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Tackling Canada's skills shortage proves challenging

I had the pleasure of attending a Skills Manitoba event on April 10 and came away feeling good about the quality of young people being trained to lead the next generation of skilled labour in this province.

However, after reading some commentary from across the country and looking at our numbers here, I'm still concerned about the quantity of skilled labour for the future.

There is tremendous debate about jobs data. We see monthly and quarterly reports locally, provincially and nationally that tell us how many new jobs were created.

We constantly hear of mass migrations from the east to Alberta and an interprovincial net migration deficit in Manitoba. However, we also know that our population is growing.

Throughout Canada, there is a projected shortfall of skilled trades in the construction industry. Merely replacing retirements is enough of a challenge, let alone allowing for growth.

Some contend that the number of jobs and population trends are not the problem, that it's due to a skills mismatch. The education and skills that many young people bring to the table do not necessarily match up with the job openings that currently exist.

A team of researchers supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada recently looked at skills and labour markets and came to some interesting conclusions. They said that although specific fields may vary with cyclical trends, Canada is not likely to face a general shortage of skilled labour. This is due to longer work lives and the assumption that currently under-utilized groups (youth, aboriginals, disabled, immigrants) will become a greater part of the work force.

Employer-sponsored training programs result in a three- to five-per-cent increase in productivity. Family-owned businesses make up 45 per cent of Canada's GDP and half of the work force. However, they also tend to face greater professional management skills challenges.

So, as you can see, the problems may be very real, but the solutions are never easy. However, if we as a country and a province are to grow and develop, it is extremely important that we continue to pursue the answers.

Mike Moore is the president of the Manitoba Home Builders' Association.

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