Summary: February 11 Census Release Labour market data shows critical skills shortage - and skills going unused

February 11, 2003

Canada increasingly needs highly skilled workers – but highly skilled immigrants are having a hard time finding work, according to 2001 labour market data released today by Statistics Canada.

Both job growth and the aging of the working population are driving the demand for highly skilled workers. While baby boomers (aged 37 to 55) made up 47% of the labour force in 2001, it is estimated that a decade from now over half of them will be 55 or over and 18% will be over 60. In educational and medical professions, and in skilled trades such as carpentry, the aging of the labour force is expected to create serious shortages in the near future.

The lack of workers poised to replace retirees in medical, educational, and skilled trade professions points to the need for national and provincial skills and training strategies. Canada has abandoned the national strategy it began in the late 1980s and downloaded training responsibilities to provincial governments. Most provinces have also cut back their spending on provincial training strategies. And, as evidenced by high unemployment among qualified younger workers, too many employers just do not have adequate strategies for bringing new workers on board. We need a more responsible and concerted strategy which must involve governments, community organizations, and employers in the private and public sectors.

The unemployment rate of recent immigrants aged 24 to 54 was twice that of the Canadian population, 12.1% compared to 6.4% - despite the fact that immigrants are almost twice as likely as native Canadians to have a university degree (21% compared to 12%). Immigrants are an important labour resource for Canada, accounting for 70% of the total labour force growth during the last decade. Their present unemployment rate is in stark contrast to 1981 figures, when new immigrants had employment rates virtually identical to native born Canadians. Female immigrants were even more likely to face unemployment than their male counterparts, according to the 2001 census.

The rising levels of unemployment of skilled immigrants is a problem which the CCSD has addressed in a number of studies, most recently in "Does a Rising Tide Lift All Boats?" by Senior Research Associate Ekuwa Smith. Smith argues that, with new immigrants increasingly being members of visible minorities, racism may play a role in their economic marginalization. A more recent report from the Canadian Labour Congress, concluded that racism is a continuing problem in the workplace. More strategies to counter this form of exclusion are needed.

Another key factor Smith identifies in the struggle of new immigrants is the non-recognition or undervaluing of foreign skills and credentials. There is a clear need for timely and appropriate recognition of foreign credentials, and for apprenticeship or mentoring programs to help newcomers secure positions in their chosen professions.

Women continue to do a disproportionate amount of unpaid work. Although women accounted for two thirds of the labour force growth in the 1990’s, the proportion of unpaid housework they accomplished was virtually unchanged from the last census. Twenty-one percent of women devoted 30 hours or more to housework during the week prior to the census, compared with 8% of men. Sixteen percent of women aged 15 and over devoted 30 hours or more to childcare, more than twice the amount men did.

That women continue to do a disproportionate amount of unpaid housework and child care, despite their increasing participation in the workforce, makes apparent the need for a variety of strategies which encourage men to take responsibility for child care and which help families balance work and family responsibilities. The introduction of enhanced parental leave options over the last few years is one good step in this direction. An increase in the availability and flexibility of licensed child care might will also give families, and women in particular, more options in their efforts to balance work and family, helping to alleviate their burden of unpaid work. It is hoped that federal proposals for a national child care strategy will make their way into the next federal budget, along with funding adequate to such a key undertaking.

There was almost no new job growth in the city of Toronto over the last 20 years while the suburbs showed a 120% increase in jobs. This suburbanization of jobs has implications for low income people, many of whom live in our city centres. More jobs need to be created in our urban cores.

Suburbanization may also be leading an increasing number of people to drive to work. In 2001 there were almost 1 million more drivers on the road than five years earlier.


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