Opinion piece by Karl Blackburn, president and CEO of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, published in the Montreal Gazette on July 12, 2021.
Not a day goes by without news about the real impacts of the ongoing labour shortage. The province’s aging demographics will make this a reality until at least 2030. How can we turn the tide?
With already 181,030 position to fill — and rising — one can argue that the labour shortage is in fact a labour crisis, with Quebec’s unemployment rate at a historic low and the employment rate reaching new heights. This results in lost contracts, cancelled investments, forced closures, hits to regional economies and overworked employees — and employers.
Business solutions, from salary- and job-benefit increases to hiring bonuses, merely shift the labour force around. New workers don’t suddenly materialize.
What should be a promising post-pandemic relaunch may, for certain sectors, be dead in the water. Business ambitions require human capital, in every field, every region and at every salary level.
There are viable solutions: training, innovation and increasing the labour pool. Still, the months roll on. What’s holding things back?
Here are what the Conseil du patronat du Québec sees as the 10 best ways to mitigate the crisis and stir hope for a bona fide relaunch across all sectors in the province. Every link in the labour chain is critical, and the stakes are simply too high to engage in shortcuts and slapdash efforts.
1. Excellence in innovation and the tech shift
Quebec businesses need gains in productivity. They must invest massively in new technologies, automation and robotization.
2. Literacy and numeracy
Nearly one out of two people in Quebec struggles with illiteracy. This is a crisis in and of itself and makes training and learning new skills all the more complex. Workers simply cannot go without literacy training in today’s technological world.
3. Training in the business place
Qualified labour is much too rare. Employers will take on labour training if they are offered adequate support.
4. Experienced workers
Relatively fewer 60- to 69-year-olds are employed in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, and especially in comparison to Ontario. By keeping pace in 2020, 75,200 more people could be working in Quebec. Those keen to stay employed need better fiscal incentives.
5. Employment insurance as training strategy
Canada will soon be reforming its employment insurance (EI) program, a perfect opportunity to add measures to encourage Canadians to undergo training between job opportunities.
6. Programs for youth not in employment, education or training (NEET)
Young people represent 54 per cent of the next decade’s labour force. Diverse as they are, Emploi-Québec’s programs must be more personalized, both for them and their future employers.
7. Ramping up inclusion
Despite progress in recent years, finding work remains more challenging for those who are racialized, have disabilities or have criminal records, and the same is true for Indigenous people and those from the LGBTQ+ community. There are solutions to rectify this dire reality.
8. Recognizing prior training and experience
Too much out-of-province education and work experience goes unrecognized. Educational institutions, employment assistance organizations and employers can increasingly work together to boost the number of certified workers.
9. Bringing the TFWP into the 21st century
Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) allows employers to more promptly meet their labour needs than do permanent resident programs. But the TFWP is still quite inflexible and urgently needs an upgrade.
10. Immigration levels that meet labour force needs
Quebec has been setting its own quotas in terms of new immigrants since 1991. Due to a variety of political considerations, these numbers have continued to fall over the last three years. Quebec now welcomes 12 per cent of immigrants entering the country despite representing 23 per cent of Canada’s total population.
These quotas must be increased. Employment remains an excellent way to integrate newcomers, socially, economically and linguistically. Salary levels cannot act as barriers to entry.
The economy is a chain and weakening any of its links ultimately compromises its strength.