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)