Back in October, the Alberta government began consulting with businesses, immigration experts and support organizations from across the province on developing what it calls an Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy.
The stated objective of the discussion was to help the province address long-term labour challenges and ensure that immigration is aligned with Alberta’s economic needs. Underlining the government’s seriousness, Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping attended and participated in the session for nearly an entire afternoon.
This is a good sign.
Of the many things that keep manufacturers up at night, skills and labour shortages top the list. Not only is it issue number one, it is a problem that has been increasing in intensity over time. In CME’s 2018 Management Issues Survey (MIS), 70 per cent of managers said that skills and labour shortages were their primary concern. According to the Manufacturing Workforce Survey conducted over the summer of 2019, that number grew to 85 per cent – a 15 point jump in less than a year.
Think of that statistic for a minute. Eight out of 10 employers in Canada’s industrial sector are struggling with skills and labour shortages. What was originally a problem has become a full-blown crisis. It is fueling manufacturing’s poor business investment and competitiveness performance and causing us to fall further behind our global peers. Addressing the skills, labour, and training problems of the manufacturing sector is, therefore, critical to ensure our future collective prosperity.
The difficulty is that skills, labour, and training challenges are multifaceted, multi-jurisdictional, and multiplying. We’re past the point of quick fixes. Small scale, short-term public policy solutions are no longer adequate to solve these problems. From the broadest of perspectives, what is needed is not just a plan (which we lay out here) but a commitment from employers and government to address this issue once and for all.
CME conducted extensive surveying on skills and labour shortages during the first half of 2019. We identified three fundamental problems that need correcting: lack of engagement between employers and academia, lack of capacity for employers to invest in skills and training, and inadequate immigration into Canada to arrest the shrinking of the workforce.
In our recently study we make a serious of recommendations aimed at all levels of government to help address the problem. Recommendations range from tweaking the Canada Job Grant, creating a training tax credit that would offset payroll taxes and an ambitious call to increase the number of economic class immigrants to 500,000 per year by 2025.
The Alberta government appears to be on the same page. It’s looking at programs to attract rural entrepreneurs and international graduates who intend to start a business, and other approaches to bringing the world’s best and brightest to Alberta.
It’s time for all levels of government to work together towards an immigration system that will help manufacturers grow.
Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.