November 1, 2013
phil charalBy Phil Charal
LO president

Canada has a shortage of skilled trade workers, including areas such as mechanics, welding, construction and our industry, horticulture. And, the problem is likely to worsen with many of today’s qualified workers approaching retirement age.

According to Statistics Canada, there are many skilled trade workers approaching retirement, while very few young people are entering the skilled trade workforce.

It seems that today’s graduates are not interested in skilled trades, instead looking at university or less traditional subjects such as cosmetology, food services, and even funeral services. So, couple this with retirement facing large numbers of Boomers and you can imagine how it could result in a crisis.

Recent national survey numbers on education show some interesting facts on the three post-secondary credentials, which include trade certificates (including a certificate or diploma, or a registered apprenticeship certificate), college diploma and university degree. Of the three, the trade certificate is the only one held by fewer young adults than older ones.

It is unfortunate that more young people cannot see value in the trades. It’s an area that offers great job prospects, good pay and provides a sense of accomplishment.

Skilled trade workers are critically important for the Canadian economy. They are the people who will be building new projects and maintaining the old ones. Skilled trades are not something we can outsource to China.  

The federal government understands the urgency of the situation, noting that the construction sector alone requires 319,000 new workers over the next seven years. Ottawa has stated that it will spend $4-million over the next three years to harmonize requirements for apprentices across Canada.

The federal government is also promising to use apprentices in federal construction and maintenance contracts.

Ask any business owner in the green industry what his biggest challenge is, and he will likely single out the problems with hiring good people.

Isn’t it amazing and puzzling how young people generally have a difficult time finding suitable and enjoyable employment, despite holding university degrees?

Today’s youth have been encouraged from an early age to seek a university education and become a professional. In guidance offices throughout Canada and dining rooms in our homes, the song remains the same, and it doesn’t include positive encouragement toward skilled trades.

Canadians are turning their backs on skilled trades. Over the next decade, as the Baby Boomers step away from the workforce, experts say that Canada’s skill shortage could reach a million people.

So, how does business prepare for this crisis?

We need to spend time to continue and improve our co-op and apprenticeship programs by giving young people the great opportunity for hands-on job experiences. We need to push back against the educational establishment that assumes the best and the brightest must go to university.

We also must encourage our young people to do the work they love and to pursue a career for which they have a passion.

To investigate many of the programs available, the following web pages contain a great deal of information.

Phil Charal may be reached at