November 7, 2013, 8:00 a.m.
InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel, 225 Front St. W., TORONTO, ON
Minister of Employment and Social Development and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney delivers a keynote speech at the 2013 Electricity Human Resources Canada Conference.
Hon. Jason Kenney: Well, good morning. Thank you very much. It’s always a challenge to be the first, the morning speaker at these conferences, and I, I trust everyone’s up, up and at it. I have, I had my party convention on the weekend, which is an experience in sleep deprivation torture, as you might imagine, and we’ve been very busy in Ottawa ever since. So, I, I hope I’m as alert as you are.
Thank you very much for the invitation, thanks to my friend Scott Monick for letting me know about this. I have now been on the job as, as Canada’s Minister of Employment and Social Development, what I call the Jobs Minister, for the past four and a half months.
And I am very keen to get to know all of the key sectors in our economy, dealing with labour force issues because everyone I meet with, and have for several years, in the community of employers, of businesses, of industry and organizations, tells me that the labour market, labour force issues, the skills gap, are the most important issues facing Canada’s economy, now and certainly in the future.
And that the single greatest challenge we have to continuing economic growth and long-term prosperity is the skills gap, and that’s why I think it’s so important to engage with groups like yours who are where the rubber hits the ground. The Elec-, Electricity Human Resources Council representing all of the major employers in the, in the sector know better than perhaps virtually anyone, given the shortages that you are facing, the challenge of, of the skills gap.
And it is a real paradox, I must tell you, and I’ll get into this. But the very first thing I said when I was appointed to this position by the Prime Minister is that I hoped to address the paradox of an economy with too many unemployed people at a, at the same time that we have too many jobs with-, without people. And that is the big puzzle for us to solve in the future.
But first, some good news. The good news is that I think having the skills gap is probably a pretty good problem to have. It’s indicative of a pretty robust and growing economy. And the truth is that Canada has one of the best job creation records in the developed world. We had the shortest and shallowest recession of any of the major developed economies in the 2009 global economic downturn, since which time we have had the best far-, labour force growth, with the creation of over 1., nearly 1.1 million net new jobs, overwhelmingly full-time, private sector jobs in good paying occupations.
For the sixth year in a row, the World Economic Forum has said that Canada has the strongest financial institutions and financial system in the world. Forbes Magazine says that we are now the best place in the world in which to start a new business. The IMF says that we have the lowest taxes on new business investment, and expects that Canada will be amongst the fastest-growing economies in the developed world this year and next.
Poverty is down, federal taxes are down to their lowest level as a share of our gross domestic product since 1964. We have one of the lowest deficits and debts as a share of GDP in the developed world and we are clearly on track to balance the federal budget by 2015.
So with a, with a record like that, it’s not really any surprise that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the, the club of the major industrialized countries, have concluded that Canada will lead economic growth in the G7 this year.
And the future looks bright as we continue to expand our export and trade markets and diversity, because you know, one of the strategic challenges our economy has had in the past has been our overdependence on the American export market and that is precisely why our government has been so tremendously focused on diversifying our trade markets and expanding our export markets as well as developing, as getting to the benefit of lower import costs through lower tariffs.
And that’s why we are so delighted that three weeks ago tomorrow, Prime Minister Harper signed in Brussels, the agreement in principle for the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which represents the single largest trade agreement in Canada’s economic history.
In the initial years, it is likely to be less in volume of course, and that with the United States, but in terms of the, the size of that market, we’re talking about half a billion people in developed economies, with essentially tariff-free access when CETA is ratified. That’s why we estimate that the agreement will create at least 80 000 new jobs in the short term, and increase the average household income by $1,000, raising our GDP by something in the range of $14 billion.
It means that prices for goods and services will fall, wages, salaries and other, and our standard of living will rise, businesses will hire more workers and Canadian families will benefit from greater choice in selection in goods and services.
And this also means that with our preferential access to the United States, we have, will have effectively tariff-free access to markets in developed countries of over 800 million people, the only country in the world that has, will be so, so well pivot-, in such a great pivot position between the two greatest developed markets in the world. It also means that, you know, and by the way, I should point out that when our government came to office, we had trade agreements, free-trade agreements with five jurisdictions: the United States, Mexico and three small countries.
We had, prior to CETA, signed nine additional agreements and now, with the 28-member state, member states of the EU, this will bring to 42 the number of countries with which we have essentially tariff-free trade access. Correct myself, on Wednesday, we signed the Canada-Honduras free-trade agreement. That’s 43. You get the point. We continue to, as an exporting country, expand our trading opportunities.
And there are so many other fundamental strengths. You know, it’s great that we have such a diversified economy with everything from information technology to a highly educated workforce, to the world’s second largest oil reserves, to huge new commodity and mineral developments all across Northern Canada. All of this means we me-, need more people to build more infrastructure, we need new people to renew the old infrastructure, and just quite frankly, as the Baby Boomers begin to retire, we need more people.
And that’s one of the reasons why we have sought through our immigration policy reform, to much better align the inta-, the selection of economic immigrants with the needs of our labour market. If I could just go on this issue for a moment, you’ll know that for, for the better part of 40 years, you know, first of all, Canada maintains very high levels of immigration, the highest per capita in the developed world, and the highest absolute levels in our history receiving over a quarter of a million newcomers every year.
But for 40 years, we have seen a gradual decline in economic results for immigrants to Canada. They’ve been doing less well as compared to the average. And so many newcomers arriving here have ended up stuck in survival jobs as their skills atrophied because they couldn’t get their credentials recognized because they didn’t have Canadian experience or perhaps because in some cases, their experience wasn’t relevant to the Canadian professional and trades standards.
And that’s why we believe it’s so important that we much, much more closely engage employers in the decision of who is selected as an economic immigrant to come to Canada. And I won’t go through this in great detail, because I have a lot more I want to talk about, but I’d be delighted to take questions from you about how the electricity sector can benefit from the opportunity presented by our new fast and flexible labour market linked immigration system, which will be fully implemented by the end of 2014.
So we have to take advantage of this, the robust opportunities provided by our, our many natural advantages in the Canadian economy, and that means we need the skills. Now, let’s be honest. There is conflicting information about this. As you know, and as you read in the papers every other day, the aggregate high level labour market information that is issued by Stats Canada and pored over by economists, tells us that there is no such thing as a skills gap. There’s no skills shortage. There’s certainly no, as the data suggests, certainly no general labour shortage.
If you look at the ratio of the number of Canadian, number of businesses seeking employees, to the number of unemployed Canadians, it’s actually quite widespread now. It’s about six to one number of unemployed Canadians to the number of people in jobs in the Help Wanted Index, which is not exactly indicative of a tight labour market.
And then of course, if you drill down a little bit, you’ll see really unacceptably high levels of unemployment in certain cohorts of our population. Right here in the GTA, did you know that over 20 percent of youth between the ages of, of 15 and, and 24 registered themselves as being unemployed, for those who are seeking employment, they can’t find jobs. And of course we have geographic areas of Canada with double, permanent double-digit unemployment, Aboriginal Canadians with unacceptably high unemployment, etc.
Moreover, the aggregate data tells us that wages haven’t really moved up at a level you would expect if, in fact, we were facing widespread labour shortages. Generally speaking, wages in the, in the post-recession period have barely kept pace with inflation.
So my friends in the labour union movement typically say, and some economists, typically will say well, this suggests that in fact, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of flexibility in our labour market, not a lot of tightness. And that if businesses were really facing a labour or skills shortage, you would see this in much higher wage-level increases. That would be the market response to a tight labour market.
And so, first of all, I don’t want to dismiss that data. It’s, it’s a reality. But the reality is a little more complicated and a little more nuanced. Because I know that every single employer with whom I meet, in every part of the country, from fish-processing plant operators in Atlantic Canada to the oil sands developers in the Abath-, Athabasca region of Alberta, to IT employers in the Kitchener–Waterloo corridor, even in light of, of, of the recent BlackBerry layo-, layoffs to, to auto parts manufacturers like Linamar, they all tell me that the single most difficult challenge they’re facing now is that of the skills gap. Every sector council, every business and industry organization has listed this as, if not the top, certainly one of the top challenges that they are facing.
So, what’s going on here? Are all of the business organizations, all of the sector councils, all of the employers just making this up? Have they all just kind of conspired to create a fictitious narrative about labour and skills shortages in order to, as the Toronto Star edibo-, editorial board would have it, create an excuse to, to keep wage rates down and underpay Canadians and bring in access to easily exploited overseas labour? No.
I think that, that story line is ridiculous. The truth is this: common sense tells us what’s obviously staring us in the face, which is we are now starting to live the huge demographic shift we’ve all been writing and reading and talking about for the past couple of decades. The Boomers are starting to retire and we’re not, our birth rate now for three decades, has been below replacement.
Immigration can’t realistically overcome the, the power of that demographic math. In order for us just to maintain the current average age of the Canadian population by increasing immigration levels, we’d have to quadruple those levels and admit over a million immigrants a year, which I think is practically implausible.
And so, there is, what, what’s the story then? Well, I think the story’s pretty simple. There is a, a new want situation going on in the Canadian labour market. Yes, we are on the cusp, as the Boomers retire, of facing general labour shortages, but right now, it is clear to me from everything I read, that, and everyone with whom I speak, that we are facing today very significant skills shortages, in particular industries and regions. And the problem is that our aggregate, big picture, retrospective labour market information doesn’t pick up on those more precise and granular issues within sectors like the electrical, electricity sector.
And so what I’m trying to do, in my own modest way, is to kick start a bit more of a serious informed national discussion on this. Cause we can’t afford to get it right. And you know what? We need to stop this, what I call parallel monologues we’ve got on this issue with some in the labour movement, some academic economists, some of the media tel-, some politicians telling us there is no skills shortage, it’s all a fiction. The business community’s essentially all telling us that it is the number one problem we’re facing, with no understanding or meeting of minds in the middle.
Tomorrow, I will be meeting with my colleagues in, from the pro-, provincial and territal, torrital, excuse me, territorial governments in what is known as the Forum of Labour Market Ministers. This will be, remarkably, the first time in four years that this group has met. And I hope to, with them, kick start a, a collaborative approach on this issue. I hope to host a national conference early next year with all of the key stakeholders to drill down on this issue and hopefully get to a meeting of the minds on the skills shortages that we are facing.
Now, let me tell you what some of the business organizations have reported, including yours. The construction sector says that we will need 319 000 new workers before the end of the decade. The mining industry says we’ll need 145 000 in their sector in, by 2020. The petroleum sector estimates a shortage of 130 000 workers by 2020, and we’re talking there about very good-paying jobs.
The supply chain sector estimates a shortage of 360 000 workers by the end of the decade. The Association of Canadian Community Colleges says that in less than 10 years, employers will not find the qualified candidates for one and a half million available jobs. Skills Canada tells us that we’re going to need one million skilled trade workers who are not currently avai-, will, are not currently in, in training, by 2020.
The Conference Board of Canada released a report saying that in this province of Ontario alone, is losing, the economy is losing $24.3 billion in economic activity because employers can’t find people with the skills they need. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce listed skills shortages as one of our top 10 barriers to competitiveness and its survey showed that a third of the owners of, of SMEs identified skills shortages as a constraint on their growth. I think these numbers speak for themselves.
Now, you in the electricity industry of course face similar challenges. According to the National Energy Board, total power generation capacity is projected to increase by 27 percent between now and 2035. And with an expected investment of nearly $300 billion in electricity infrastructure over the next 20 years, your sector is poised for astonishing growth.
But just as this massive transformation is about to take place, you’re experiencing unprecedented skills shortages. I understand that according to your projections, the electricity sector will need 45 000 new skilled workers over the next five years. That’s an average of 9 000 new workers needed in this sector every year. And as our population ages, as those Boomers retire, these sort-, shortages will only get worse.
I was just seeing some of the data from Ottawa alone, with the, those Boomers who are now reaching retirement age who are about to leave in large numbers. Electricity Human Resources Canada has identified that 40 percent of the current workforce in the electricity sector, or 45 000 employees, are due to retire between 2011 and 2016. And the Conference Board of Canada estimates that the renewal of Canada’s electricity infrastructure will require 156 000 workers each year over the next 20 years.
These conditions are creating the most severe skills shortages and labour market challenges that your industry has ever faced. And it’s not just about data and estimates. I know, I talk to, to electrical contractors and major construction companies and manufacturers, all of whom make the same point to me, which is that your sector is one in which they see some of the most acute shortages.
I was just mentioning, I was just out at the, one of the Irving plants in the East Coast, at their big paper plant in St. John, New Brunswick, where they told me that power engineers were the people who, in the greatest shortage, and they basically, it was completely a seller’s market, that they would have to pay virtually whatever it took to get people like that into their plant.
Now, there’s a lot of reasons for this, one of which is just a big, and unavoidable momentum of demographic change that I discussed, but another problem, of course, is that these skills have been, it’s not just a function of Boomers retiring. It’s also a result of 30 or 40 years of an educational system, both in the secondary and post-secondary systems, that has increasingly marginalised skilled trades, practical skills and the kind of skills that are required to build and sustain a developed economy.
Every year, we inch closer to the point where half of all workers in trades will be over the age of 45. That’s already happened with industrial electricians, at 52.3 percent. Skilled trade shortages are exacerbated by the aging of our population and finding new younger workers to replace them is the big challenge.
You know what I’m talking about. Young Canadians have not been pursuing careers in the skilled trades enough, or not nearly enough. According to a Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada study, only 32 percent of high school students said they would consider a career in trade skills, would consider, meaning only a small, a smaller portion of them actually will.
And yet, jobs in the trades are some of the best paying jobs available in our economy. For example, a journeyman electrician in Alberta earns, I understand, about $44 an hour. An equivalent welder in New Brunswick makes around $32 an hour, and a journeyman carpenter in BC, about $25 an hour.
For apprenticeship, the average age of entry in Canada is relatively high at 25. These aren’t 18 year olds anymore. A lot of them, as you know, went and got their degrees. They did what we told them to and found that it was a choice of being unemployed or serving people lattes. (Laughter)
This also suggests that many high school students do not see apprenticeship as the best pathway to the job market. Now, four decades ago, most high school, schools had vocational training available. There were shop teachers. But then, teachers’ unions came in and said to provinces we insist that every single person teaching in a high school has a degree from a teachers college. And guess what? A buddy from, who, from the local mechanics shop is not likely to go and spend now two years at teachers college in order to be able to teach shop for a few hours in the local high school.
So we pushed them right out, and sent all sorts of signals. You know, one of my pet peeves is this: the policy-making elites, the po-, the senior bureaucrats and the politicians almost all of us are, you know, went through post-secondary academic formation. And whether we realize it or not, for 40 years or so, we have had a built-in, implicit bias in that direction, in the decisions of, about how to allocate scarce resources in our educational system.
So, you end up with the big university build and ginormous subsidies going to academic PS, post-secondary education. But a huge shrinkage in the relative allocation of public resources to the technical and vocational colleges. And of course in the high school system, we’ve just about seen a virtual disappearance of technical training at that level.
Research done at York University in the 90's, this is old research, found that the number of individual tech courses taken by high school students in this province, dropped from nearly half a million in 1973 to a quarter of a million in 1996. So it dropped in half over those 25 years. I’ve not seen more recent data, but I would not be at all surprised if it’s gone down much further.
Vocational diplomas granted in Quebec declined from 17 000 in 1976 to 5 000 in 1992. Less, today, get this, today, less than 1 percent of students enrolled in secondary schools are enrolled in vocational programs. Those drops are significant and we are feeling the effects today.
So I think to address all of this, we need, to use a cliché, we need to change the paradigm. We need to open our minds. We need some really radical changes in our approach to education, training and develop-, and, and skills development.
Take for example the German Mittelstand dual training system. Now, in Germany, half as many young people go into academic post-secondary education, as is the case in Canada. One half as many per capita young Germans attend university as young Canadians do. But, we have 13 percent unemployment amongst youth. They have 5 percent unemployment. So we have twice as many kids going to university and almost three times more kids who are unemployed.
Now, can you draw a direct correlation? Probably not. But what’s the difference? The difference of course is that in their Mittelstand dual training system, which engages unions, employers, educators, the state and federal governments, young people from essentially junior high school on, are actively encouraged to pursue and develop skilled vocations and employers make it, make it pay for them.
Young people learn cause they, you know, they want to respond to incentives and they can develop, in high school, they can start doing two or three days a week of practical on-the-job training and get skills training in high school and also do their, their academic program. And the consequence is that the employers understand they have a social responsibility to make that long-term investment. The unions are very keen on facilitating that. And the educators realize it’s, it’s, it’s what’s best for the kids.
To have those choices, and that’s really the point. The point is not, it’s not that every kid should become an electrician or that every kid should become, study, like I did, philosophy. Heaven forbid. (Laughter) And I’m, I’m exhibit A, right, of, of the failure of, of post-secondary, but the point is that, the point is that, that young people have different aptitudes and we should be presenting them with, with all sorts of vocational options and encouraging and revaluing the basic, you know, the, the dignity of basic work, of skilled work, of creating things, of working with your hands.
We have to stop sending all of these cultural and social messages that somehow, young people who don’t go and get a BA after their name are somehow not realizing their potential. So all of this is, is a huge challenge. That’s why tomorrow, when I meet with my provincial counterparts, I’m going to be asking them to join me on going on a mission to Germany and perhaps the UK, cause I want us to get away from, you know, all of the interest groups, all of the labour protectionism, all of the politics that has created the stranglehold in skills development in Canada.
I want them to get away from that for a few days and see how a radically different system produces radically better results. To think differently, to open their minds to much greater collaboration and, and skills training.
Now, there’s a lot more that needs to be done for, and let me give you, tell you some things that we’re doing at the federal level. We’re investing in skills development for Canadians through grants, tax credits and support for training programs. The extent of our investments in training is actually phenomenal. Over $1.6 billion over five years through the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Strategy and a $200 million through the Skills and Partnership Fund with First Nations, as well as $100 million over four years through the First Nations Jobs Fund.
Now, I mentioned those first because I happen to believe that one of the, that, that represents one of the single biggest challenges and opportunities in our country today. I would say the number one social problem that we are facing, you don’t see it here in downtown Toronto, but if you live in other parts of the country, you’ll know what I’m talking about, the number one social challenge that we are facing is that of the ongoing huge economic and social challenges faced by people in our First Nations Aboriginal communities. And the number one economic challenge we’re facing is labour and skills shortages.
So how fantastic it is in principle if we can find a nexus between the two by providing the education and training to young Aboriginal Canadians so that they can find gainful employment. And that’s why we’re putting a huge focus on that. Over $200 million that we’re investing annually through the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities. A huge number of Canadians with disabilities want to work and just need specialized training to do so.
Half a billion dollars a year through the labour market agreements. That’s something I’ll be talking to the provinces about tomorrow. Two billion dollars annually that we invest in skills development through the labour market development agreements. That’s effectively for people who are, are on or have recently been on, Employment Insurance.
And programs like the targeted initiative for older workers. We’re also providing support, and, and by the way, on that point, as you know, I think one of the things that’s saving us a little bit is that some of the Boomers are staying on, on the workplace longer than originally anticipated, and one way to keep them on, employed is to see some growth in wage levels.
Now, I know in many sectors like yours, we have seen that growth, but certainly one way to incentivize greater labour force participation by older workers is through higher wages.
We’re also providing support through the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant, the Apprenticeship Completion Grant and the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit. None of these things existed a few years ago. Apprenticeships in Red Seal trades can now get up to $4,000 by combining the two grants. This funding can help them complete their training and launch rewarding careers.
To date, we’ve issued over 430 000 apprenticeship grants to Canadians, but our work doesn’t end there. The tradesman’s tools deduction helps employed tradesmen cover the cost of new tools. And the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit encourages employers to hire Red Seal apprentices.
We’ve also made occupational, trade and professional examination fees eligible for the Tuition Tax Credit. What this means is that we’re working hard, and this is all done very intentionally to draw more young people into the apprentices, into the trades.
Every year, some 25 000 apprentices who complete their training receive an Apprentice Completion Grant and become certified journeymen in a designated Red Seal. Last year, our government added its support to the Helmets to Hard Hats Program, another, I think, really great approach. This program helps veterans of the Forces and reservists peru-, pursue careers in the construction industry. It’s a win-win for everyone. And I know, as you’ll know, a lot of great electricians in the Canadian Forces, a lot of highly trained tradesmen.
Our government will continue to invest in apprenticeships and skills training. Our budget did so this year, for example, by, by announcing a, a new objective of getting all contractors working on federal work sites to hire apprentices. And the reason I, that this happened is because I was up in Northern Ontario last year, meeting with some of the construction companies who were complaining about the skills gap. And I said what’s going on with apprentices? And they said you know, some of the major mining companies are writing into our contracts: no apprentices on the work site. Only ticketed journeymen, because they want full efficiency, they don’t waste, quotes, waste, have any time wasted on training.
Talk about short-sighted. So I came back to Ottawa and told this story and we decided at least we could lead by example by requiring that there, that employers make every reasonable effort to hire apprentices on federal work sites.
And we also have something called the Youth Employment Strategy to, to, which provides support through the Canada Student Loans and Grants Program. We’re also providing more information on the outcomes of different job choices to young people.
For example, my department’s going to be releasing, launching a really, I think, user-friendly social media platform that, where young people, you know, perhaps in high school, will be able to plug in BA political science Ontario and electrician Ontario and find out they can make three times more as an electrician than a political scientist. Please, we need fewer political scientists and more electricians.
So, let them know that, what the labour market really is. Cause a lot of their high school counsellors, I don’t think, are telling them this. So tell them this information directly.
Another whole area that we need to work more on, that we have been actually investing a lot on is accelerating the recognition of credentials for foreign-trained professionals and tradespeople. Oh, and by the way, I could get into a whole discussion of, one of the immigration reforms we made is to create the, the Skilled Trades Stream. Since the early 1970's and the points system came in, you basically, in order to come to Canada as an economic immigrant, for all intents and purposes, you had to have an academic degree.
Quite frankly, it didn’t matter whether that academic post-secondary degree was relevant, or was, was the same quality as a Canadian degree, which is why we have a lot of engineers driving taxicabs, but you recall how, how was that different earlier before the early 70's? Think of your typical Canadian economic immigrant in the post-war period. Fifties and, 1950's and 60's. Your typical immigrant, like here in Toronto, was a tradesman, typically in those days, from Europe.
Well, what happened in the 1970's was we said we’ll only accept professionals with university degrees. Well guess what? The professionals with the university degrees in Europe already had a high standard of living. There was no strong incentive to immigrate. But people from developing countries with professional degrees couldn’t improve their standard of living by coming to Canada.
And, but where did we, what’s the part that we missed here? It was the tradespeople. We stopped allowing, for all intents and purposes, tradespeople to immigrate legally. I know there’s a lot of illegal ones here in Toronto, but that’s a different matter. And, and so that’s why last year, I created the new Skilled Trades Stream, and I want you to know I, I introduced the very first new permanent resident of Canada who immigrated through that program in Calgary this June. A bright, young 27-year-old Irishman who was a certifi-, certified journeyman electrician, working on a work site making 50 bucks an hour in Calgary, as happy as could be.
And so, we actually have, here’s a, here’s a shout out to all of you employers, you can actually recruit from abroad and bring people like that in as electricians through the new Skilled Trades Stream. And if you live outside of Ontario and Quebec, you can also do so effectively through the Provincial Nominee Programs.
Of course, the Province of Quebec has its own immigration program. And Ontario has decided not to participate in the Provincial Nominee Programs.
So more that we can do. The Canada Job Grant, you know, one of the things that frustrates me is that employers in Canada spend much less than the average in the OECD on skills development. So employers are underinvesting in the skills development here, but the governments are spending more than virtually any other developed country in the world in, in skills development.
So we’ve got public investment in training at the high end in the world in Canada, and private investment at the low end. And, but a lot of that public spending on job training is in an area of what I call the endless churn of training for the sake of training. Now, for example, I, my department transfers half a billion dollars a year to the provinces to, through something called the Labour Market Agreement, to do training for people who have not worked for the past six years, people who are, quotes, have a low level of attachment to the labour force, as the economists would say. (Laughter)
Yeah. Okay. I know what other people would say. But, a lot of this goes to folks who are habitual welfare recipients. The provinces have brought in these, you know, work for welfare, training for welfare requirements, well and good. But effectively, a lot of this is, you know, year after year after year, teaching a guy who’s a welfare recipient, basic life skills, set your alarm clock in the morning, how to dress for an interview, how to write your resume, you know, basic literacy skills and the guy comes back the next year so he can tick a box and go back to the welfare office.
I mean, look, there are actually a lot of useful programs. I don’t mean to be un-, too, I don’t want to be unfair here, the provinces operate some very good programs and some of the provinces have involved more, have more involvement from employers, but a lot of this money is just churned amongst people who frankly, just are not that interested in working. And God bless them, we want to get them in the workforce, we want to give them the basic life skills, but I am more interested right now in getting maximum bang for the taxpayers’ buck and actually spending training dollars that will lead to real jobs for people and help to fill skill gaps.
Now, how about here in Southern Ontario? Half, excuse me, 350 000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade. And yet, the President of Linamar tells me he’s desperate for machinists. He’s going to use our new Skilled Trades Immigration Program to bring people in from Germany as machinists, which causes me to say well, what the heck happened to these 300 000 unemployed manufacturing workers?
What is wrong in our system that we are not providing a 45-year-old who lost his job as a, as a, as a factory worker the incremental training he needs to get that good-paying job as a machinist at Linamar. In the same community. So what I’ve said to the provinces is look, if you want to teach that guy for the seventh time how to write a resume so he can collect welfare, do it with your own money. We want instead to empower employers through something called the Canada Job Grant, to nominate individuals who they are confident have the aptitude to work if they get specific incremental training.
What we’re saying is we will match the employer investment in that training program as long as the employer, like in the German system, makes a commin-, commitment that they will hire that person at the end of their training. And we’re inviting the provinces to throw in one-third into this, this, this matching program to subsidize the training.
So, here’s the idea. Your members, your employers know better who has got the aptitudes to become an electrician on a work site, to go into an apprenticeship program, for example, then some big government bureaucracy does. You know specifically which training program will get them into a useful skill level. And so we’re saying you nominate the person, you select the training program and we’ll help you cover the costs.
One of the advantages of this approach, of the Canada Job Grant, is that it will prime the pump to increase private sector investment in skills training. So I want to thank the Canadian Electricity Association for having applauded the Government for developing the Canada Job Grant, and this is something I’ll be discussing with my colleagues tomorrow.
I’m going way over time. Do you mind if I’ve got a couple of more points? I’m sorry. I’m very passionate about these issues.
Apprenticeship reform. While the job grant is an important piece of the puzzle, it’s just a relatively small piece, to be honest with you, an area equal, equally as important that everyone in this room knows, is apprenticeships. This is an area where the provinces hold almost all of the levers and they must do better. If they don’t, they will be risking diminishing our economic potential.
Across Canada, there are 13 different apprenticeship systems. There are great inconsistencies across the systems. For instance, the training and certification requirements vary in relation to on-the-job hours, technical curricula and program duration. There are also disparities in in-school training and assessments.
These inconsistencies mean that apprentices who wish to move to another province to continue or complete their training, are often unable to do so because the systems can be so different. At the same time, employers wishing to recruit new apprentices from out of the province face similar challenges.
Now, many employers have told me that one of the most difficult regulations for them is having to employ a specific number of certified journeymen to be eligible to register an apprentice. These regulations, known as the Apprenticeship Journeymen Ratios, vary between provinces and among different trades.
For example, Apprenticeship Journeymen Ratios tend to be higher in Ontario and Quebec compared to other jurisdictions. For example, in the carpentry sector in Quebec, they require five journeymen for every apprentice. By comparison, Alberta and Saskatchewan allow two for every journeyman. These ratios must change.
As the chair of the Ontario Electrical League Contractors Government Relations Committee, Walter Pamic, pointed out, “We don’t do this for any other industry. We don’t require three doctors to train one intern. We don’t have three teachers to one high school student or university. It’s actually absurd is what it is.” And I agree with Walter.
More can and must be done to remove unnecessary blockages in our apprenticeship system, especially as we see the older master journeymen about to begin a wave of retirement. The current system of 13 different systems creates an uneven landscape and there is a strong case for harmonization.
Now, think about this. I’ve met a young electric-, electrical journeyman, excuse me, apprentice, who did a whole bunch of his training in Ontario and then heard about some of the job prospects out West, wanted to move, but found out that his hours weren’t portable and he’d have to start over from scratch. How crazy is that? You know, thi-, this points to the whole problem of the lack of interprovincial labour mobility in this country.
Our Constitution said this is supposed to be an economic union. Well then let’s make it one. The provinces committed through the Agreement on Internal Trade 15, 17 years ago, to remove, to eliminate barriers to the mobility of labour in Canada, and yet, some provinces like this one are just introducing new barriers to the mobility of labour in Canada.
Friends, you know, think ab-, let’s put this in perspective for a second. You’re an electrician in Portugal. You can move to Sweden and in principle, be certified to work the next day. You’re a physician in Ireland, and you can move to Poland and work the next day. But you can’t move from Ontario to Quebec and do the same thing, in many cases.
Of course, the Red Seals do allow for reciprocal recognition in pro-, in provinces that participate, the trades that participate. But in so many ways, there are still rigidities to that kind of mobility, which is costing us a lot.
Finally, employers have to do more. As I’ve said, they’re, generally speaking, employers in Canada are underspending in terms of skills development, and you know, there’s a lot of shortsightedness in this. When I talk to employers, why aren’t you investing more in apprenticeship programs, for example? They’ll say you know, to tell the truth Jason, you know, in this red-hot labour market, let’s say out in Alberta, if we invest in an apprentice and he gets all trained up, gets his ticket, we’re concerned he’s going to be hired by a major. Especially the SMEs say that, right?
Well, we have to understand that it’s in everyone’s interest to develop a bigger pool of qualified workers, including electricians. And if we all take a very, of all the employers, take a parochial approach, then we’re never going to solve the problem. And so we encourage you, as employers, to find ways that you can invest more.
So finally, I hope you see that we are really engaged on this issue. We get it. We understand the problems that you’re facing. I hope you don’t, you may not agree with all of my suggested policy remedies, but something different has to be done than in the past, or we’re going to miss a huge opportunity. We are on the cusp with these big resource developments, with our trade agreements, with our strong fiscal situation, with our well-educated population, we are on the cusp to be the model economy in the developed world.
We can achieve that potential. We just need to all work together in the same direction. I know that we can do that with Canada’s electricity industry. Thanks very much.