Efforts to lead young people into skilled trades paying off, but more work still required to curb shortage


By Ian Howcraft

Special to Ontario Construction Report

It’s hard not to be inspired about the future of Canada’s workforce after watching thousands of young people put their abilities to the test in recent high-stakes competitions for the skilled trades and technologies.

The 2019 Skills Ontario Competition in early May attracted more than 2,400 elementary, high school and post-secondary students, including approximately 65 who earned spots to compete in the national level competition. Five Ontario medalists were selected to the national team and will be travelling to Russia in August to represent Canada at the 2019 World Skills Competition.

Our country will be in good hands, judging by the skill and passion of these young competitors.

But as encouraging as it was to see these students succeed and showcase their abilities, the dire shortage of skilled workers facing Ontario remains daunting.

It’s estimated that Ontario will face a shortage of 190,000 skilled workers by 2020, according to the Conference Board of Canada. The shortage is projected to nearly triple to a staggering 560,000 vacancies in 2030.

These aren’t just numbers in a report. They represent real gaps that limit our competitiveness and our economy.

Consider the recently released 2019 Contractor Survey by the Ontario Construction Secretariat, which found that the skilled labour shortage was to blame for putting the brakes on the growth for many construction companies.

In part, the survey of 500 contractors found than 79 per cent of respondents said the growth of their company had slowed because they didn’t have enough qualified personnel and 76 per cent said their companies had turned down work because they didn’t have capacity to take it on.

Our demographics are currently working against us. As experienced workers in the skilled trades and technologies retire, too few people have the education, qualifications and training required to take over their positions.

We need to do more to interest young people in pursuing careers in these fields. We need to convince them and their families that the skilled trades and technologies offer rewarding positions where they can earn a good living and make valuable contributions.

Skills Ontario is proud of the role we’ve been able to play with our partners to introduce more young talent into these rewarding fields and help employers expand their workforce.

Over the past 30 years, we have developed a growing portfolio of programs and initiatives – such as hosting Canada’s largest skilled trades and technologies competition – to help students of all ages and backgrounds understand that they can find fulfilling career paths in the skilled trades and technologies. We also provide them, their parents, and their educators information on educational programs and work-experience programs that can help them pursue these positions.

We’re confident our message is getting through.

Of the more than 2,400 students from Grade 4 up to college and university who participated in the most recent Skills Ontario Competition, 70 per cent indicated they are planning to attend college to study or pursue an apprenticeship in the skilled trades and technologies.

We also deliver in-school presentations to up to 125,000 students from Grades 7 to 12 each school year to educate young people on the hundreds of career opportunities available in the construction, motive power, service, industrial and technology sectors. The vast majority of participants last year – 92 per cent – said the presentations helped them better understand opportunities available to them in the skilled trades. Our programming also includes hands-on summer camps for youth across the province, as well specialized programing for young women and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit audiences.

After three decades on the frontlines helping to promote the skilled trades and technologies, we have developed strong relationships with employers, educators, governments, and young people across the province.

We are ready to help Ontario do more to overcome the skills crisis and lead young people to pursue rewarding careers.

Ian Howcroft is the Chief Executive Officer of Skills Ontario, as well as a member of the OACETT Council and the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing.


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