We would like to think that we live in a Canada where women are the equal of men, where we encourage public transit, where both national languages thrive in the workplace.
In reality, not so much.
The National Household Survey on labour, education and work-related transportation – released Wednesday by Statistics Canada – reveals some encouraging trends, especially in educational attainment by women. But in the main, the world of work today bears a striking resemblance to the world of work half a century ago.
It’s terrific that 48 per cent of the work force is female today. But look at where they work.
Women make up 96 per cent of administrative assistants, 93 per cent of nurses, 84 per cent of cashiers, 97 per cent of early childhood educators, 79 per cent of waiters.
But 97 per cent of truck drivers are men, 98 per cent of carpenters, 74 per cent of janitors, 94 per cent of construction workers, 98 per cent of mechanics. Almost eight out of 10 apprentices are men.
Blue collar equals men. Pink collar equals women.
Younger women are better represented in the STEM fields (science and technology, engineering, math and computer sciences) then their older counterparts. But 61 per cent of those under 35 holding STEM degrees are men; only 39 per cent are women.
In non-STEM fields, which include humanities and social sciences, 66 per cent of younger degree holders are women and only 34 per cent men. And you know where the real money is to be found these days.
The 2013 federal budget announced major investments in labour training, to address the growing labour shortage in highly skilled occupations.
But although immigrants represent 25 per cent of the work force (aged 25 to 64), immigrant adults account for 51 per cent of workers with STEM degrees.
We’re not educating or training a highly skilled work force; we’re hiring it from offshore.
And we still get to our jobs the same way our parents did. First of all, fully 15.4 million Canadians commute to work; only 1.1 million work at home. So much for telecommuting.
Four out of five us drive to work in cars. Only 12 per cent of us take public transit, a whopping increase of one percentage point from five years ago. Only 1.3 per cent of us bike to work.
The federal government has spent decades trying to encourage bilingualism in the workplace. But only 1.7 per cent of us use English and French equally at work.
Outside Quebec, people are more likely to use a third language on a regular basis than French. That third language is most likely to be Chinese.
Another hard truth is that French-English bilingualism, to the extent it exists, is almost exclusively confined to the bilingualism belt along the Quebec-Ontario and Quebec-New Brunswick border.
In other words, we live in a country in which men and women continue to work in the fields where their parents worked; a country in which billions of investments in public transit have yet to shift people out of their cars; a country in which the solitudes rarely speak each other’s language.
So the next time our politicians tell us that we need to encourage girls to study science and math, to get workers out of cars and onto buses, to encourage bilingualism in the workplace, to retrain our work force for the new knowledge economy, here’s one question we might want to ask them: What do you plan to do differently, seeing as how most of what you’ve tried thus far has failed?