Labour shortage? More a labour mismatch, claims researcher

Trent Ernst, Editor


There is no evidence of a national labour shortage at present or into the foreseeable future, and furthermore, there are large groups of underutilized populations who could join the workforce or be more fully employed, according to Dr. Susan McDaniel from the University of Lethbridge.

According to McDaniel and her team, the so-called labour shortage is a fallacy, although certain segments of the population are severely underutilized.

Her findings come from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Knowledge Synthesis Grant.

“The research literature clearly finds that there is no national labour shortage,” says McDaniel, who is the Canada Research Chair in Global Population and Life Course as well as the Prentice Research Chair in Global Population and Economy at the University of Lethbridge. “There are skills shortages in some industries and regions, but the literature points to a mismatch of skills rather than a shortage.”

This is at odds with the common assumption that Canada is facing a labour shortage. McDaniel says that instead of a labour shortage causing difficulties for employers, they are facing cyclical industry shortages for their labour market, and not a national skilled labour shortage. Nor is a shortage anticipated in the near future, as some have been predicting, but is expected to grow for nearly twenty years, though slower than in the past.

McDaniel’s headed a team of researchers with expertise in demographic change, immigration and skills development from the University of Lethbridge, University of Alberta and University of Calgary. The team distilled 219 peer-reviewed articles and reports for inclusion in this study, dating from 2000 to 2013. The articles focused on: gaps in labour/skills demand and supply, aging workforce, employment patterns of aging Canadians, the role of immigration and shifting immigration policies and the role of shifting skills development.

According to the study, many older baby boomers are working longer, meaning there’s less shrinkage of the workforce than predicted, while the trailing edge of the boom is currently about 47 years old, which means they’ll be working for nearly twenty more years.

Their findings also identified large groups of populations, such as youth, Aboriginals, disabled persons and unemployed older workers who are being underutilized in the workforce.

As well, highly skilled immigrants are being severely underutilized in the workforce in their fields of expertise due to unrecognized experience and credentials.

Temporary foreign workers support the Canadian economy in lower paying jobs, particularly in the hospitality, food and beverage industries, as well as in higher paying jobs. However they do not receive the same levels of employment security, equity and supports Canadian employees in the same roles do.

“Canada’s immigration irony is that we attract highly-skilled workers but then fail to utilize, or underutilize, the important skills they bring,” says McDaniel. “As a result, immigrants are not actually meeting the needs of the Canadian labour market.”