Canada needs to encourage more youths to pursue skilled trade jobs

Credit: Adobe Stock/Aleksei

You may have noticed lately that it can take weeks to book a technician to look at your furnace, or that scheduling an appointment to have your car repaired means longer waits than you’re used to.

These are concrete signs of a skills shortage – a problem that will only get worse if not addressed immediately.

The importance of crafting professions is easily overlooked. Unless someone works in the trade or knows someone who does, the reason why fewer plumbers are still working might not be so obvious — that is, until the faucet starts leaking or a pipe bursts.

We rely on handymen to keep our utilities running, repair our appliances, build and maintain our roads, and many other things central to our daily lives. The lack of pilots and mechanics is one of the many problems contributing to the crisis in the travel industry.

Recovery from COVID-19

More insidious and menacing than prolonged waits are the devastating effects that lack of trade is having on businesses. Many not only struggle to grow without a sufficient workforce, but also find it difficult to keep up with demand.

An October survey of Canadian manufacturers and exporters of 445 companies found that labor shortages have significantly hampered the retail sector’s recovery from COVID-19.

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Forty-two percent of respondents said their companies lost or rejected contracts or paid penalties for late deliveries due to labor shortages. About 17 percent of respondents said their company is considering emigrating from Canada to find workers. Seventy-seven percent of companies said their top concern is attracting and retaining a skilled workforce.

As artisans become scarcer, it becomes harder to keep things running and more expensive to pay for their labor when we can find them. These problems, in turn, make it difficult to attract businesses to Ontario and Canada.

lack of trade workers

In part, the shortage is a matter of demographics. The baby boomers who built, fixed, maintained, baked, and helped make communities work are retiring, and more waves of retirement will be upon us in the years to come. BuildForce Canada projects that by 2027 approximately 13 percent of the construction sector will reach retirement age.

The problem is not just that these workers are retiring, but that they are not being replaced. The stigma that has developed as a handyman is one reason for this.

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Although many handymen can make far more money than many so-called professionals, most children grow up thinking that college is the best and most respected post-secondary option, and community colleges and trade schools are viewed as secondary fallback options.

Immigration – a potential source of new tradespeople – is also not closing the gap. There are barriers that prevent newcomers from taking up the professions learned in their home countries and practicing them in Canada.

Also, as the supply of artisans continues to shrink, the next generation of artisans will find it more difficult to find apprenticeships because fewer mentors will be available to train them.

Close the gap

Luckily, there are a few tactics that can help address the current lack of artisans. These strategies include:

  • Removing barriers to entry for women and minorities into the workforce, including promoting workplace cultures that welcome them and help them adapt.
  • More hands-on learning, earlier in life, to stimulate interest in crafts and how to be successful and entrepreneurial as a craftsman.
  • Highlight role models to show how rewarding a career in craft can be.

Ontario has allocated $200 million through its Skills Development Fund to provide job seekers with the skills and education they need for high-paying jobs. Much of this fund focuses on the craft trades by supporting pre-training schemes.

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As employment researchers, we examined one such program, the Tools in the Trades Bootcamp presented by Support Ontario Youth on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

The program consisted of 59 intensive, one-day boot camp sessions across Ontario from September 2021 to March 2022. It included 46 sessions for high school students and 13 for targeted adults, focusing on construction, industrial, service and transportation careers.

Participants reported an improved appreciation for working in the trades and an increased intention to pursue a career in the field. They also made new connections with colleagues with similar interests, potential mentors and potential employers.

While our analysis shows promising results for tackling the skills shortage, these bootcamps are just the beginning to address the problem. More initiatives and programs, both at the provincial and federal levels, and from both the public and private sectors, are needed to form and break down the barriers for individuals entering the craft.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.