MRO Magazine

Skills shortages loom in western Canada

Calgary, AB -- Canada's four western provinces are facing a skilled labour shortage, according to two reports relea...


May 27, 2004
By MRO Magazine

Calgary, AB — Canada’s four western provinces are facing a skilled labour shortage, according to two reports released by the Canada West Foundation on May 19, 2004.

A recent survey, Willing and Able: The Problem of Skills Shortages in Western Canada, by Canada West chief economist Todd Hirsch, policy analyst Ben Brunnen and intern Kristina Molin, focuses on the impact of skills shortages on the western economy as a whole by assessing recent economic developments in the West and analyzing survey data, government publications and industry reports on skills shortages in Canada.

In general, the authors found, there is mounting evidence to suggest a growing problem with skills shortages in certain sectors and certain regions of western Canada.

Questionnaire responses from 76 industry associations across the West present a snapshot of the regional skills gap: 62 associations have indicated that skills shortages exist in the current labour market, and 73 associations expect shortages to exist over the next five years.


These shortages are the most acute in the health care and the skilled trades occupations (especially in rural and remote areas). This is supported by the unemployment rates for these specific industries, as well as by the findings of several government and industry reports.

Provincially, labour markets are particularly tight in Saskatchewan and Manitoba not because of robust economic growth, but rather due largely to high rates of labour out-migration among young, skilled workers. In Alberta and B.C., skilled labour is scarce for other reasons: the Alberta energy sector will continue to draw upon the skilled labour pool over the coming years, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in B.C. have been forecasted to create as many as 132,000 local jobs between 2003 and 2015.

The problem of skills shortages, the authors found, seems to be intimately tied to the state of post-secondary education in the West. Both the industry association responses and the literature findings indicate that although post-secondary training programs exist for many of the occupations experiencing shortages, a variety of deficiencies exist at the post-secondary level. These deficiencies include too few educational placements for students; a lack of adequate training equipment/financial resources at post-secondary institutions; differential provincial recognition standards; and the quality of the education received being insufficient for employment in the industry.

The authors maintain that effective regional labour strategies must be implemented to avert a serious labour crunch over the coming decade. Many initiatives, they said, are already underway by various levels of government and industry to understand the linkages between training and employment. But, to ensure that the willing are in fact the able, much more needs to be done in coordinating the private sector, the governments that largely oversee post-secondary education, and the partnerships between the two in training and hiring workers.

Another recent survey, Looking West 2004, found that skilled labour is clearly a priority to western Canadians:70.8% of westerners feel ensuring skilled labour is a high priority for long-term provincial prosperity and quality of life, and 23.0% state it is a medium priority. Only one in 20 stated that ensuring skilled labour was a low priority (4.6%) or not a priority (1.1%).

However, while skilled labour is widely seen as a high priority, there is somewhat lower support for improving post-secondary education: 58.6% of westerners feel it is a high priority, and 31.7% feel it is a medium priority. Almost one in ten feels it is either a low priority (7.6%) or not a priority (1.4%).

One possible explanation for this gap, Canada West director of research Dr. Loleen Berdahl said, is that westerners feel that their post-secondary system is doing a good enough job, and therefore needs little improvement.

The Looking West 2004 survey was conducted between Jan. 7 and Feb. 5, 2004. It asked 800 people in each of the western provinces, for a total of 3,200, to rate 13 issues as high, medium, low or no priorities.

The Canada West Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit institute dedicated to the production and dissemination of objective research for informed public debate, and initiatives for active citizen engagement in Canada’s public policy process.

For more information on the studies the group conducts, visit