Good morning, everyone.
I would like to begin by thanking the members of the standing committee for inviting me to speak today.
I would also like to acknowledge that we are gathered here today on traditional, unceded Algonquin territory.
As the associate assistant deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada, I welcome the opportunity to participate in your study of the challenges facing the construction industry in the Greater Toronto Area and in Hamilton, in accessing skilled labour.
The study comes at a significant time for the Canadian labour market. As you've heard, unemployment is at an all-time low in many regions in the country. This has led many sectors, including the construction industry in the greater Toronto area and in Hamilton, as well as in other regions, such as northeastern Alberta and the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, to experience a variety of labour market challenges.
The Department of Employment and Social Development Canada has a wide array of programs and other supports available to address workforce shortages and other skills challenges and ensure the development of a strong and inclusive labour force. These resources support Canadian workers to gain the skills and experience they need to succeed, while also supporting employers who are seeking to access, develop and retain the labour force they require to grow their businesses.
One key area of skills development programming is apprenticeships. This is a proven model for transitioning workers into well-paying jobs in the skilled trades, including in the construction industry in the GTA and in Hamilton.
In recent years, the Department of Employment and Social Development has introduced several new apprenticeship programs to encourage Canadians to explore training and apprenticeship opportunities and to support innovation and training for the skilled trades.
As an example, ESDC supports union-based apprenticeship training innovation and enhanced partnerships in Red Seal trades through the union training and innovation program. The program provides funding to unions to share the cost of training equipment. The key component to the program is to support under-represented groups, with a goal of helping more Canadians to find rewarding and well-paying careers in the skilled trades.
As well, a new pre-apprenticeship program was introduced recently to encourage Canadians to explore and prepare for careers in the skilled trades. The program includes support for individuals from under-represented groups who are interested in attaining careers in the skilled trades. It can include young people, people from indigenous communities, new immigrants, women, and other under-represented groups.
Mr. Chair, a strong labour force depends on a job market where both men and women have a real and fair chance of success. Advancing gender equality and diversity in workplaces is not just good for women; it's good for all Canadians. While the share of women in the skilled trades has almost doubled over the past 40 years, there is more that can be done to close the gender gaps, and in turn help increase the supply of qualified labour, including in the trades.
The new women in construction fund supports projects building on existing models that have proven to be effective in attracting women to the trades. These models provide aid such as mentoring, coaching and tailored supports that help women progress through the training and find and retain jobs in the trades.
The quality of labour market opportunities for women is as important as the quantity. The apprenticeship incentive grant for women is a new grant that supports women to enter, progress and complete their training in Red Seal trades where women are traditionally under-represented and which are typically higher-paying.
Providing opportunities for workplace experience is an important part of our efforts, as work experience is critical to a successful transition for youth from school to work.
In addition to the programs designed to attract new workers, the Government of Canada provides a variety of supports to apprentices in the skilled trades along the way. Apprentices, for example, can receive grants and loans during a four-year apprenticeship program in Red Seal trades. They are eligible for various tax credits, and they can receive employment insurance benefits during the in-school training portion of the apprenticeship.
The Government of Canada recognizes also that employers are a crucial part of the equation. The apprenticeship job creation tax credit gives employers a credit for each apprentice they hire in eligible trades in the first two years of their apprenticeship programs.
Newcomers to Canada are another source of potential labour for the construction industry, and we are working with partners to facilitate the integration of skilled newcomers into the Canadian labour market. For example, in the GTA, we work with organizations such as the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council and the Centre for Education & Training. In collaboration with these stakeholders, we help simplify the foreign credential recognition process, provide direct service supports and micro-loans to cover the foreign credential recognition expenses of newcomers, and support them in gaining their first Canadian work experience.
I'd also like to say a few words about temporary workers, about whom we've already heard a little bit today. In situations where qualified Canadians and permanent residents are not available to fill jobs and labour shortages persist, the temporary foreign worker program is also available as a program of last resort to help employers, including in the construction sector, to address their genuine labour requirements.
Through this program, employers can seek to hire qualified foreign workers on a short-term basis when Canadians and permanent residents are not available.
Members of the committee may recall that as part of the government's response to the committee's 2016 report on the temporary foreign worker program, ESDC announced in April 2017 that it would work with industries that are heavy users of the temporary foreign worker program to review labour needs and identify appropriate workforce development strategies. One of the industries identified for this review was the construction industry.
In following up on the commitment, ESDC held a series of round tables with the construction sector in February and March of last year. Through these discussions, the participants identified several key challenges for the industry, including the recruitment of workers, the image of the industry, a lack of labour mobility, and the inability to share scheduling and planning of projects within the industry.
There are also opportunities for employers to enhance their efforts to recruit workers from traditionally under-represented groups, including women, indigenous people, youth and recent immigrants, among others. Many employers in the GTA and surrounding areas have been working to modernize their recruitment techniques to capture the attention of young people. They have also implemented sensitivity training to make their workplaces more attractive to women and other under-represented groups. This is a great start, but even more can be done and should be done. This is a win-win scenario. Employers will be able to access workers and grow their businesses, while more Canadians will gain well-paid jobs and experience that will serve them well in their working lives.
In addition to apprenticeships and temporary solutions, the department also works with parties, such as provinces, territories and industry, to make investment in skills training so that more Canadians are able to participate in the labour market. Each year, the government invests over $2 billion through the labour market development agreements with the provinces and territories to support Canadians with skills training and employment support that is funded through employment insurance. Under these agreements, employment benefits enable eligible participants to gain skills and work experience. These agreements also support the provision of employment services assistance for all Canadians, which helps them in searching and preparing for jobs so that they can fulfill their potential.
The government has negotiated new workforce development agreements with most provinces and territories that enable them to provide employment assistance and skills training to respond to the diverse needs of their respective clients.
Having access to timely and accurate labour market information is another tool to help industries, including the construction sector in the Greater Toronto Area and in Hamilton, address labour shortages.
Through the sectorial initiatives program, Employment and Social Development Canada has supported sectoral organizations to produce industry-validated labour market information, including labour forecasts in the construction industry.
These forecasts help the construction industry identify the nature and scope of labour shortages. They consider factors such as the current labour supply and demand, the gender gap and population growth. This information has been used widely by employers, unions, sector organizations and various levels of government to help tailor programming and develop strategies.
In conclusion, ESDC is taking the labour issue in the construction industry very seriously and welcomes the study. Real change requires partnership between governments, businesses, unions, non-governmental organizations and civil society. There remains an opportunity for all of us to continue to work in partnerships to support Canadian industries and workers.
Thank you again for the opportunity to appear with you today. I and my colleagues will be pleased to answer your questions.