The top five trade skills that will be most in demand during the post-pandemic economic recovery are boilermakers, welders, machinists, carpenters and millwrights, said Skills Ontario CEO Ian Howcroft.
“The Conference Board of Canada, construction associations, manufacturing associations, the chambers of commerce have all highlighted this as a significant issue and challenge that we have to address if we’re going to be able to maintain our economic growth, our standard of living, our quality of life and build the homes, the infrastructure and the manufacturing products that we need,” Howcroft told the .
“Those are the ones we are hearing about and there is already a huge shortage. It’s not as if you just turn the tap on…it takes time. You’ve got to get people interested, get them to do an apprenticeship, do four years.”
While we are still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic in many areas, one thing COVID-19 showed people was that there are certain jobs that are in demand, Howcroft added.
“We need a trained workforce to be able to do that,” he explained.
“You need a strong manufacturing sector with trained people to be able to make PPE and keep the economy going. We need a strong construction sector to build infrastructure…I think it gave us an opportunity to highlight some of these important jobs.
“I think people are looking at things a little differently after we’ve gone through the pandemic and realizing that maybe some of these jobs that we took for granted or wouldn’t consider as a career for our kids or for ourselves, maybe these are things we should be looking at. That’s what we’re trying to build on.”
Many sectors suffered worker losses during the pandemic. Although most of construction was deemed essential and allowed to continue, some of the worker shortages existed prior to that.
“Manufacturing and construction were able to continue for the most part and do well from a productivity and output perspective. They were able to go through and didn’t have any major shutdowns for the most part, but they were experiencing shortages and couldn’t find the skilled trades workers that they needed,” said Howcroft.
“There are 144-plus trades in the system and the construction and manufacturing sectors have identified that ‘yes, it’s a longstanding problem, it’s growing, but there are a few trades that we hear about on a more regular basis.’”
Howcroft pointed out there are going to be a lot of jobs that need to be filled over the next five years.
“There is a lot of investment in construction with infrastructure,” Howcroft noted. “The government has been talking about what can they do on the residential side, homebuilding, there is a shortage of homes.”
The other challenge is that many of the people currently employed in these areas are in their mid to late 50s.
“They will be leaving the workforce, so we have to make sure that we are not just having people be trained, but a lot of people because there will be a lot more leaving than entering it,” he said.
What is Skills Ontario doing to address the issue?
“One of the things were trying to do more of is we need to get young people involved so we go into the schools and we give about 2,000 presentations a year,” he explained. “It has been virtual but now we’re going back into the schools again. We’re trying to provide those experiential opportunities through the competitions that we hold and the work that we do.”
Skills Ontario will also host its 2023 provincial competition in-person for the first time since before the pandemic. The event will feature booths and many hands-on learning opportunities for those in attendance, Howcroft said. It will be held May 1, 2 and 3 at the Toronto Congress Centre.
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