When it comes to the challenges facing the changing labour market in Ontario and Canada, technology gets the most attention but demography is also an important factor to consider, says one industry analyst.
“Not only is technology evolving, but population patterns are changing in a real and palatable way,” stated Sean Conway, a policy adviser at Gowling WLG and an honourary fellow at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Conway recently addressed a group of delegates at the Ontario Road Builders’ Association Convention.
“If you look at that 2016 census, it makes plain that the baby boomers are leaving the labour market in significant numbers. Employers have to get their heads around the fact that the domestic pool from which they are going to be drawing the labour force of tomorrow is growing at one of the slowest rates in recorded history. That 15- to 64-year-old group is growing at the slowest rate since 1851 and it is going to continue to slow down.”
Conway, who was previously Ontario’s minister of education, was chair of the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel which produced a report to the Ontario government. The panel, which released the report in June 2016, had a mandate to advise the government on what needed to be done to develop an integrated strategy to help Ontario’s workforce adapt to the demands of a technology-driven knowledge economy.
The 2016 Canadian Census includes “powerful data,” Conway noted, adding it didn’t get enough attention, as “4.9 million people are getting ready to leave the Canadian labour market and 4.3 million are planning to enter the labour market — that’s a 600,000-person gap.”
The panel was told by the Ontario Ministry of Finance that virtually all net growth in the Canadian labour force over the next generation will have to be driven by immigration.
If you get into places in northern Ontario you’ve got a very substantial pool of aboriginal men and women
— Sean Conway
“For places like Ontario, immigration is going to be really important to filling that gap,” Conway explained. “We better hope that the federal and the provincial governments are on the same page more or less on immigration and that we are in fact getting and retaining the new Canadians when and where we need them.”
The census also indicates that more and more people in Canada plan to live in four metropolitan regions: the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Greater Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton and Greater Vancouver.
“If you look at the province of Ontario the growth is very heavily skewed to the GTA. A lot of the rest of the province is seeing static growth, no growth or even contraction,” explained Conway.
“If you are an employer in places like Chatham, Brockville, North Bay, Timmins and Thunder Bay, your situation on average is going to be even more challenging because in some cases you probably have an above average older population and young people have been leaving some of those places in considerable numbers over the last little while. You’re going to really have to pay even more attention to your strategy to get and retain the kind of human resources you’re going to need.”
The Indigenous population is growing at four times the non-Indigenous population in Canada, the census indicated.
“That Indigenous population is large and it’s quite young,” said Conway. “If you get into places in northern Ontario you’ve got a very substantial pool of aboriginal men and women. You’ve got to find a way to make sure that they are an important part of your human resource planning.”
He also said that partnerships matter.
“The panel’s principle recommendation to the government is we felt very strongly that there needed to be a Planning and Partnership Table that brings government and business and the educational community together to focus on this particular challenge, to set an agenda and to drive that agenda to better results,” said Conway. “The government has accepted that and they are doing things at the moment that will hopefully bring about some improvements.”
The panel also recommended the Specialist High Skills Majors program be expanded and increased. It allows high school, college and university students to specialize in an area where they have some interest.
“We’ve been told by employers and successful entrants into the labour force that education needs to be more experientially focused,” said Conway. “We recommended that every Ontario student should have at least one quality experiential learning opportunity before they graduate from high school. We’ve added that the colleges and universities must similarly change their program to incorporate quality experiential opportunities.”