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Janet Lane is director of the Human Capital Centre at the Canada West Foundation.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz hit the nail on the head last week, when he told his audience at Queen's University that there are 470,000 unfilled jobs in this country, while employers complain they can't find people with the right skills.

He had stated earlier in his speech that Canada could realize an economic boost of 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product by increasing the participation rates of women, new immigrants, youth, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities. As many as 500,000 people could join the labour force. But, perhaps they would just join the 1,144,000 people who are unemployed in this country.

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Unless the people who enter the labour market have the skills employers need – and those that are going to be needed as the economy continues to shift – they are going to be no better off than they were when they were out of the labour market. Canada's labour market is inefficient. There are jobs without people and people without jobs and part of the problem is that no one really knows which skills are in demand and which skills people can supply.

While this is not a new problem, the need to fix it is getting more and more urgent. One solution, a competency-based approach to work-force development and deployment, would make it easier to match people with jobs.

Employers tend to build their job postings using formal credentials and years of experience as proxies for the actual skills required for specific jobs.

However, there is no easy way for employers to know what skills are taught through a degree or diploma program, or if the credentials at one postsecondary are equivalent to those of another. What's more, education providers provide credentials to individuals who show they have learned virtually all of a course's content, as well as those who learned only 60 per cent of it.

Meanwhile, individuals may have retained virtually all of what they learned at school, because they used it often, or have lost most of what they learned, because they didn't. Depending on the work processes and culture in their workplace, an individual may have 10 years of experience on the job, during which they grew their skills – or the same one-year of experience, 10 times, leaving them at the entry level.

Clearly, employers are making assumptions that could be way off when they hire solely on the basis of credentials and experience. It would be more efficient if they hired on the basis of competence. But how?

To do this, employers need a way to clearly articulate the competencies – the skills, knowledge, attributes and attitudes – required to accomplish the tasks of the job. They also need a way to easily measure the level of competence that is needed to do those tasks well and reliably, every time.

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Conversely, individuals need a way to build a competency profile that accurately reflects their competencies and their levels of competence and a way to prove their competence to potential employers.

If we knew what competencies are needed, and to what level; and if we knew what competencies people have, to what level, then we would know what's missing. Education and training providers could then gear their programs and courses to fill those competency gaps. And then, we would finally be able to match the right people with the right jobs.

Assessing levels of competence and providing programs and courses that enable people to fill the competency gaps between where they are and where they want to be is fast becoming the stock in trade of training providers around the world. But Canada lags behind.

We need to catch up. Non-credit programs at postsecondary institutions react quickly to the needs of the market. On the other hand, credit programs generally take years to move from concept to classroom.

But, right now, employers cannot find the workers they need, and people can't find the jobs they need.

As Mr. Poloz said, there's a lot to be gained by our economy if more of us get to work. We should get to work quickly to match people's actual competencies with employer's actual needs.

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