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Evidence of meeting #39 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was construction.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christopher Smillie  Senior Advisor, Government Relations, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, Canadian Office
Francis Bradley  Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association
Michelle Branigan  Member, Canadian Electricity Association
Michael Atkinson  President, Canadian Construction Association
Shaun Thorson  Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Thank you very much.

I'm going to start by making a comment and an observation, more to the committee, really, than to you. We've been studying skills shortages and as a matter of course in this debate that has also evolved around the changes to EI, which you have probably been following in the media.

Government members are now saying that we have unprecedented skills shortages in this country when in fact we know that we don't. We still have labour market surpluses; we still have more people looking for jobs. We have shortages in specific areas and specific occupations, and I think as a committee we need to focus on that as opposed to pretending that there are shortages across the board.

So I was really interested—

5:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

May I respond to that?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Yes, sir.

5:10 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

We have shortages. We would love to be able to fill all of our needs domestically, but we can't right now and it's simple math. When we have a fertility rate of 1.58, we are losing our labour pool quickly.

The other important thing to stress here is that this is not cyclical for our industry. It's not going to go away if all of a sudden demand diminishes very quickly. We have a labour shortage problem in our industry in this country—

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Atkinson—

5:15 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

With respect, I'm not disagreeing with you.

5:15 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

May 16th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

In fact, I did say that we had sectoral shortages, and I certainly agree that within your sector, you do. I don't have an argument with you. I have arguments with some of the rhetoric that's coming out about nationwide labour shortages. In fact, the Bank of Canada in its current monetary policy report said there is excess supply and unused capacity, and I don't think anybody would accuse the Bank of Canada as being an NDP mouthpiece.

To your point, though, I think it is important. In fact, I think it's unfortunate that we've cut sector councils, because some of the really valuable data we've been able to get from them about skill shortages are now no longer available to us.

I was really interested in your point, Mr. Atkinson, that in your industry in particular you can predict and now know that we will have shortages for 20 years, which is a really distant horizon. To me, that represents an opportunity as well as a challenge, because as you said in response to Mr. McColeman, you can't train somebody and you can't put somebody through an apprenticeship overnight. However, if we know that 20 years out we're going to have labour shortages, we can do what you suggest, which is to get young people engaged in the trades again and change the narrative that we've been feeding kids for so long, which, as you suggest, makes the trades an occupation of last resort. Instead, we can say, “You know what? People have made a really decent living in these jobs”. Those have been family sustaining jobs.

But it is about investments in training and supports for training. I think it is also, in the short term, about labour mobility. You acknowledged some of the recommendations made in the 2008 report. I wonder if you could maybe prioritize your recommendations them for the committee. If you had to say, here are five things we want the federal government to invest in, what would their order be in terms of investing to help your industry?

5:15 p.m.

President, Canadian Construction Association

Michael Atkinson

First of all, there is immigration reform, and I think there have been some positive steps in that area right away. There is no question that, despite our best efforts at home, we will still need to look for foreign-trained workers—if not to do anything more than act as journeypersons to train our domestic apprentices. I think that needs to be remembered.

In the whole area of apprenticeship and its promotion, you've taken some good steps. I think there is more that can be done in that area.

The other quick one is training capacity. Up until very recently many of our colleges hadn't had their infrastructure upgraded for 40 to 45 years. I don't mean to pick on it, because it's a great college, but at a time when we need workers, Red River College in Winnipeg had a three-year wait for their carpentry course because they didn't have the space, the up-to-date infrastructure, they needed to do it.

Programs like the knowledge infrastructure program, which was run as a stimulus program, should be regular programs for encouraging and building training capacity, because there's nothing worse than turning on a bunch of youth, turning on a bunch of displaced people, turning on women and aboriginals to get into the construction industry, and when they go knocking on the training door they encounter this response: “Sorry, we can't see you for three years”.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

I hear the bells ringing, so we'll maybe conclude with your comment, Mr. Thorson.

5:15 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Skills Canada

Shaun Thorson

I know I sound like a broken record on this, but I'm going to say that youth need to know at a younger age what's out there for them. That would help solve this problem. They need to know when they're in high school, and even before that in junior high, that these careers are available for them, that these careers are valuable and contribute to the Canadian economy, and that they can make a wonderful life in Canada working in these areas. That will help solve part of this problem.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for your presentation. We had to shorten the proceedings, so we hope you can appreciate that.

Thank you very much.

The meeting is adjourned.