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Issue in Focus — Labour Shortages in Skilled Trades – The Best Guestimate? 

Report Highlights


Labour shortages are difficult to observe and to measure directly.

Employers’ surveys used to assess shortages and potential deficiencies are subjective and tend to overestimate the tightness of the labour market, whereas otherwise reliable economic indicators may suffer from biased and imprecise interpretation, subjectivity, and reliance on reasonable, yet indeterminate assumptions.

Pan-Canadian assessment of labour shortages is not informative.

This approach may conceal instances of imbalance at a more detailed regional level with excess demand for the skilled trades in some provinces and industries contradicted by excess supply of workers in those trades in other regions and industries.

The regional analysis of labour shortages is seriously limited by the availability of information on unemployment at the occupational level.

Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey suppresses estimates of the unemployment rate for all of the examined trades in Alberta and Saskatchewan as those estimates are considered to be below the reliability threshold. The lack of information on unemployment leaves little room for assessing the presence of labour shortages.

Labour shortages occurred rather sporadically and did not persist for more than one year at a time over the past ten years.

The Motor Vehicle Mechanics trade experienced labour shortages most often compared to other selected trades: 2006 and 2011 in Ontario, and in 2003, 2005, and 2010 in Québec. The machinery and transportation equipment mechanics trade likewise experienced labour shortages more than once; however, the shortages were likewise occasional and spread geographically.

Deriving provincial estimates of the future labour shortages at the occupational level of detail is a daunting undertaking.

The assumption regarding industry growth rate is highly influential in the assessment of labour imbalances. Stronger than average pan-Canadian economic growth does not always lead to an increased likelihood of labour shortages in a particular trade concentrated in a particular industry.

The age structure of skilled trades and labour mobility barriers are not likely to seriously influence labour shortages in trades.

A large proportion of skilled trades enjoy a noticeably younger age structure than all other occupations. Trades where the number of workers in the early stages of their careers exceeds the number of those close to retirement account for 64% of all skilled trades. The Red Seal Program and recent amendments to the Labour Mobility Chapter of the Agreement on Internal Trade are naturally intended to facilitate increased labour and skills mobility.

Some form of educational barrier may exist in skilled trades.

The number of registered apprentices nearly doubled in both nominal and relative terms over the past two decades accounting for nearly a quarter of all workers in skilled trades in 2010. However, the growth in completions of apprenticeships has been less remarkable.

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CGA-Canada | Last Updated: July 17, 2012