Skills shortages cost Ontario economy $24.3 billion annually: Conference Board

Post-secondary graduates in science, engineering and technology most in demand

Ontario is losing out on as much as $24.3 billion in economic activity and $3.7 billion in provincial tax revenues annually because employers cannot find people with the skills they need to innovate and grow in today’s economy, according to a Conference Board of Canada report.

“This is money that could provide substantial economic and social benefits to Ontarians. Closing the skills gap could help the province reduce public debt or invest in much needed infrastructure improvements,” said Michael Bloom, vice-president, organizational effectiveness and learning, and author of The Need to Make Skills Work: The Cost of Ontario’s Skills Gap.

Skills gaps currently affect much of Ontario’s economy, including sectors that account for almost 40 per cent of employment: manufacturing; health care; professional, scientific and technical services; and financial industries. Skills gaps are projected to worsen if action is not taken, said the report.

“Ontario cannot afford to live with a skills gap of this magnitude. The need for action is urgent, since changes in education will take years to bear fruit in the labour force,” said Bloom.

To get a clear picture of employers’ skills needs, the Conference Board conducted the Ontario Employer Skills Survey. More than 1,500 Ontario employers participated.

Survey results show that employers most need post-secondary graduates in science, engineering and technology; and business and finance. The most widespread needs are for employees with two- or three-year college diplomas (57 per cent); four-year degrees (44 per cent); and trades (41 per cent).

The negative impact on the Ontario economy goes beyond the issue of skills shortages. Another issue with economic consequences is skills mismatches in the labour force —individuals whose skills and training are not being fully utilized in the jobs they have.

The Conference Board estimates that these mismatches, by themselves, cost Ontario’s economy and workers up to $4.1 billion in foregone gross domestic product (all GDP figures in 2002 dollars) and $627 million in provincial tax revenues annually (all tax revenue figures in current dollars). Many post-secondary education graduates have skills and training in sectors with few available jobs. In addition, employers sometimes fail to make the most of their employees’ skills and talents, said the report.

To help alleviate Ontario’s skills gaps, employers can increase their training and development investments and provide more experiential learning opportunities — such as apprenticeships, co-op placements, and paid internships.

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