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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Skilled trades shortage 'at an all-time high'

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

Employers who depend on skilled tradespeople are already feeling the pinch of a skilled trades shortage that will continue to deepen unless new recruits recognize the benefits of entering the apprenticeship system.

"Currently there is a skilled trades shortage in Ontario and it has reached an all-time high," says Mani Goulding, Director of Talent Management at Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

"It is a fact that 26% of Ontario's skilled trades professionals will be eligible for retirement within 10 years. This coupled with an ever-increasing gap between organizations' staffing requirements and candidate pool availability within the skilled trades sector has caused great challenges for employers."

OPG has a staff of 11,000 employees, half of whom are tradespeople working in various roles, including control technician (electrical and instrumentation), mechanical maintainers (millwright) and nuclear operations.
  • In the next two decades, 40% of new jobs will be in the skilled trades and technologies. In 1998, that number was less than 20%.
  • Many more people in the skilled trades are retiring than are entering the system.
  • Many skilled tradespeople now make six-figure incomes with excellent benefits.
  • In Canada, the shortage of skilled labour has been estimated at no fewer than 20,000 unfilled jobs, growing to 50,000 by 2010.
  • According to Job Futures 2000, by 2007, more than one-third of jobs created in Canada will require a skilled trades designation or college diploma. -- Source Skills Canada - Ontario (

  • Like other employers in a wide range of sectors, OPG is feeling the impact of the skilled trades shortage. "We have a particular need in the areas of control and mechanical maintenance," Goulding says.

    "It is very difficult to find enough skilled trades to meet our needs. There are a large amount of interested applicants, but only a small percentage has the required skill set needed for these positions."

    OPG is not alone. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 56% of firms were forced to hire people who weren't suitable and another 30% had forgone business opportunities because of insufficient labour supply.

    An aging workforce further mitigates the shortage. "OPG is an aging, long-service workforce," Goulding says. "Many employees are or will be eligible to leave on early retirement and, in some job categories, there are few internal candidates available to fill these vacancies."

    The Canadian Electricity Association reports that within the electricity sector, more than 26% of the workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next 10 years.

    The Power Workers' Union (PWU) represents more than 15,000 members working in the electrical sector in Ontario. It has sponsored an awareness/education campaign called TradeUp for Success to reintroduce the concept of skilled trades as a viable, rewarding career choice for students.
    According to a recent Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid:
  • 42% of Canadian youth claim they are unlikely to consider a career in the skilled trades;
  • 67% of youth and 55% of adults would choose university as the first post-secondary option;
  • 26% of youth said they would consider a career in the trades;
  • 60% of youth said their parents have not encouraged them to consider a career in trades;
  • 71% of youth said guidance counsellors have not encouraged them to consider skilled trades professions.

  • The PWU has also spoken to more than 50,000 people across the province through its TradeUp for Success education/awareness program. Its goal is to promote skilled trades as a viable, rewarding career choice for students. "There are many benefits these jobs provide: a rewarding, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding career in a very highly technological environment," says Debra Carey, PWU Communications Officer.

    The PWU and OPG have joined forces to launch initiatives to make high school students aware of the opportunities and benefits available in the trades and is currently analysing results of an online survey of Grade 9 and 10 students and their parents.

    Those are among several initiatives aimed at combating the skilled trades shortage. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada developed a national campaign called Skilled Trades: A Career You Can Build On. The $12-million, three-year campaign will promote skilled trades as a first-choice career option. Its goal is to change the perception of skilled trades among youth, parents and educators.

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