Canada needs a mindset shift to fix the skills gap

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As Boomers get closer to reaching their golden years, the country doesn’t appear to be any closer to fixing the skills gap that will exist when these hardworking Canadians retire. The scope of this problem is evident in the numbers — in the next 20 years, roughly eight million Canadians will be ready to retire, and their positions will need to be filled.
A majority of Canadians — more than 90% — are worried about the skills shortage and skills gap and believe it will continue to be an issue of importance in 2014, the recent Randstad Labour Trends Study found. And Canada risks falling behind and losing its competitive edge globally, having a direct long-term effect on Canada’s economy.

To bridge the gap, Canadians need to change their mindset in the way they perceive skilled trades. The study revealed that more than 75% view a skilled trade as less respected and old-fashioned in comparison to “white collar” work, even though building a career in a skilled trade can pay anywhere from $40,000 to more than $100,000 a year. Another reason Canadians haven’t considered a skilled trade as a career path is the lack of knowledge about what the skilled trade industry has to offer, 79% of those polled cited.
When asked about the reasoning behind the dismal number of Canada’s next generation of skilled trade workers, 45% of Boomers said the brunt of the problem fell in the hands of educators and lack of promotion of the skilled trades industry. In addition, Canadians felt that companies are also responsible for investing more when it comes to training existing employees to keep their skills relevant and up to speed in the marketplace.
Another pain point for respondents was inadequate government funding for job training. The controversial Canada Job Grant looks like it will finally be introduced — a positive development for the 20% of Canadians that said if properly implemented and run, the program would help address the issue in the short and long term.
The program would give employers up to $15,000 for each employee for training to ensure their skills are up to date. Regardless whether this is facilitated through the Job Grant or partnerships with specialized technical schools, organizations concerned about the skills gap need to be proactive with training programs, apprenticeships and mentoring to ensure the knowledge transfer between older and younger workers.
On the other side, young Canadians need to develop an appreciation for a skilled trades’ degree, which involves family members seeing this as a rewarding career path. Sixty-four per cent of respondents in the Randstad survey admitted they felt pressured by family members to build a future in “white collared” work. However, studying a skilled trade means having a strong academic foundation across many pillars including mathematics, literacy, problem solving and creativity. There’s also more than 8,000 hours of on-the-job training in addition to the in-class seminars and testing that is typical of any degree.
Developing a strong career in a skilled trade doesn’t necessarily translate into intensive physical labour or being covered in dust from dawn until dusk. Many skilled trade workers are using the most sophisticated equipment and cutting-edge technologies, and are well on their way (if not already there) to developing specialized and advanced technical skills that will remain in demand for generations.
A shift in perception is critical: it must begin with families and educators and include governments and organizations. Without it, the country runs the risk of being part of a cycle in which the skills gaps are never filled. Anything less than this will result in a lack of workers needed to drive the economy and maintain the infrastructure that supports every generation.
Tom Turpin is president of Randstad Canada, Canada’s largest staffing, recruitment and HR services provider.
Special to Financial Post | March 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Tags: skilled trades, skills gap | Categories: Careers | URL: http://wp.me/pMyQt-1LBz