Recruiting firm Hays PLC has completed a study examining the skills gap within thirty of the world’s developed economies. Canada places ninth on the list of countries with a severe skills shortage in their labour pool. In terms of the skills gap, Canada has come out ahead of Japan, Sweden, Germany and the United States to name a few. However, according to Hays PCL chief executive, Alistair Cox, who recently visited the country from Britain, the likelihood of improvement appears increasingly marginal.
According to the study, the deficiency is worsening in Canada due to tightened rules regarding foreign workers. These shortages are not thought to result purely from the health of the economy. Rather, they are more directly linked with government policy, the ability of educational systems to provide people with the correct skills, and the willingness of employers to facilitate on-job training of their workforces.
Hays notes that Canada “is starting to show some worrying trends that there is a gap between the skills available versus what industries are looking for.”
The construction industry, for example, is one which is very productive within the current Canadian economy yet lacks the full range of skills it requires in many cases. Mobile technology programmers and engineers are especially in demand.
“Sadly … there is a lot of friction in the system, which will make [the jobs mismatch] worse as the economy improves,” says Cox. “Jobs are being created, but we simply don’t have enough skills in the right place at the right time.”
Educational institutions remain lethargically entrenched in old models of skills development, while the demand within the labour market moves more fluidly and dynamically. Cox also states that, while this game of catch-up is being played, immigration laws are simultaneously being “tuned to mass and unskilled migration issues, as opposed to highly skilled migration.”
The federal government moved to make temporary work more difficult for foreigners earlier this year after a BC mining company sought to bring in 200 Chinese employees for one of their projects. Royal Bank of Canada employees also protested in the media that they were being asked to train foreign workers who they believed would then take their own jobs.
Cox maintains that those countries which have been most successful in narrowing the skills gap are those which have retained flexible immigration systems which can target specific professional skills. He names Australia and Singapore as two examples, though admits the rules in each country have tightened lately.
“[Immigration policy] has to be designed and developed by government in conjunction with what business wants. That linkage [needs to be] an absolutely iron bond,” he says.
The inability or unwillingness of skilled workers to relocate internally has been listed as a contributing factor in the skills versus jobs gap, yet Cox cites the Canadian case as one curiously unaffected by this idea, according to his data. As much as 80 percent of Canadian professionals are willing to relocate for work. “We see a greater degree of mobility in this country than we see in many other countries around the world,” Cox reveals.
It appears the skills gap is best tackled as he originally advises: by taking advantage of skilled people from abroad. If so, the trend of tightening regulations for foreign workers will likely prove counterproductive.
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