Every economy in the world is trying to battle unemployment, and Canada is no different. With unemployment in the 7.3% range it is not TOO bad compared to other economies, but the good news does obscure some of the growing problems.
1. There are skills shortages. Even though there are (good) people looking for jobs there are jobs going unfilled because companies can’t get the right skills.
2. The skills needed in our economy have changed. The demand is both geographic (the oil sands being a great example) and by industry sector/skill-set (the knowledge sector, banking and high tech being good examples, is a high growth area). There is a diminished need for unskilled labour in production facilities for instance, because companies have shipped this off to lower cost countries … yet labour is needed in Alberta. The trades generally struggle to find enough people.
3. Demographics. We have been talking about it for years, but it is here … masked a little by a recession that hurt people’s ability to retire early. The Boomers are ready to retire and that will leave a large gap in knowledge, experience and “bums in seats”!
4. Canadian Willingness/Capacity to Invest. If you want to create the next big employer in Canada then you need investment, and all too often the Canadian entrepreneur with a great idea ends up going South to get their funding. This results in the intellectual property, jobs and tax income all going South too!
So … what can we do?
1. We have to recognise there is a problem, and that it can’t be solved by government alone, or by industry alone.
2. We need to focus our efforts where they are going to bring the biggest gains.
3. We need to continue to make Canada a place where people want to come. It is the greatest country on Earth to live, but we need to work hard to keep it that way … the world is in competition to attract the best talent! Do we understand that?
4. We need to figure out a way to take advantage of people’s skills when they get here. My dental hygienist was a dentist in Brazil, I have been in taxis driven by accountants … how much sense does that make?
5. We need to find ways to get the labour where it is needed. We have communities devastated because a factory moved out, and we have huge demand for labour in other parts of the country.
6. Our education system needs to be geared towards the skills our economy is going to need. Why do we have declining enrolment in the sciences and technology when that is where the demand will be?
7. Our governments need to recognise that jobs that bring tax dollars into the economy are private sector jobs … I recently saw a description of public sector jobs as “recycled taxes”. Don’t get me wrong … we NEED our public servants, but need a small, highly productive, motivated public service that supports the growth of private sector jobs.
8. We need to find ways to keep Canadian companies in Canada for longer … creating long term Canadian tax revenues, jobs and wealth here. That does not mean propping up under performing companies … but it does mean getting the infrastructure in place (funding included) to support Canadian entrepreneurs.
9. We need more education/perhaps a better PR campaign to bring these issues front and center. There are too many people living in the past, thinking that because it was “that way” last year it should stay “that way”. The new realities can be harsh for some, but the sooner we all get on the same page the better for everyone! Like any entity, be it a family, a company, a city or a country … we have to live within our means!
10. We need to get creative about the resources we have. There is money “sitting on the sidelines” because market returns have not been great … so how do we get that to the entrepreneurs? There is expertise sitting at home … retired knowledge workers, parents on maternity leave, underemployed professionals, people in the wrong city … there must be a way to tap into that talent!
The number one problem for the future of this country’s economy is generating enough tax dollars to maintain the standard of living that we all want. That includes the social net, education, health care and all of the services we enjoy today. To do that we need to have enough jobs, and our workforce need the right skills to be able to do those jobs. Government and private sector need to work this out … together!
Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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