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Jobs Ottawa falls short providing solid labour data, study says

The silhouette of a Bluboy Developments contractor is seen as he works while standing on beams in a new home under construction at the Parsons Creek development in Fort McMurray.

Brett Gundlock/Bloomberg

A new evaluation of the quality of labour-market information in Canada concludes the federal government is doing a "poor" job of delivering solid data.

"Good information is the basis of good decisions, but when it comes to information about Canada's labour market, the federal government is delivering a poor performance," a release by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says.

Its report card rating the government's performance on labour-market information gives mostly "C" grades in areas like future labour-force needs or in-demand skills.

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Criticism has grown over jobs-data quality, especially in recent years as Statistics Canada's budget has been cut and some surveys discontinued, such as the survey of labour and income dynamics. Murky areas include job vacancies in cities, local unemployment rates and how recent grads are faring in the labour market.

The report card was designed by the chamber, with input from economist Don Drummond and representatives from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and the Institute for Research on Public Policy. It assesses whether Canadian businesses, educators and job-seekers are getting the information they need to understand the current and future jobs market.

The chamber gives a "B" grade when it comes to labour-force needs by geographic area. It assigns "C-minuses," however, for providing information on future labour needs and work force training.

"Despite the millions of dollars spent by government on labour-market information, employers cannot get answers to simple questions to help them find workers with the skills they need," said Perrin Beatty, the chamber's president and CEO. "Students, their parents, educators and employers are making critical decisions without the best information to inform them. That has to change."

The federal government came under fire last year for relying on a software program which included Kijiji online job listings, which in turn erroneously showed rising job vacancies. It responded to critics last year by announcing a $14-million investment in a new Statscan survey that will give more details on job openings and wage trends.

It comes after a 2009 panel on labour market information, led by Mr. Drummond, made recommendations on how to improve job statistics.

In an emailed statement, Employment and Social Development Canada said the government "has now implemented or has initiated work on" more than 80 per cent of the panel's 69 recommendations.

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"Our government is actively working with provinces and territories on new models of collaboration to improve the quality and accessibility of job information," it said.

But despite that investment and news of a new national portal for information, other key reports have been discontinued or are only available as data files without analysis, the chamber noted. A new government portal called Career Tool is meant to inform young people about high-demand fields of study. So far, the panel found it "very complicated" and "not accurate or useful."

In recent years "there have been suggestions there aren't enough people with the skills and attributes employers seek," said Mr. Drummond, former TD chief economist who is now on the faculty at Queen's University. But "labour-market information is often not available or is sometimes not readily accessible to those who could most benefit."

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce wants the federal government to "consider where investments in labour-market information are most needed," when the Forum of Labour Market Ministers meets this summer.

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