The Viewpoints Survey of business, labour, and public sector leaders highlights the importance of the skills shortages issue facing Canada. Six out of ten managers and labour leaders, in both the public and private sectors, judged the issue of skills shortages as a serious problem for the Canadian economy and labour market. Over 90% of survey respondents said skills shortages are at least a moderate problem, while fewer than 10% said it is "not a problem". Managers and labour leaders are concerned about skills shortages for good reason - they are experiencing them first hand. About one out of every two managers surveyed said occupational shortages currently exist within their own organization, and a similar proportion of labour leaders said occupational shortages are currently present in their members’ workplaces.
When asked what the most important actions would be to address human resource and skills requirements over the next five years, managers and labour leaders were in complete agreement on the top five actions, including the central importance of upgrading the skills of current employees.
Despite agreement on the actions needed to address skills requirements, managers and labour leaders responding to the Viewpoints Survey also tell us it will not necessarily be easy to deliver the goods. Seventy per cent of managers and close to 90% of labour leaders told us there would be problems meeting future labour and skills requirements. For example, large numbers of managers tell us that their workplaces are without training plans or training budgets, and many see training costs a prohibitive. Developing actions and initiatives to enhance support for workplace training and lifelong learning is clearly warranted.
The Viewpoints findings also suggest a need to address certain "disconnects" on skills issues. One example is literacy. Four in ten employed Canadians have literacy skills below the desired threshold for coping with the rapidly changing skills demands of a knowledge-based economy. But the Viewpoints Survey finds that only 17% of managers judge the issue to be a serious problem facing the economy. Literacy and numeracy skills were the least likely of employees’ skills set seen as needing improvement, and two-thirds of managers did not think that low literacy levels of employees would impede skills training and upgrading. Promoting awareness of the literacy issue, and providing greater support for workplace literacy and essential skills training might be appropriate responses.
The Viewpoints Survey shows that while we may recognize the seriousness of skills shortages, we are falling short in several areas. Our record on workplace training continues to lag behind that of other countries, we often lack training plans, we fail to appreciate and address the central importance of literacy and essential skills, and we pay insufficient attention to those under-represented in our workforce - including Aboriginal peoples and immigrants. These are not new problems. But our collective failure to resolve them places us increasingly at risk of a serious skills crisis down the road.
While the issue of skills shortage is viewed as a serious problem right across the country, the factors giving rise to it can be remarkably different from one region or community to the next. Some regions are experiencing shortages in the context of near full employment, others in the context of more unemployment levels. Some regions are losing large numbers of their youth and young adults to other parts of the country. Some regions receive large numbers of immigrants, while others a mere "trickle". In some regions, literacy problems are more pronounced. And in some regions, the labour force is characterized by an increasingly large Aboriginal population.