Skill Shortages: Weighing Employers' Views

March 21, 2014
Jock Finlayson

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While academic researchers and policy analysts continue to debate the extent and implications of skill shortages, employers in Canada seem convinced that shortages exist and are an important factor constraining business expansion.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has identified skill and broader labour shortages as among the most important competitive challenges facing their membership.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents more than 100,000 small and mid-sized companies, has long pointed to labour shortages as a critical problem.

And now, the “big business” community, in the form of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), has weighed in on the topic.

According to a recent survey that was completed by 100 of the country’s largest 150 enterprises, skills shortages are a fact of life in some regions and across a number of occupations. However, the CCCE also says the problem is not necessarily widespread, observing that “…Canada is not suffering from a comprehensive, national skills shortage.”

Selected highlights of the CCCE’s recent survey are summarized in the figure below.

From the standpoint of your company/industry's operations in Canada,
are shortages of skilled workers...

Source: Canadian Council of Chief Executives member survey.

Of interest, approximately two-thirds of the survey respondents describe skills shortages as a “big” or “moderate” problem for their company. But most do not yet see shortages as a major concern. Companies based or having operations in Western Canada were most likely to say they are being negatively affected by jobs/skills gaps.

By occupation, the CCCE reports that the most pronounced skills shortages today are in engineering, IT-related positions, “general business” occupations (including accounting and finance), and skilled trades. The large companies that comprise the CCCE’s membership also believe that these same occupational categories are where skills shortages will be most common over the next 5-10 years.

Although the CCCE’s analysis does not support the view that Canada currently faces a broadly-based skills crisis, it does signal that there are no grounds for complacency. In fact, it is sobering to learn that many large Canadian companies expect skill shortages will have “a medium or large impact” on their future projects and investments in Canada, even if this has not been the case up until now. Thus, planning for and addressing skills shortages is becoming a “key corporate risk” for corporate Canada. This no doubt helps to explain why the CCCE recently launched a major new initiative under the banner of "Taking Action: Jobs and Skills for the 21st Century."

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