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Ontario’s skills shortage is a serious problem: how can we fix it?

By 20 March, 2023August 21st, 2023No Comments

"Help wanted" sign inside a business window.

20 March, 2023 — Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, is currently experiencing a skills shortage.

A skills shortage occurs when there are not enough skilled workers to fill job vacancies in specific industries or occupations. This has been a long-standing issue that poses a significant risk to Ontario’s economy. In fact, it can negatively impact business growth, productivity, and innovation.

In this blog, we’ll explore opportunities that employers and employment services providers can pursue together to help more people enter Ontario’s most vibrant industries.

The far-reaching impacts of skills shortages

A woman speaks to a man while she points at a bulletin board with various job opportunities posted on it.

Ontario’s skills shortage extends to several sectors, including healthcare, information technology, services, construction, manufacturing, the skilled trades, and more. The gap is particularly concerning given the impact of technology and automation which is transforming the way many sectors operate, with few industries not impacted.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, the province will need more than half-a-million skilled workers by 2030 to meet the demands of the labour market. As an example of the impact of skills shortages on other policy areas, the Ontario government announced plans to build 1.5 million homes by 2031 – but warned that the only way to achieve this was to find and employ 100,000 more skilled workers.

One of the main factors contributing to the skills shortage in Ontario is the aging workforce. Many workers are approaching retirement age and there are not enough young people entering the labour market to replace them. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation with many workers leaving the labour force due to job loss, health issues, early retirement, or childcare responsibilities.

The benefits of employer and employment services provider partnership

To address Ontario’s skills shortage, employers and employment services providers must work together to identify the causes of skills shortages and develop responsive strategies.

For example, employers can provide on-the-job training and mentorship opportunities for workers, while employment services organizations can provide support for job seekers to develop the skills needed for in-demand jobs.

Collaboration between employers and employment services providers can also give employers access to a larger pool of qualified candidates, reducing the cost of recruitment and improving their chances of finding the right person for the job.

Below are some examples of initiatives and strategies that are helping to address skills shortages in Ontario.

  • Upskilling and reskilling programs: Employers can invest in upskilling and reskilling programs to train their existing employees in new skills. This helps them fill gaps within their organization. Employment services providers can also develop and deliver training programs to help job seekers acquire the necessary skills to fill job vacancies. The Canada-Ontario Job Grant, for example, offers financial support to employers and businesses across Ontario aiming to deliver short-term training for existing and new employees.
  • Addressing barriers to work: There are many different reasons people are unable to work, including lack of specific skills or qualifications up to a lack of transportation to get to work. The Government of Ontario’s Skills Development Fund is an innovative market-led approach that provides flexible funding to address local challenges to hiring, training, and retaining workers.
  • Apprenticeships: Employers can offer apprenticeships to young workers, allowing them to learn a trade or skill while working. Apprenticeships provide a pathway to a successful career and help to address the skills shortage in the skilled trades. On the other end, employment services providers can share resources and facilitate pre-apprenticeship training programs to guide students through the apprenticeship system.
  • Immigration: Employers can tap into the global talent pool by recruiting skilled immigrants. Meanwhile, employment services providers can help newcomers access language training, navigate their job search, and obtain credential recognition in Canada.
  • Research and development: The Ontario government has also invested in research and development initiatives that are designed to identify new technologies and industries that can help address current and future skills shortages. Also, the Conference Board of Canada is building a skills framework to identify where Canada’s skills gaps currently exist and their impacts on the future. Once established, employer services providers can use this framework to inform future workforce development initiatives.

Success stories

Two women looking at a laptop together while working on a project.

Ontario businesses and government have come together with employment services providers to tackle the province’s growing skills shortage. Here are just a few examples of ongoing and successful initiatives.

Skills Development Fund

This project provides training to job seekers in industries with high-demand jobs, including manufacturing, logistics, and food processing. Since launching in 2017, the funding has helped thousands of job seekers find employment in these industries. The Career Foundation, for example, offers a training program for aspiring arborists. As noted above, the Ontario Government has evolved its approach to be more flexible in addressing specific local barriers to hiring, training, and retaining workers.

Future Skills Centre (various programs)

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program, the Future Skills Centre is a partnership between Blueprint, Toronto Metropolitan University, and The Conference Board of Canada. To date, it has funded over 195 skills development projects spanning every province and territory in Canada, and has helped over 25,000 Canadians receive hands-on skills training in high-demand fields. Most programs focus on addressing barriers and advancing opportunities for underrepresented groups. The Career Foundation’s Path to Customer Success program, for example, prepares women for remote work in sales, analytics, and customer success roles. Participants benefit from one-on-one mentorship with the program’s employer partners, who also serve on an advisory group that works to resolve skills shortages in the sector.

Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) Mentoring Partnership

This mentorship program pairs skilled immigrants with mentors who work in their field. It has helped over 22,000 skilled immigrants integrate into the Canadian workforce.

The importance of continued collaboration

Employers, employment services providers, and the government are continuously finding ways to collaborate on initiatives that promote job sharing, flexible working arrangements, and career progression opportunities. These initiatives can help reduce the skills shortage by providing more opportunities for workers to gain experience in different fields or industries.

If you would like to learn more about how we can work together to address Ontario’s skills shortage, contact us directly and we’ll gladly set up a discussion!

Finally, it’s important for employers and employment service organizations to work on creating a supportive and inclusive environment for job seekers and new hires. This includes providing career guidance and relevant volunteer opportunities, as well as access to resources such as virtual mentorship programs and online courses. Ultimately, this will help ensure that job seekers are equipped with the necessary tools, knowledge, and workplace environment that will foster success in their new roles.