The past 6 months have been a particularly active time in the media regarding the shortage of skilled workers in the region. Edmonton, along with many other areas of Alberta, have long rallied for faster immigration processes and specifically fast tracking skilled workers from abroad through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
Owing to a few documented cases of program abuse, the federal government has reacted by moving in the other direction through program changes (such as the LMO process) requiring employers to spend more time, effort, and expense proving their labour needs cannot be satisfied through existing resources in Canada first. The focus clearly was to appease the large voting population in Central Canada where unemployment rates are significantly higher. The irony of all this is that most provinces have said they too are experiencing skilled labour shortages. Although general unemployment levels are higher in these areas, much needed trades and specialized professionals are in short supply throughout much of the country.
My sense is the federal government is coming around to this reality but the short term problem for Alberta employers is likely to remain.
While all this is going on nationally, I think another significant issue is brewing internationally. As developing countries continue to grow their economies and increasingly utilize technology, there will be pressure to retain more skilled workers at home. As wages improve so too will standards of living and hence begin a significant shift away from the need to go abroad for a better life as it becomes increasingly available locally.
Given all of the above the only logical long term solution is a very focussed effort at “growing our own” to reduce reliance on developing nations and federal government policy on imported labour. The recent federal budget announcement showed the beginnings of policy to encourage just that.
Although I’m somewhat encouraged but the latest developments, I think the perception of the “influencers” of our future workers will also need to change. What I mean by this is a perception still exists by many parents, educators and other important people in a student’s life that still see a university education as THE MOST desireable outcome for a prosperous life. That higher professions are the ticket to wealth and happiness while trades are predominately for those who do not have the scholastic standing to make the cut for university entrance.
I believe we require a paradigm shift in our thinking to more of a European prospective – that trades are absolutely necessary and of no less stature in the social fabric than university graduation. The Germans for example have been studied for their ideology and approach to apprenticeship training.
We too will need to overcome some current challenges of our apprenticeship program to make this shift a reality.
If we take the approach that for the majority, education is to develop people into good citizens, to acquire basic skills and competencies to interact well in society, and to acquire a skillset that will provide employment opportunities for self-sufficiency, then we must look at all forms of training as equally valued and necessary to sustain an growing economy.