January 15, 2013
phil charalBy Phil Charal
LO president

I believe all of us agree that our industry’s biggest challenges are seasonality and labour shortages.

Despite having university degrees, young people are having problems getting jobs. Today’s youth have been strongly encouraged to seek a university degree and become a professional. Now we have a generation of young adults desperately — and in many cases unsuccessfully — looking for work in their chosen field. Yet, our industry must bring in foreign workers in order for our growers to exist.

Many young university grads are now working in the financial and corporate sectors for not much more than minimum wage.

I recognize that finally our government has put together a new immigration policy designed to attract more immigrants to Ontario, which will hopefully benefit our industry. But the problem is greater than belated attempts to resolve our immigration policy.

Our legislators at Queen’s Park seem to govern as though there is no problem that cannot be resolved simply by adding another level of bureaucracy.

Their greatest hits, scandal-wise, include the bureaucracy that created E-Health and the power plant procurement.

Now the province has recognized the very real problem of the looming shortage of skilled trades people. So the government created the Ontario College of Trades. This new regulatory body, which was to be fully operational by 2012, was to encourage more people to work in the trades.

It appears that it is not operational. Many in the trades are now speaking out against the $120 annual fee for membership in the College.

A large number of people in the trades feel the College will do nothing to provide more people coming into the skilled trades.

On the other hand, according to the government, the Ontario College of Trades is an industry-led organization that will protect the public interest by regulating and promoting the skilled trades. The College’s plan is to protect skilled trades professionals in a competitive and challenging economy by ensuring only workers who are certified will be hired. This will apply to those employers when bidding on major projects. Only those businesses with certified staff will be able to bid on projects.

I can only hope this is in fact the case and not another failed bureaucracy.

Despite rising unemployment in 2009, a Statistics Canada study that year found 24 per cent of Canadian companies were not able to find the right talent. The people most difficult to find were skilled trades. Studies by Skills Canada indicate that 40 per cent of new jobs in the coming decade will be in skilled trades or technology.

Meanwhile, throughout guidance offices and around the dining room table, most of the talk focuses on university educations. Statistics show just 26 per cent of young people between the ages of 13 to 24 are considering a career in the trades, while 57 per cent say their parents do not encourage them to consider a career in the trades.   

Canadians are turning their backs on skilled trades. As the baby boomers step away from the workforce within the next decade or two, experts predict Canada’s skills shortage could reach a million people.

So how do businesses prepare for this crisis? We must continue to improve our co-op and apprenticeship programs, as well as give our young people the opportunity for on-the-job experiences. We need to push back against the education establishment that assumes the best and brightest must go to university.

Most of all, we must encourage our young people to do work they love and want to do for many years.