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Construction workers are photographed at Union Station in Toronto June 13, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Construction workers are photographed at Union Station in Toronto June 13, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Time to lead

Gaping holes in our knowledge of the labour market Add to ...

The report, which pegged the cost of bolstering labour-market information at less than $13-million, has since been shelved. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Mr. Drummond said.

WONKY PROJECTIONS

The other problem when considering future labour-market needs is that Canada isn’t doing a great job of using its current pool to its full potential. While the national jobless rate is 7.4 per cent, it’s much higher for other pockets of the population – 15.2 per cent for aboriginal people living off-reserve, 13.9 per cent for youth and 13.6 per cent for recent immigrants.

Gigi Mathews is part of the latter group. He and his wife arrived in Canada in 2009 from Kuwait, where he’d spent the past decade as a marketing professional, moving up to the executive level and working at global firms like Nokia Corp. He has a science degree and a master of business administration from India, and is fluent in English and Malayalam with conversational Hindi and Arabic.

He decided to emigrate after reading a government of Canada website, in 2006, predicting marketing jobs would grow at about 30 to 40 per cent a year. He arrived in the thick of the recession – but even with the recovery, he’s been unable to find a job in his field.

“It looked like there were good opportunities available and that’s what I was banking on,” said Mr. Mathews, who now has a survival job in a warehouse.

It’s a tale all too familiar to Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a private foundation that promotes equity and prosperity through leadership building. “In Canada, we are uniquely unable to make labour-market projections in a timely manner,” she said. “We make projections, and we go out and recruit and bring people, but by the time we’ve brought them here, the shortage is gone.”

Rather than focusing on a narrow set of skills, she said, Canada would be better off focusing on people with broader experience, language skills and education who are more able to adapt to a fluid labour market. Indeed, past research has shown these newcomers are more apt to land jobs and generate higher earnings than people with a specific set of skills and little English.

Outside of the oil patch, few employers are reporting labour shortages.

But that’s starting to shift. In Ontario’s tech hub, at least 2,000 tech jobs are currently unfilled in the Waterloo region, according to Communitech, which represents the industry.

“Tech companies consistently tell us that finding talent is their No. 1 challenge,” said CEO Iain Klugman. Many of the jobs are in software development, but other unfilled positions include engineers, project managers, product managers, sales managers, technical writers and quality assurance analysts.

The paradox is that the region’s jobless rate is still above 7 per cent, underscoring the challenge of matching employers’ needs to employees’ skills.

Elsewhere, Engineers Canada predicts skills shortages in the industry until 2018. It and Randstad Canada, a staffing firm, say some occupations are already in short supply – such as industrial and manufacturing and aerospace positions.

One reason job-market forecasts fail is that they merely extrapolate from past growth rates, said Craig Riddell, economics professor at the University of British Columbia. And historical growth doesn’t necessarily tell much about the future. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t try – we should present people with information,” he said.

His suggestion: collect more information from local sources on the front lines of the jobs market – from college educators to companies – on changes in labour demand. And make the data nationally available, so job seekers can pinpoint where the needs are.

“But we should make it clear,” he said, “that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these predictions and that many times in the past they’ve not turned out to be very accurate.”

READERS WEIGH IN

What kind of jobs will hold the most potential for future working Canadians?

That's the question The Globe recently put to its readers who are part of the select Globe Catalyst community, and to readers via Facebook. The overwhelming answer? Trades are the most dependable type of work for Canadians.

Globe Catalyst Ted Goulden: “I have been so wrong about this kind of thing so many times in the past. Twenty years ago, I would have answered computer programmers, mailmen, stock brokers, pilots, teachers and newspaper reporters! Right now, technical and journeyman skills related to the energy industry look promising.”

Reader Adam Lingenfelter via Facebook: “Not everyone can afford to go beyond a simple bachelor's degree, and even that nowadays doesn't get you very far. My advice: Get a trade, get a skill, and you're set.”

Reader Mary Lou LaLonde Cronin via Facebook: “The world will always need electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters, etc. The trades are wide open and the money is great.”

Reader Kriddy Hansen via Facebook: “Trades of course – skills you will have for life, they can't be taken away from you! The sky will be your limit, you can go as far as you want.”

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