Case Study: Menard Canada
In 2014, the British Columbian Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) predicted that “British Columbia is expected to experience a significant shortage in skilled workers by 2018.” This forecasted shortage represented a serious concern for the BCCC, wherein the number of workers qualified to enter into engineering, skilled trades, and STEM fields broadly did not seem sufficient to meet the demand for such work in the province and across the country. To remedy this looming crisis, the BCCC reported that the Ministry of Education sought to increase the number of K-12 students enrolling in trades programs by a staggering 50%.1
The shortage itself results from a confluence of obstacles including access to education or funding, bias against skilled trades versus university education, and an aging workforce that retains seniority within the industry. In 2014, the Ministry would attempt to remedy the shortage by “informing school career counsellors, teachers, educators, parents, and students about the merits of working in the trades; […] encouraging school districts to raise the profile of technical training and careers in trades, and to address capacity issues by working with public post-secondary institutions and industry to meet the needs of their community; […] promoting pathways that help students explore their interest in trades and technical occupations, and identify the courses and certifications they need to get there; and, inviting employers to help shape new curriculum and graduation requirements.”1
The shortage is still a problem in 2020, however, with Ian Howcroft for Plant reporting that by 2030, Ontario is on track for a “staggering” skilled labour shortage of 560,000 unfilled positions.2 So, despite recent promotion of skilled trades and STEM fields within K-12 educational environments (which have seen some successes) why is Canada still facing a shortage, and what can be done to curb it?
Welcoming New Skilled Workers
Companies in Canada place a high premium on work experience and seniority within Canada specifically, as engineers or skilled workers educated and trained in Canada are already familiar with national codes and standards. The problem lies in the size of the job pool, which remains small.
However, Canada now has many newcomers that have immigrated in recent years with ample training and education to fill these positions.3 But because they are too experienced for entry-level roles, and, in tandem, don’t have enough Canadian experience, they may struggle to find rewarding employment.
For all these reasons, employers experience what they believe to be a shortage of candidates, whereas candidates eager to learn and develop their career are stuck in between junior and senior roles — unless some of those employers are willing to invest in training them early in their employment period.
This pool of immigrants to Canada that are trained in skilled trades or STEM represents an invaluable resource that could greatly lessen the strain on the skilled trades industry. Re-orienting the hiring process to accommodate these workers could fill thousands of open positions.
Addressing the Labour Shortage in Skilled Trades and Engineering
There are a few key strategies companies could undertake to staff their ranks with top quality candidates.
Pursuant to the above, companies should begin targeting immigrants with a background in engineering and skilled trades and offer them the opportunity to learn the Canadian standards and codes. This investment is mutually beneficial and puts the expertise of amply trained immigrants to use.4 Companies may even offer the opportunity of a salary increase once such employees have accomplished their initial goal of gaining Canadian experience to attract and retain talent.
When considering homegrown talent, companies could start by targeting skilled candidates with previous Canadian experience and offer them additional training, career development opportunities and the ability to climb the ranks. By creating a rich and engaging work environment based on upward mobility, employees will be less likely to look elsewhere for work.
Lastly, for skilled tradespeople new to the industry, companies could develop internal training programs for brand-new Engineers, for example, to help cultivate expertise in the areas that are currently lacking. By creating a work environment like the one mentioned above, which is rewarding and inspiring, employee turnover may not be an issue.
It seems like common sense that immigrants with backgrounds in skilled trades and engineering would be a natural fit to help Canada overcome its labour shortage, but the industry will only be able to take advantage of this exceptional talent pool through thoughtful policy and training mobilization and specific hiring. For this investment, however, the right hire could pay dividends.