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(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

CAROL WILDING AND MERV HILLIER

How human capital drives Canada’s cities Add to ...

Almost 70 per cent of Canada’s population, 90 per cent of our immigrants, and 96 per cent of our visible minority population live in large urban regions. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, it is the quality of this human capital which distinguishes high- and low-performing city regions.

Not surprisingly, where once cities competed to attract companies and inward investment, they now also try to lure a highly educated, skilled and mobile work force based on the amenities and quality of life they offer in their respective communities.

Likewise, the size and depth of a region’s labour market is a critical element in deciding where to locate or expand operations.

So how do Canada’s major city-regions, including its largest city, Toronto, rank against high-performing cities?

Part of the answer lies in the results of this year’s Scorecard on Prosperity, an annual report developed in partnership between the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Certified Management Accountants of Ontario.

On an annual basis, this international benchmarking study measures the Toronto Region’s economic performance against 23 other global and Canadian city regions. Previous scorecards focused on one key area of economic growth: This year, human capital received a closer examination.

From a Canadian perspective the results are quite positive. Based on a human capital index that measure variables such as unemployment and labour market participation rates, work force health and well-being, and skill levels, Canadian regions like Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver finish in the top of North American rankings ahead of Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Simply put, our cities are characterized by healthy, well-educated and diverse work forces. Indeed, Calgary and Toronto rank number one and two respectively on the proportion of adults with a post-secondary education, while Vancouver ranks first in the health index, just ahead of San Francisco and Toronto.

Nonetheless, these strong aggregate results shouldn’t blur the areas where we need to improve our human-capital performance. From a Toronto perspective, there’s an obvious need to employ more women. Whether it is female participation rates in the work force or the proportion of females in management positions, the region’s performance is near the bottom of peer North American city regions.

While Toronto ranks in the middle of the pack with respect to overall unemployment rate and youth unemployment, these rates remain high and need to be addressed immediately.

The problem of unemployment and underemployment amongst our youth and female population occur at a time when many industries in Canada are experiencing acute skills shortages. Part of the solution lies in better matching labour market supply with demands. Given the scale of the challenge, the solution needs to involve business, government and educational providers.

Together, these sectors can collaborate to develop life-long training that provide individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to succeed in today’s labour market. For business, this means exploring opportunities for increasing the number of internships and continued investment in work force training, and strengthening relationships with educational institutions.

Briefly, it’s worth commenting on human capital from the standpoint of lagging productivity performance, an ongoing concern at a national and provincial level. What’s clear in a Toronto context is that human capital is not a major contributing element to this competitiveness challenge.

Rather, as we’ve highlighted in previous Scorecard reports, overstretched transportation networks, weak venture capital markets and problems in commercializing R&D figure more prominently as factors undermining the ability of our workforce to contribute to productivity and overall economic growth.

In the end, the research and data tells us that there are no quick or easy fixes to improving our economic performance. As a recent OECD study highlighted, the most successful of regional economic strategies integrate all of these elements from infrastructure investments to skills training, pointing to the dangers of piecemeal approaches.

It is imperative that we strive for alignment of government, business, academic and public initiatives which would provide the required strategy to make the GTA increasingly competitive.

Fortunately, for the Toronto region and Canada, we start from the most solid of foundations in building effective economic strategies – our people.

Carol Wilding is president and CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade. Merv Hillier is president and CEO of the Certified Management Accountants of Ontario.

 

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