Young Canadians are backing away from skilled trades, StatsCan finds

OTTAWA — Canada’s shortage of handy skilled-trades workers — including mechanics, welders and construction staff — is likely to get worse as the number of qualified older workers approaching retirement outnumbers the younger ones who will take their place, according to new data from Statistics Canada.

Traditional skilled trades face a shortage of graduates, but young people are studying less traditional topics — such as cosmetology and grooming, food services and even funeral services — which, combined, have produced thousands of more certified young adults than older Canadians.

The agency on Wednesday released the latest instalment from its 2011 National Household Survey — including details on education in Canada.

The data show that a number of skilled-trade professions faces potential labour shortages in the coming years, as a lower proportion of adults ages 25 to 34 hold a trades certificate compared with older adults ages 55 to 64.

Across Canada, approximately 2.2 million Canadians ages 25 to 64 — about 12.1 per cent of the total population in that age bracket — hold some form of trades certificate (including a certificate or diploma, or a registered apprenticeship certificate) as their highest level of education.

The most common trades certificates are in mechanic and repair fields, construction trades, and personal and culinary services.

Approximately eight in 10 registered apprenticeship certificates — for jobs such as electricians and plumbers — are held by men. Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest proportions of people holding registered apprenticeship certificates, and Ontario the lowest.

However, among the three post-secondary credentials (trades certificates, college diploma and university degree), the trades certificate is the only one held by a lower proportion of younger adults as compared to older adults.

In 2011, 10.7 per cent of adults ages 25 to 34 had a trades certificate, compared with 12.8 per cent among adults aged 55 to 64.

The problems were particularly acute for mechanics, machinists and welders, and construction workers, according to the Statistics Canada data.

There were 67,680 young Canadians with a trades certificate in “mechanic and repair technologies/technicians,” compared with 104,200 older adults.

In the area of “precision production” trades such as machinists, sheet metal workers and welders, there were 12,925 (or 21.7 per cent) fewer young people with a trades certificate than there were older adults. In “construction trades,” there were 5,600 (or 6.3 per cent) fewer young people with a trades certificate compared to their older counterparts.

Cody Malloch, a 21-year-old third-year apprentice who’s wrapping up his studies as a carpentry student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, said the skilled trades offer great job prospects, good pay and a sense of accomplishment. He’s preparing to participate for Canada in the WorldSkills competition in Germany and write his red seal exam in carpentry.

“You can take a skilled trade home and use it on your own house or fix your own car,” said Malloch, who plans to one day take over his dad’s construction company. “It’s pretty rewarding to look back at the job and see what you’ve done.”

Sarah Watts-Rynard, executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, said the skilled trades workforce is facing “a demographic crunch” in the coming years, which signals Canada has not done a very good job attracting young Canadians to the trades over the past few generations.

Skilled trades workers are critically important for the Canadian economy, she said, because they’re the people building new, and maintaining older, infrastructure.

“We have this desperate need for people who have the skills to do this work in place. It’s not something you can send off to China to get it done — it happens here,” she said.

The federal government has noted the construction sector alone will need 319,000 new workers over the next seven years. The Conservative government announced in the budget it will spend $4 million over the next three years to harmonize requirements for apprentices across Canada, in an effort to reduce barriers and improve mobility.

Ottawa is also promising to use apprentices in federal construction and maintenance contracts.

The 2011 National Household Survey, to which 2.65 million households responded, replaces the mandatory long-form census. Experts say the voluntary nature of the survey leaves some gaps in the data from groups who tend not to respond to voluntary surveys, including aboriginals, new immigrants and low-income families.

But they also say the data should provide a fairly accurate broad scale picture of Canada.


Proportion of the population ages 25 to 64 with a registered apprenticeship certificate as highest level of educational attainment (Canada, provinces and territories, 2011):

Canada: 4.9 per cent
Alberta: 7.6 per cent
Saskatchewan: 7 per cent
Yukon: 6.9 per cent
Newfoundland and Labrador: 6.4 per cent
B.C.: 5.6 per cent
N.W.T.: 5.5 per cent
N.B.: 5.5 per cent
N.S.: 5.3 per cent
Quebec: 5.2 per cent
P.E.I.: 4.8 per cent
Manitoba: 4.7 per cent
Nunavut: 3.6 per cent
Ontario: 3.5 per cent


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