By Janet Lane
Published in the Globe and Mail

November 17, 2022

The Canadian economy created 100,000 jobs in October, according to the latest Statistics Canada labour force report, and the national unemployment rate is at a record low level. And yet, in Canada today there is both a labour shortage and a skilled worker shortage.

In many parts of the country, these shortages combine to leave businesses unable to fill jobs and unable to meet demand for their products and services. Of the one million job postings at the end of September, almost half had been open for more than 60 days. Businesses stagnate when they cannot find the workers they need. This in turn stifles economic growth.

Meanwhile, the lives of the almost one million people looking for work are financially precarious and emotionally stressful.

For people and the economy to thrive, Canada needs to do a better job matching people with jobs and jobs with people.

At least a quarter of the available jobs do not require more than a high-school diploma. And there are more than enough people without education beyond high school looking for work. Clearly there is a mismatch of skills – even in so-called, lower-skilled jobs.

There’s a mismatch because even low-skilled jobs have some specific requirements, including basic competencies such as literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, communication and collaboration. Many people, even those with a high-school diploma, do not have high enough levels of these competencies.

In the federal government’s recent fall economic update, the Finance Minister once again announced hundreds of millions of dollars for training programs. This is on top of the billions of dollars that the government already sends to the provinces and territories for work force development. Yet many of the available training programs fail to ensure their graduates find work because the programs are not training people specifically for jobs available in their communities.

Research has led the Canada West Foundation to recommend an overhaul of the training system for many of the available jobs that do not require postsecondary education. Necessary changes can come about through these six strategies:

  • Develop a pan-Canadian competency framework. Competency statements provide a shared language to describe knowledge, skills and attributes of each competency. Competency-based job profiles use these statements to build job descriptions. A competency framework shows individuals and training-program providers the competencies and level of competence each job requires and the competency pathways to and between jobs. While individual employers have specific needs, basic competency-based job profiles can and should be standardized for the industry sector. Sector councils, employer associations and training providers are best placed to build and link job competency profiles into frameworks.
  • Assess individuals for the competencies they already have and identify their competency gaps. No one comes to the labour market totally unskilled, especially recent immigrants, but they are routinely treated as if they have no competencies at all.
  • Individuals should also be assessed for their interests and aptitudes and be provided with information about what jobs entail – competence is only one part of a good job match.
  • Individuals who are matched with and then hired into their best-fit job are then provided with training while in the job. Modularized job training programs can teach the required competencies. Canned curriculum and training that insists all individuals start at lesson one is a waste of time and money for people and employers.
  • Life skills and basic literacy, numeracy, problem-solving and communication skills are hugely important and often what is most missing from an individual’s competencies. They are most effectively and efficiently taught in combination with more technical job skills while on-the-job. Teaching adults these skills without providing context for how they are used in the workplace does not help them to retain their learning.
  • And finally, employers need to provide on-the-job training. Employers can no longer demand job-ready candidates – they need to be part of the training ecosystem. Some employers might consider the cost of on-the-job training too high, but it is surely lower than the costs of unfilled positions, high turnover and low productivity of underskilled employees.

A new system as outlined would help to ensure that the billions of dollars transferred to the provinces and territories for work force training matches people with jobs and jobs with people. This will improve outcomes for individuals, reduce the number of unfilled jobs and, ultimately, grow the economy.

Janet Lane is director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation