vacant jobs that promise good wages—particularly in Western Canada, where the oil, gas and mining industries are booming. “The new phenomenon here is that we’re going to be seeing pockets of persistent high unemployment existing right alongside serious worker shortages in particular industries,” says Perrin Beatty, a former member of Parliament and the chamber’s CEO.
Read the rest of this article