CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: Competition stiff for skilled workers

The mining industry is well aware that there is a shortage of skilled workers. We have seen large numbers of trades...


The mining industry is well aware that there is a shortage of skilled workers. We have seen large numbers of tradesmen (and women) rush to Alberta to work on the multi-billion-dollar oil sands projects, leaving other parts of the country short-handed.

But, the skills shortage is not confined to the mineral industry. Competition for skilled workers is stiffer than ever as all industries are feeling the pinch.

The INVESTING IN SKILLS coalition was launched this week in Ottawa to bring voters' attention to the growing skills shortage and call on party leaders to debate the problem before the federal election on Oct. 14. This is a national coalition of business, education, health and labour associations.

"The shortage of skilled workers is crippling our country's economy," said Paul Charette, chairman of the Canadian Construction Association, and coalition chair. "In the construction sector alone, close to 260,000 new workers are needed over the next eight years."

The Canadian mining industry needs 81,000 new people, by some estimates. They are needed to fill new positions and replace the large numbers of workers who will retire from the mining industry within the next few years. Every other industry in the nation probably has needs in the five-figure range, too. That's a lot of jobs for candidates to choose from. And these are skilled jobs requiring advanced education or lengthy apprenticeships. It takes planning and preparation to produce qualified individuals.

The skills coalition has some suggestions for easing the shortage, if not overnight, then in the near future. The task will require a number of specific policy responses ranging from immigration to employment insurance to added investments in apprenticeship and post-secondary education. The scope, complexity and urgency of the issue require political will on a national scale, says the coalition.

"As our country braces for more economic uncertainty, we can choose to invest in a skilled workforce that can compete with the best the world has to offer, or we can continue to turn our back to the problem and force employers to fight among themselves for an ever-more scarce resource," said Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. "In part, this election will be about making that choice."

I doubt that the skills shortage will become the deciding factor in the federal election. But it is something to consider when choosing a party that supports education and skills mobility.


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