Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley announced a new initiative to address shortages of workers on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The federal government plans to launch a new online tool to connect job seekers and employers as part of an effort to deal with a "skills crisis."
Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley said at a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa that there are already major shortages of workers in health care, information technology and skilled trades. Where shortages don't currently exist, employers and other stakeholders are warning they are coming, she said.
"This is becoming a skills crisis. We want to avert that so we're trying something new," she said in announcing the government's intention to provide more information on its existing Working in Canada website.
She acknowledged that past efforts by the government to address unemployment and worker shortages haven't always been successful or efficient. During the recent recession, for example, there were challenges in getting workers to the places they were needed, Finley said.
With this latest initiative, the government will work much closer with the private sector to collect information about their needs and to provide it to post-secondary education institutions so they can prepare to train people in the areas where there will be shortages, and, to Canadians looking for jobs.
"Better information will help Canadians find jobs and make the right learning and career choices," Finley said.
The information about what sectors need workers now, and are going to need them in the years ahead, and in what parts of the country, will be featured on the website.
"It's a really collaborative approach for a change," said Finley.
She said her department is moving quickly on the project but couldn't provide a timeline for when it will be up and running.
The minister said Canada's economy is improving but that productivity and labour force growth are sluggish, and that addressing the skills shortage will help on that front.
"Skills shortages are costly. They mean reduced productivity and lower growth," she said. "We need to work smarter if we are to see the kind of prosperity and growth that an expanding labour force guaranteed in the past," said Finley.
Improving the matching of employee skills with market demands will help drive the country's economic recovery, she said.
The minister was joined at her press conference by Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who said any effort made by the government to predict labour shortages is helpful.
Beatty said members of his organization are worried about the impending work shortages that will partly be caused as older Canadians retire.
"We have a skills problem in Canada, on its way to becoming a skills crisis unless we can successfully match the skills in this country with the needs that are going to be in the workforce," he said.
The enhanced federal government website is one of many measures that can be taken to help ward off further worker shortages, said Beatty. His organization would also like to see more action on other solutions, including expediting foreign credential recognition and attracting more international students to Canadian schools and enticing them to stay once they graduate.
"Canada's efforts will fail if they are not guided by the best possible intelligence and this is not a battle that any of us can afford to lose," he said.