Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for your invitation to appear before you today.
We're very pleased to be here, and we commend you for undertaking this study.
The study has two points of focus. The first is fixing the skills gap. The second seems to be about dealing with shortages in areas of low-skilled jobs. Our work and our mandate is to lift people who don't have skills into the skilled category, so I'm going to talk more about the first component of your study and less about the second.
We are the voice of Canada's publicly funded colleges, CEGEPs, university colleges, and polytechnics. We share membership with Polytechnics Canada, represented here today. We have 150 participating institutions, which have a remarkable 1,000 campuses in all parts of Canada.
Canada faces two realities that I think drive this study. The first is that in our knowledge-based economy, the workplace is increasingly laden with technology. As I like to say, in this BlackBerry there is more computing technology than was aboard Apollo 13. It completely stuns me, but I understand it to be true.
Entry-level positions in virtually every sector require sophisticated knowledge of complex systems: 70% of new jobs now require a post-secondary credential. We believe this number will increase toward 80%. Currently our post-secondary achievement rate is 60%, so clearly we have a gap.
The second reality is that Canada has a debilitating demographic deficit. We are a rapidly aging population. I can testify to that personally. An exodus from the labour market of mammoth proportions is under way as millions of baby boomers retire. In 2011 the first baby boomer became 65.
We think of immigration as a solution to our problem. It is a part of the solution, but it is a small part. Even with immigration, Canada's labour market participation rate will drop from somewhere above 60% to the 40% range. I don't want to be specific, but it's an enormous drop in labour market participation. This figure has vast implications.
To some extent, the current shortage in advanced skills has been masked by the slow recovery and growth since the 2008 recession. Nevertheless, industry leaders are expressing profound concern about skills and labour shortages.
Recently The Globe and Mail reported that two-thirds of Canadian corporate executives surveyed are having difficulty finding qualified employees. One-third report that the labour shortage is so severe it is preventing their companies from growing as quickly as they otherwise would.
Just two weeks ago, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce released the top ten barriers to competitiveness. It identified Canada's human capital crisis as the highest priority—the highest priority—for 2012.
I can give you some numbers, although you've probably heard many of these. The construction sector is anticipating a need for 325,000 skilled people by 2019. The ICT sector forecasts a need for 106,000 analysts, technicians, and consultants by 2017. The mining industry will need 65,000 operators and primary production managers.
We say—and this is the big statement, I think—that unless something changes, within ten years employers will not find qualified candidates for 1.5 million available jobs across all sectors. It could be somewhat less, it could be somewhat more, but this is a reasonable and scientific number.
Currently almost 2.2 million Canadians between 25 and 64 years of age do not have a high school diploma, and 40% of adults struggle with low literacy. Colleges are very much part of the answer. Colleges provide upgrading programs that will enable adults to gain a high school diploma and transition to post-secondary programs.
Colleges, institutes, polytechnics, and CEGEPs excel at providing accessible, cost-effective post-secondary education and lifelong learning—critically important. They possess a unique ability to nurture the marginalized through to graduation and employment.
Despite the sluggish economy, upwards of 90% of college students find employment within six months of graduation. We are very good at placing our graduates into the economy and into solid jobs.
We are very focused on providing adult upgrading and essential skills development for marginalized learners. We have very strong partnerships with employers to ensure that programs are responsive to the skills requirements of the labour market.
Reading the minutes of your earlier meetings, with their strong focus on labour market data, we agree that there is a need at the national level. We work at that ourselves in community environments by maintaining very tight and close relationships with local employers to forecast needs and meet current demands.
Essential skills development, also referenced in your last meeting, is a very important dimension for placement experiences. It's particularly effective at providing marginalized people with transferable skills for employment. In that process, students see real-world applications to what they are learning. Modest investments in upgrading essentials skills such as document comprehension, critical thinking, and problem solving can yield significant gains in productivity.
Budget 2012 highlighted the importance of linking skills upgrading to the delivery of income assistance for first nations on-reserve students. This model could have broader application.
To give a little more detail on our work with the private sector, college program advisory committees, comprising local employers, develop and update curricula to ensure that college graduates have the leading-edge knowledge and the practical skills required by employers. Strong employer partnerships also enable colleges to provide students with work placements and internships, a key approach to ensuring that graduates are job-ready. As I mentioned, we are very effective at that outcome.
We also do a great deal of applied research. We are primarily an SME economy. In fact, 98% of Canadian enterprises are SMEs, and colleges work closely with them on their applied research needs. I think that's an important college contribution, which the Government of Canada has begun to support.
Increased immigration is part of the solution to the skills challenges. We do play an integral role in supporting the integration of immigrants to the labour market. In fact, our association has a close relationship with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to enable federal skilled workers to meet foreign credential requirements more efficiently through pre-departure orientation and referral services, through the Canadian immigrant integration program. To date we've served 22,000 clients. This is federal skilled workers with their credentials to leave for Canada; before they leave, we have programs to help them hit the ground running and find employment quickly.
These are, in a very highly summarized fashion, the mitigating strategies and the contributions that our institutions can make, but the challenges we face are of very large proportions. What we must do, as a country, to come to grips with these very large issues is reach out to traditionally marginalized populations, including aboriginal peoples, the disabled, poor immigrants, disengaged young men, which is a very important category, and long-term welfare-dependent families, in order to lift them into the economic mainstream through education.
A highly skilled workforce that exploits the talents of every Canadian is our only path to jobs and to a sustainable economy. In other words, the people we need to drive our economy forward already live here, in the main, and we must ensure that they all have the tools to participate in our economy. Those tools are derived through education.
So how do we lift significantly the participation rate in post-secondary education? If I had all of the answers, I would be Solomon. I am not Solomon.
I don't know what the answers are, but I know this problem is of such proportion that we need every order of government, every sector—private sector and civil society. We need an enormous national focus on this problem, without which our economy will lose several ranks in terms of per capita income, and that will happen quickly. The federal government certainly must be an important player at the table.
Mitigating strategies are being adopted. There are changes on immigration, and HRSDC is doing many things, but we must do much more. We must take this challenge on as a grand national enterprise. It's something like taking on the trans-Canadian railway to the Pacific as a national challenge. It's something like engaging in a war, where all assets of society are focused on the same outcome. This is how big our problem is. There have been 1.5 million empty jobs in ten years because we don't have the qualified people.
I wish you every success in learning from other witnesses and dreaming big about what needs to be done, because what needs to be done is huge.
I will leave you with one small thought about one possible remedy. It's a small thought and it somewhat runs against the grain and is perhaps politically unacceptable. Within Canada's social transfer is just under $4 billion for post-secondary education. If the crisis of skills becomes so serious as to blunt the growth of our economy—frankly, it's already happening—the Government of Canada may wish to attach some strings and expect some outcomes from this transfer in the same way we expect certain outcomes with respect to wait times with the health accord. Your government may wish to attach some expectations in terms of provincial, educational, and post-secondary contributions.
I have to tell you that in some jurisdictions, despite the skill shortage, provincial governments are reducing their investment in post-secondary education. This is the last thing that should happen, given our technological sophistication and technological dependency of the workplace, and given our enormous demographic deficit.
I look forward to discussing these issues with you. To initiate a dialogue, we plan to do two things. The first is that we're hosting the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics in Halifax, in May. And in 2013 we plan to launch a national discussion through a big event in Ottawa on these issues.
Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Chair.