Regional Needs for Engineers: Matching Labour Supply to Demand

A growing number of studies and opinions expressed publicly in recent years point to the necessity of matching Canadian post-secondary education programs with labour market needs. While some coordination efforts may already happen at a local or regional level, no national mechanisms are in place to ensure that the type and number of university specializations are correlated with labour demand.

Recent data on labour shortages and surpluses suggest there continues to be a significant mismatch between the structure and needs of the job market, on the one hand, and the available work force, on the other. CIBC World Markets Inc. deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal suggested in an analysis of Canada’s labour market that “at least three in 10 businesses say they face a skilled labour shortage […] That number is double the rate of early 2010. [In the meantime] a quarter of a million Canadians have been unemployed for more than six months.”

Besides bringing in new immigrants to fill positions in sectors where there are job vacancies, educational programs could also help rebalance the existing labour market mismatch. To do so however, a national education strategy is required – this would help not just Canada’s federal and provincial governments, but also employers and individuals seeking employment. It would require a radical re-thinking of post-secondary education in this country and a new governance approach for this key sector of the Canadian society.

Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, made an important point in an analysis of the country’s post-secondary education:  “Our system is based on the deification of individual choice. People get to go where they want. We aren’t shaping the process.” A national post-secondary education strategy would not limit students’ choices, but would help guide them towards sectors and specializations that are in demand.

“We need to deliver the right people with the right credentials to the right economy at the right time,” added James Knight, President of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, in a Globe and Mail article. Definitely not an easy feat. Yet universities and colleges along with the federal and provincial governments should initiate steps towards coordinating educational programs and matching labour supply to demand.

An example where this approach would be highly beneficial relates to regional needs for engineers. An assessment provided by Engineers Canada and Randstad Engineering indicates that all Canadian provinces will face job shortages in this area at some point in the 2012-2018 period. (Source: The Engineering & Technology Path: Choose Early, Choose Well, in Maclean’s magazine, Nov. 19, 2012)

Four Provinces are Home to Canada’s Top Research Universities

According to a study by Re$earch Infosource Inc., the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo (both in Ontario) and the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) were designated Research Universities of the Year in their respective categories (“medical/doctoral,” “comprehensive” and “undergraduate”).

English: Marine Drive Residence, University of...

English: Marine Drive Residence, University of British Columbia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other top university in each of the three categories were: “medical/doctoral”: McGill University (QC) and the University of British Columbia (BC); “comprehensive”: the University of Guelph (ON) and the University of Victoria (BC); “undergraduate”: Ryerson University (ON) and Universite du Quebec a Rimouski (QC).

(“Medical/doctoral” is a category of post-secondary institutions offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, including medical schools. “Comprehensive” universities have both significant research programs and a wide range of undergraduate programs, while “undergraduate” universities are largely focusing on undergraduate education).

Re$earch Infosource also provides data on the universities that attracted over $100 million  of research income in fiscal year 2011 (18 institutions, up from 16 in 2010). Top research dollars were attracted by the University of Toronto ($916,000), followed at significant distance by the University of British Columbia ($575,000), the University of Alberta ($536,000), Universite de Montreal ($525,000) and McGill University ($522,000). The other 13 universities attracted between $103,000 and $326,000 each.

The total research income for Canada’s first 50 research universities reached $6.63 billion annually. Ontario captured 38% of this amount, followed by Quebec (27%), Alberta (13%) and British Columbia (12%). The other 10% was divided between Canada’s remaining nine provinces and territories.

Re$earch Infosource analysts point out that “research income growth has […] been slowing in recent years from the heady days of double-digit increases in the early years of the 2000s. [Yet] in the context of declining federal government spending and with public sector job layoffs accelerating, the research community has, for now, dodged a fiscal bullet. […] In a best case scenario the ‘new normal’ will be research income growth that keeps pace with inflation.”

The ranking for Research Universities of the Year was based on a combination of indicators relating to “a balanced set of input, output and impact measures for FY2011 [demonstrating] superior achievement both in earning research income and in publishing research in leading scientific journals.”

Eastern Canada, Main Destination for International Students

British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

Maclean’s Magazine’s newly released 2013 university rankings reveal a very interesting picture of international students in Canada. Data (collected in 2011, on first year populations) indicate that universities in Central and Eastern Canada attract a majority of international students. Some highlights are relevant:

Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada have the largest number of universities where international students make up more than 5% of the student populations (8 universities in Ontario, 7 in Quebec and 10 in Atlantic Canada).

The highest concentration of international students is in Ontario and Quebec, given the overall size of the student population at many of the two provinces’ universities. Both Ontario and Quebec have some of the largest post-secondary institutions in Canada – significantly larger than universities in Atlantic Canada.

McGill, Montreal, Laval, Concordia (in Quebec), Toronto and Waterloo (in Ontario) are some of the largest universities in Canada that have over 10% international student populations.

The University of Toronto has 16.3% international students, out of a total of 71,000 full-time and 8,000 part-time students. While having a smaller student population (30,000 full-time and 6,000 part-time students), McGill has the largest percentage of students from outside Canada (21.3%) among the country’s big universities. (McGill also holds the first place in Maclean’s 2013 national reputational ranking).

In British Columbia (BC) and the Prairies, three post-secondary institutions – Simon Fraser, the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta – are also relatively large universities where students from outside Canada constitute over 10% of their student populations.

There are however five relatively large universities in the Prairies and Ontario that have disappointingly low percentages of students from outside Canada. Calgary and Manitoba (in the Prairies) have only 4% international students among their student populations. At Queen’s and Ryerson (in Ontario) international students make up 3% of each university’s 20,000+ full-time students (3,500 part-time students at Queen’s and 14,500 part-time students at Ryerson).

The University of Ottawa (Ontario), with its sizable student population of 33,000 full-time students and 7,500 part-time students, has an inconsequential 1.9% level of international students.

A recent blog post here highlights why post-secondary institutions and governments at all levels across Canada are monitoring closely these figures and proposing strategies to attract more international students. They see this as a win-win situation: universities and Canadian cities benefit from an influx of qualified and talented individuals – who also sustain and create jobs locally – while the students can later pursue their careers and life goals in this country.

Higher Education Sector Plays a Remarkably Strong Role in Canada’s R&D

A newly released report titled The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, produced by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), provides “a thorough analysis of the scientific disciplines and technological applications where Canada excels in a global context,” but also a detailed assessment of the role played by the higher education sector in these areas.

An 18-member expert panel established by CCA focused, among others, on research conducted in the not-for-profit, government and higher education sectors. “There is much for Canadians to be proud of,” Panel Chair Dr. Eliot Phillipson said, in an overall outline of the findings: “Canada’s international reputation is strong, science and technology research is robust across the country, and globally we are considered to have world-leading research infrastructure and programs.”

One of the remarkable findings is that Canada’s higher education sector is contributing to research and development (R&D) at a higher level than in other OECD countries. An analysis of gross domestic expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP indicates that Canada’s post-secondary education sector accounts for 38% of all research and development in the country. This is a much larger figure than the 18 per cent of total R&D in the average OECD country – but in line with Nordic European countries and Israel.

The report points out that although “the amount of R&D performed in the private sector is comparatively low in Canada, businesses fund a significant amount of R&D that is actually performed in the higher education sector [over 8% of all R&D performed in the higher education sector or approximately US $950 million in 2011]. […] This is above average for OECD countries, and is more than double the percentage […] financed by industry in the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Japan, France, and Italy.”

In addition to universities, Canada’s colleges and polytechnics have engaged in recent years in a sustained effort to develop applied science and technology programs, in many cases in cooperation with industry. According to the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and Polytechnics Canada, “in 2009–2010 colleges participated in 158 different research networks in Canada […]. The nine polytechnics in Canada worked with 1,085 industry partners, and across the college system a total of 4,051 companies participated in applied research projects.”

This reveals a very solid position for the country’s higher education sector in the area of research and development, which presents concrete and diverse opportunities for Canadian and international students working in science and technology. Canada proves to be a particularly attractive destination for researchers and for individuals interested in pursuing graduate studies here, although other studies show that it needs to invest additional resources in attracting a larger number of them – given strong competition from other developed countries.

Other key findings within the report include:

“ The six research fields in which Canada excels are: clinical medicine, historical studies, information and communication technologies (ICT), physics and astronomy, psychology and cognitive sciences, and visual and performing arts.

“Canadian science and technology is healthy and growing in both output and impact. With less than 0.5 per cent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1 per cent of the world’s research papers and nearly 5 per cent of the world’s most frequently cited papers.

“In a survey of over 5,000 leading international scientists, Canada’s scientific research enterprise was ranked fourth highest in the world, after the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany.

“Canada is part of a network of international science and technology collaboration that includes the most scientifically advanced countries in the world. Canada is also attracting high-quality researchers from abroad, such that over the past decade there has been a net migration of researchers into the country.

“Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta are the powerhouses of Canadian science and technology, together accounting for 97 per cent of total Canadian output in terms of research papers. These provinces also have the best performance in patent-related measures and the highest per capita numbers of doctoral students, accounting for more than 90 per cent of doctoral graduates in Canada in 2009.”