Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Throne speech to tackle lack of skilled workers

The speech from the throne on Wednesday will not just promise more jobs, it will address a lack of skilled workers that has left some Canadian jobs going begging, government sources say.

Sources told CBC News that the speech, to be delivered by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean at 2:30 p.m. ET in Ottawa, will include a greater emphasis on attracting and retaining immigrant skilled workers, by giving more weight to work experience.
Workforce report


A recent report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that a low Canadian birth rate combined with an inefficient immigration system has created a perfect storm. The report, released Feb. 22, predicts that in the next decade, 100 per cent of net workforce growth will come from new immigrants to Canada.

Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association, said the government simply can't afford to ignore tradespeople and craftspeople in its new productivity agenda.

"Sometimes the construction industry, like other industries, is painted as being yesterday's economy, as an old world economy. And that's just not true," he said.

"It's the construction industry that builds our laboratories, builds the clean rooms, builds our fibre networks, builds the research centres. So, from our perspective, the construction industry builds Canada."
Post-secondary education valued, not trades

Atkinson said his industry will need to replace 317,000 workers by 2017, including on-site workers, managers and supervisors. That's going to be difficult, he said, because of current barriers within the immigration system.

"Our point system is really geared towards people with post-secondary education and with proficiency in both of our official languages, with very little points or merit given for experience or qualifications in a trade," he said.

"It's easier to get into Canada as a permanent resident with a couple of degrees in Greek pottery or Greek mythology rather than 25 years experience as a welder."

Tina Kremmidas, the chief economist for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the author of its latest report, said Canada risks losing out in the global competition for workers.

She cited the Australian example, where skilled immigrants are brought into the workforce more quickly to fill needed trades, along with students who are encouraged to stay on.

"Those are the things that Canada's immigration policy needs to look at," she said. "We're certainly competing with Australia, we're competing with the U.K. and other European countries, not to mention the U.S., for skilled immigrants and highly educated immigrants. Not only in the skilled professions but what we call unskilled labour."
Focus on family reunification

For some trade representatives, the change will require a shift in government philosophy away from the social aspects of immigration in favour of economic variables.

"They really have to look at changing the nature of immigration from a social policy to an economic policy," said Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia.

"For too long we were involved in not bringing in enough skilled people and were focused on family reunification. And that's fine. But the economy in order to recover will need skilled people to do that."

All eyes will be on Ottawa this week as it lays out a broader agenda, beginning with the throne speech on Wednesday, and culminating in the tabling of the federal budget on Thursday.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2010/03/02/throne-speech-jobs-skills.html#ixzz0h7rD4mpC