By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
Within the next 15 years, 52 per cent of skilled tradespeople are expected to retire, and 41 per cent of trades organizations say they will face a labour shortage in their industry within the next five years.
These ominous statistics from a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce member study are just the latest in an ongoing saga that could threaten the livelihood of the trades and the Ontario economy at large.
Over the years, various community stakeholders -- including the provincial and federal government, businesses, trade unions and employment agencies -- have all been working to attract more people to this growing sector. Just recently, the provincial government announced it would invest nearly $18 million in apprenticeship training programs that will benefit about 28,000 apprentices from across the province.
Series of barriers
One contributing factor to the labour shortage issue is the series of barriers new immigrants face when they move to Ontario. The majority of them, which include internationally trained tradespeople (ITTs), find it difficult to translate their foreign experience and skills into the Canadian job market.
The Toronto City Summit Alliance announced last month its renewed commitment to working with civic leaders to address this issue in order to re-invigorate the economy. The initiative was sponsored by Accessible Community Counselling and Employment Services (ACCES), which helps thousands of job seekers -- 85 per cent of which are new immigrants -- find employment in their chosen field.
"The people who come to us have expressed a lot of frustration over trying to find work in Canada," says Manjeet Dhiman, senior manager of ACCES's Scarborough location. "They assume they're in a profession that's in high demand ... but there are a lot of challenges to integrating them into the workforce."
A 2001 report by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities called "The Facts Are In!" shows that 60 per cent of all skilled immigrants to Canada settle in Ontario.
Yet the vast majority of them do not work in the field for which they trained. According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate of internationally educated professionals in Ontario is more than three times higher than for other people. Less than a quarter actually work in their chosen field.
Dhiman says a combination of factors -- a lack of accurate information for new immigrants, inadequate certification procedures, wary employers -- contributes to the problem.
In addition to employment services such as resume assistance, seminars, networking support and counselling, ACCES (www.accestrain.com
) also assesses and refers candidates to Career Bridge, a program which works with employers to hire on new immigrants, including ITTs. As well, ACCES has been reaching out directly to the trades community to explore apprenticeship options for ITTs.
Such efforts are critical at a time when Canada is facing an aging baby boomer population that's nearing retirement age. Statistics Canada figures show that by 2011, immigration could quite feasibly account for 100% of all labour market growth. If immigrants continue to be denied access to their fields, then, as Stats Canada notes, "the potential exists for shortages in certain occupations."
Lito Romano is among many members of the trades community who is acutely aware of the labour shortage threat. As program director of the Local 183 Life Long Learning Centre in Vaughan, Ont., Romano and his crew of instructors train students, ITTs included, in various areas of the trades, including masonry, concrete finishing, sewer and water main installation. The centre then helps connect trainees with employers in high-rise and residential construction.
"We've made every effort to educate parents about careers in construction and the viability of working in the trades, but we're not finding the same flow of interested people," Romano says. "If we have to reach out to ITTs and if they have the skills our contractors require, it's important that we reach out to them."
If that doesn't happen, Romano says, the construction industry, like other areas in the trades, will suffer.
"You're looking at longer closing dates for people purchasing new houses, as an example," he says. "If we don't have sufficient skilled workers, it will create problems for us."
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