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How Canada can solve its worsening skilled labour shortage

September 3, 2022

By Financial Post

Maybe you’ve seen the ads?

The premier of Alberta recently launched a $2.6-million “Alberta is calling” ad campaign, aimed at poaching skilled talent from Toronto and Vancouver. Setting aside the questionable wisdom of serving up Jason Kenney in rolled shirt sleeves as bait for millennial and gen-Z workers, Alberta can be forgiven for at least trying to address a skills shortage that threatens the province’s economic growth — and, as it turns out, the economic growth of the entire country.

Indeed, Canada is suffering from a serious shortage of workers with digital and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, all amid low unemployment and a tight labour market.

It’s not a new problem, and such shortages were plaguing employers before the pandemic started. But demand for skilled labour has only increased while supply has not kept pace, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute published Tuesday.

Prior to COVID-19, employers were short on skills ranging from basic digital skills (five per cent) and computer science (16 per cent) to information technology (10 per cent) and data science and analytics (14 per cent).

Meanwhile, employer demand for digital skills in digital-oriented jobs alone grew by more than 80 per cent between Feb. 2020 and Nov. 2021, the report said.

To solve the shortage, Canada must work to attract skilled talent to the country while also developing the current workforce’s skills by investing in reskilling and upskilling, argues Parisa Mahboubi, a senior policy analyst at C.D. Howe and author of the report. The government should look to graduates, newcomers, career transitioners, discouraged workers and out-of-workforce people as potential additions the labour pool to meet digital demand, Mahboubi wrote.

Immigration could be a useful tool as well, Mahboubi argues, if federal and provincial governments target the admission of immigrants who previously held study-permit status, particularly in STEM fields.

“The federal government should also ensure that the combined temporary and permanent immigration programs sufficiently increase the supply of newcomers with digital skills and that skilled immigrants receive the tailored support they need to integrate successfully into the labour market and to eliminate the underemployment of skilled immigrants,” Mahboubi said in a news release.

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