2 million unfilled Ont. jobs by 2031: Study

And 700,000 workers will be unemployable

The recession may have eased labour shortages in the short term but Canada’s aging population and an improperly trained workforce could result in Ontario having nearly two million unfilled skilled jobs and 700,000 unemployable workers by 2031, according to a report.

But the province will start feeling the effects as early as next year when there will be 500,000 skilled job vacancies, found People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People: Ontario’s Labour Market Future.

“Without effective action, we face a future with large numbers of unskilled workers looking for jobs that require skills they do not possess and a large number of jobs that will go unfilled,” said Rick Miner, president and CEO of Miner & Miner Management Consultants in Toronto and author of the report.

The report examined data from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Finance, Statistics Canada and a recent United States government study.

The emergence of a knowledge economy, and the premium it places on a skilled labour force, will only compound Ontario’s potential labour shortfall of 1.8 million workers, mostly due to retiring baby boomers.

“You can’t look at those as separate things. They in fact are very closely integrated and you won’t solve the knowledge problem by improving demographics and you won’t improve the demographic problem by solving the knowledge problem,” said Miner

By 2031, 77 per cent of jobs will require post-secondary education, be it an apprenticeship, a diploma, a degree or a professional qualification, he said.

About 60 per cent of current workers have such credentials and that proportion is expected to increase slightly to 66 per cent by 2031 as younger people finish their studies and enter the workforce, said Miner.

This discrepancy in supply and demand will lead to nearly two million skilled vacancies in Ontario by 2031, found the report. Conversely, about 700,000 people won’t have the necessary skills to land jobs.

Research in Motion (RIM), based in Waterloo, Ont., is already feeling the effects of the skills shortage, said Paul Swinwood, executive director of the Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC).

RIM has 3,500 jobs it can’t fill despite the fact there are 26,000 unemployed people in the area, he said.

“Welcome to the skills mismatch,” said Swinwood.

ICTC has identified several jobs facing skills shortages, including business systems analysts, IT business managers and system engineers.

Not only must Ontario’s labour force be increased to compensate for the baby boomers’ retirements but the skills of the workforce also need to adapt to meet the needs of a knowledge-based economy, said Miner.

While increasing the number of skilled immigrants will help, it’s not enough because immigrants have a lower labour force participation rate than native-born Canadians, said Miner. Participation rates among under-represented groups such as Aboriginals, women and people with disabilities also need to be increased.

Young people are another source of labour but many university graduates go to college to become employable, slowing their entry into the labour force. Combining university and college programs would speed up this process, said Miner.

“We really need to concentrate on a flexible education delivery system and one that can respond very quickly to new trends in employment,” he said.

Attitudes around post-secondary training also need to change and more people need to see it as a necessity, not just an expense, said Miner. Schools also need to focus on digital literacy, said Swinwood.

“As you move up the digital literacy level, it increases your opportunity to not be one of the 700,000 (unemployable Ontarians).”

To ensure graduates enter the labour force with the right skills, industry needs to work with educational institutions, said Miner.

“They need to get actively involved and that may require some increased levels of investment. They have a stake here and they can’t simply assume that everything will be delivered by the public sector,” he said.

HR policies will also have to change to address the new reality, said Miner. For many years there was more supply than demand but now HR professionals will have to look at policies to keep older workers on the job longer and ensure under-represented groups are being fully utilized.

“The real insightful HR professional is going to start thinking now about what they will need one, two, three years from now in terms of policy changes that will allow them to fulfill the HR needs of the corporation,” said Miner.

Even now, companies in the bio-economy (bio-fuels, bio-energy and bio-technology) are reporting unfilled positions in research and development, general management, manufacturing and marketing, said Colette Rivet, executive director of BioTalent Canada.

BioTalent Canada is working with companies to find ways to help unemployed people from other industries transition into bio-economy positions by upgrading their transferrable skills, such as manufacturing or marketing, to meet the needs of a scientific-oriented field, said Rivet.

“The needs are right now, so we’re trying very hard to speed up and get them going,” she said.

By 2011, the construction industry will face the same struggle to find workers it experienced in 2008, mostly due to the aging workforce, government investment in infrastructure projects and a rebounding economy, said George Gritziotis, executive director of the Construction Sector Council.

This is a recipe for disaster because when there aren’t enough people with the right skills for the job, companies end up hiring “warm bodies,” he said.

“Productivity and safety are the two things that suffer.”

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