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Workforce development strategy needed to address skills mismatch

It’s unfortunate to have people out of work in Ontario while many employers cannot find qualified candidates to fill job vacancies. Labour shortages are one of the greatest challenges facing businesses today. In some instances, shortages are exacerbated by what is known as a “skills mismatch,” a dynamic in which employers’ needs don’t align with the skill sets of job seekers. Multiple factors contribute to this dilemma, including individuals pursuing qualifications in fields with limited employment opportunities and a rapidly-evolving labour market. 

Ensuring businesses find employees with the right skills is vital to our overall competitiveness. While immigration is a tool used to fill short-term talent gaps, Ontario needs a workforce development strategy to prepare us for the future needs of the labour market. Specific emphasis must be placed on attracting and retaining skilled labour in high-demand sectors of the economy. These include, but are not limited to, construction, logistics, early childhood education, agriculture and food and beverage manufacturing, health care and long-term care. 

As we work towards economic recovery, it will also be crucial to support and target skills training to those demographic groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19, many of whom may be looking to re-enter the workforce or join it for the first time. These include racialized people and Indigenous populations, women, newcomers, youth, persons with disabilities, older workers, and LGBTQ2S+ peoples.

Businesses across the province applauded the announcement by the provincial government this winter that removes barriers for out-of-province skilled workers, internationally-trained professionals and tradespeople. Proposed measures included eliminating both the need for Canadian work experience for specific jobs and the duplication of official language proficiency testing for internationally trained immigrants.

At the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, we represent 157 chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the province, plus a diverse network of 60,000 members. As the indispensable partner of business, we believe that promoting a thoughtful, long-term workforce development strategy for Ontario can help achieve an economy that works for everyone. 

As part of this workforce strategy, we recommend that the Ontario government: 

  • Work with stakeholders in sectors facing large talent gaps to develop sector-specific strategies including promoting skills training and career opportunities;
  • Connect with Ontario’s employers and post-secondary institutions to identify and promote in-demand skilled trades to students in secondary schools;
  • Introduce a tax credit that allows employers who hire graduates of co-op education or equivalent programs to claim a percentage of wages and salaries for the first year of full-time employment;
  • Provide financial support to individuals and small businesses for reskilling, upskilling and microcredentials, particularly for data, digital and other in-demand skill sets;
  • Make regional immigration pilots permanent to attract skilled immigrants to communities facing low or negative population growth.

These are just a few measures that can be taken to address the skills gap throughout various sectors. A robust workforce development strategy can move us from a skills mismatch to an ideal pairing of talent and opportunity. 

Rocco Rossi is president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. In November, the OCC and the Future Skills Centre announced a $3.7 million partnership to give small businesses support to tackle skills gaps and labour shortages through an online training and learning management platform.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint, official policy or position of the Future Skills Centre or any of its staff members or consortium partners.