Good morning, everyone.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, November 19, 2018, the committee is resuming its study of labour shortages of the greater Toronto and Hamilton area.
We're very pleased to be joined by a very full panel today. We have quite a few speakers but we have the full two hours to ask questions.
Joining us from BuildForce Canada is Bill Ferreira, executive director, Ottawa office. Also from BuildForce, we have Robert Collins, senior economist, Toronto office.
From the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, we have Leah Nord, director, skills and immigration policy.
From the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario, we have Mike Yorke, president and director of public affairs; and Mark Lewis, general counsel.
From the Canadian Home Builders' Association, we have Kevin Lee, chief executive officer.
From the Ontario Home Builders' Association, we have Rick Martins, president; and Joe Vaccaro, chief executive officer.
Welcome, everyone, and thank you for being here.
We're going to start with BuildForce Canada for seven minutes.
Mr. Ferreira, you have the floor.
Good morning, committee members. My name is Bill Ferreira. I am the executive director of BuildForce Canada. As was already said, I'm joined here today by Mr. Bob Collins, who is our senior economist. We greatly appreciate this opportunity to assist you with this study, and we look forward to our participation.
As background, I feel it's important to point out that BuildForce Canada is not an industry association. We are an industry-funded research organization. We do not engage in policy advocacy. That role falls to our strategic partners. With the support of the Government of Canada, we strive to provide the construction and maintenance industry with balanced and timely labour market information to help the industry carry out labour force development and training. We work with industry stakeholders across the country to assemble and validate our numbers. Many of these stakeholders are here today and will also be presenting.
With regard to your study, we have pulled together a brief slide presentation to assist you with your analysis. It is included in the package that was distributed. It focuses specifically on the greater Toronto and Hamilton area and some of the numbers we are seeing. That was drawn from this year's forecast.
Suffice it to say the construction industry has seen dramatic growth over the past 20 years, nearly doubling in size since the early 2000s. Over the next 10 years, we see much more moderate growth, only growing about 3% from 2018 levels. However, several provinces will exceed that level. B.C. is expected to grow at about 9%. Alberta is also expected to grow at 9%, but that's after 2022. Ontario is expected to grow at 3%, but there will be pockets in Ontario where we anticipate that growth is going to be much higher, such as southwestern Ontario, which we anticipate will be about 8%, and central Ontario at about 6%. The greater Toronto area is expected to grow at about 2%, but that's on top of record-level construction activity today.
Nationally, we see 260,000 workers retiring between now and 2028. That's 22% of the current labour force. In the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, 43,500 workers are expected to retire over the next 10 years. That's 23% of the 189,500 workers currently employed in the 34 trades that we monitor. When coupled with demand increases, this means the region will need to hire 50,000 new workers between now and 2028. Even if we are successful at recruiting younger workers at the current levels, that's still going to leave us with a gap of nearly 14,500 workers by 2028. That means those 14,500 workers will need to be recruited from outside the region's labour force, from outside the province, from other industries or from outside the country.
Retirements will also contribute to higher levels of labour force tightness. We saw some of this in 2018. These are early signs. The unemployment rate in July 2018 reached 1.3%. Just by way of a comparison, in 2007, when Alberta was experiencing a significant labour crunch in the construction sector, the lowest the unemployment rate reached in Alberta was 1.7%. We are well beyond that. Effectively, everyone who can work right now in the construction industry province-wide is working.
Not surprisingly, employers are struggling to find the workers that they need to continue to proceed with their projects on time and on schedule. Over the next seven years, we have identified at least 36 billion dollars' worth of major projects that are stacking up on top of, as I said, already very high levels of construction activity.
A smaller labour force plus increased demand is going to continue to exacerbate the problem for the foreseeable future. Some relief may come after 2022 as eastern Ontario and northern Ontario demand will moderate somewhat, but those workers will be pursued by other regions of the province, as well as, as I said, British Columbia and Alberta. All it will take is a slight increase in demand here, and in our forecast, we haven't factored in RendezVous or whatever the successor project is to that. That could very easily change the mathematics.
There are a couple of solutions that we would like to take a look at. Short-term solutions really are greater mobility, and not only mobility between the residential sector and the non-residential sector, but also within the province, moving the labour force around within regions, and at times and as necessary, drawing in workers from other provinces.
In the longer term, the industry needs to maintain its commitment to apprenticeship. As a percentage of registrations, the industry in Ontario has exceeded the national average for apprenticeship completions over the past five years, but more in this area can be done. Greater employment support for apprenticeship development is something that you may wish to consider. Sixty per cent of the construction businesses are micro-businesses, and that's fewer than four employees.
Most of the current incentives in apprenticeship development are directed at the apprentices themselves. Apprenticeship is a partnership. Without an employer, it doesn't matter how many grants you direct at the apprentice. If that apprentice can't find a job, they're never going to be able to take advantage of those grants. One area that you may want to take a look at is how you can better create incentives for smaller construction employers to participate in apprenticeship.
Another area that you may wish to take a look at is the federal skilled trades program. The foreign-born population in Canada accounts for about 22% of the total population. In Ontario, it's about 29% according to Stats Canada. Just over 70% or 2.7 million people of Ontario's 3.8 million foreign-born population live in the Toronto area. The construction industry is made up of about 26% new Canadians. Clearly, there is room for improvement with respect to our recruitment of new Canadians into the industry. Part of that challenge is that those new Canadians that are available in Toronto didn't come here to work in the construction industry. Really, the only program that directly brings in immigrants into the construction labour force is the federal skilled trades program.
One of the easiest ways to try and help alleviate the situation in the city of Toronto is to focus your efforts on trying to increase those numbers. Currently, I think that about 1,875 workers are brought in annually under that program. If you were to increase those numbers, we could certainly do a much better job of bringing in the workers that we need.
I think I'm almost at my seven minutes, so I'll leave it at that.
I'm happy to take any questions that you might have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, Vice-Chair and committee members. It's a pleasure to be here today.
My name is Leah Nord, and I'm the director of skills and immigration policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the voice of Canadian business. Our network consists of 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade across this country, representing 200,000 businesses. We also have over 100 corporate members and an equal number of association members.
The issue of labour shortages and skills mismatch ranks consistently as one of the top challenges for our members. I appreciate this opportunity to speak about labour shortages in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area, specifically in the construction industry, as outlined in M-190.
The testimony presented to date has covered the data and issues well, so I will primarily focus on providing the committee with recommendations, adding a few data points from my colleagues at the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Provincially, it is important to remind ourselves that while Ontario receives the proverbial lion's share of immigrants in Canada—almost 40%—the number of economic immigrants to the province has been declining and is not proportional to its size. I have a series of data points but in the interests of time, I'll continue.
In addition, preceding the much-discussed BuildForce report, a little over two years ago, the Toronto Region Board of Trade published a report entitled “Building Infrastructure, Building Talent”, which concluded that there would be 147,000 job openings in construction through the Toronto region over the next 15 years. The most in-demand category is the construction labourer, followed by carpenters, electricians and construction managers.
In addition, my colleagues in Hamilton wanted to make sure I mentioned that it estimated there were 3,500 construction jobs needed for the LRT Hamilton construction project, with another 300 jobs to deliver regular operations and maintenance.
With that said, I will move to the chamber's recommendations. You may recognize many of these recommendations as ones you've heard in the past from us, and similar to recommendations this committee itself has put forward. Importantly, these recommendations have broad applicability to urban centres across jurisdictions and, in many cases, to smaller communities across the country. These recommendations have the support of the breadth and depth of the chamber network.
Regarding immigration, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has three recommendations.
The first is to modernize the temporary foreign worker program to reflect labour market needs on a regional and sectoral basis. Specifically, we suggest the following: (a) implement a trusted employers program; (b) permit applicants for temporary foreign workers in the construction industry in regions where there is considered to be full employment; (c) review the national occupation classification code process in all provinces and establish flexible, responsive practices that incorporate regional and sectoral labour market needs; (d) return the cap to the proportion of temporary foreign workers a business can employ to 20%; and (e) facilitate pathways to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers who can fill permanent labour market needs.
Our second recommendation is to build on current immigration programming. This has two aspects. The first is regional in nature. Decentralizing immigration selection processes started with the provincial nominee programs and has been extended with the Atlantic immigration pilot program and the recently announced rural and northern immigration pilot program. We need to continue moving to a more local level of decision-making. We need local solutions built by communities, for communities, that address community workforce needs. These communities include cities such as Hamilton and Toronto.
Second, we emphasize that there needs to be a sectoral lens alongside the above recommendation, for a more local focus. In this respect, we propose exempting businesses in the trades from the obligations when they need to provide a transition plan for temporary foreign workers.
Taking this a step further, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce recommends expanding categories within the global skills strategy that are exempt from labour market impact assessments and/or developing parallel programs. Employers are very happy with the global skills strategy program, and it has set a precedent for what can be achieved.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce's third recommendation emphasizes the importance our members put on occupational-specific language training as critical to labour market integration. OSLT is important for risk management and safety, effective labour integration, labour retention and upward mobility. Equally important to what is delivered is how it is delivered. Considerations of work site learning, blended learning and innovative delivery methods are necessary.
On the skills side, first and foremost, society as a whole needs to promote the trades. We need to start in primary schools. We need to encourage skilled trade professions at the secondary level and expose high school students to the full range of career possibilities as they decide what to pursue professionally.
We also need to support tradesmen and tradeswomen through their training and education. Here the federal government does have jurisdiction and the ability to make an impact. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce's second recommendation regarding skills is expanding the student work integrated learning program beyond the STEM fields to include opportunities such as apprenticeships. As somewhat of a side note, we also need to really make inroads into upskilling and reskilling.
Third, soft skills continue to be an issue. Also known as human skills or foundational skills, these include communications, problem solving, teamwork, adaptability, leadership and entrepreneurship. I quote a 2017 report on trends and Hamilton's labour demand as follows:
Skilled trades occupations continue to be noted as a top concern for many manufacturing and construction employers particularly. Employers said that finding experienced skilled trade workers is extremely difficult. Employers sought out skilled/fully qualified workers because they found the soft skills and math skills of the apprenticeship applicants were not always good..
In wrapping up, I will acknowledge that I am in good company overall on this side of the table today, but I will ask, as I often ask at many of our chamber roundtables with members....
I normally ask who in here has a college degree. Today I would ask how many people in this room are tradespersons or have experience in the trades. We need to do more than just consult skilled trade workers and organizations that represent them. We need to ensure that they are at the influencing and decision-making tables.
I will close by reiterating that these recommendations are not new. We all know what needs to be done. We need to start doing it. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce and its members are willing partners in making that happen.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak again on Parliament Hill about an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of carpenters across Ontario. We are a union that has 16 local unions across the province. We are the largest single source of apprenticeship in the trades in Ontario.
Our situation currently in Ontario and particularly in the GTA is approaching crisis levels. We are short of skilled tradespeople in virtually every facet of the carpentry trade in Toronto where our members work. In the GTA, or what I would think of as the GTA proper, we have three local unions: local 27, which is general carpentry; local 675, which is drywall and interior systems workers—these kinds of ceilings, for example; and local 1030, which does primarily residential work.
Our members work in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors on large infrastructure projects, buildings, universities and subway stations, and in the residential sector, significantly in the GTA.
We cannot fill the jobs right now. We provided the speaking notes. We rely heavily on our friends from BuildForce in terms of their economic analysis. What we're here to tell you is that those are not just statistics. Those are the crises that we face everyday when contractors phone us and say, “I have a project and I need 10 carpenters on Monday morning”, and we don't have them.
This is slowing down Toronto and all of the industries that make up Toronto. Toronto has grown significantly over the last 10 to 20 years. Construction has not kept up. Infrastructure projects are stacked one upon the other around the GTA. I urge you to look at some of the slides from BuildForce and look at the demands that there are.
On the flip side is the demographic crisis that we're facing in terms of the aging of the workforce generally and the aging of the skilled trades workforce in particular. Our membership is aging. Hopefully, it won't happen, but fully 40% of our members could be eligible to retire by 2030. We need new workers coming into our trade. We have put in our speaking notes materials all of the efforts that we, together with our employers, are making to recruit into our industry young Canadians and people who haven't previously considered work in the trades, and the efforts that we've gone to with regard to women, for example, to try to bring them into the trades. We still need help from immigration. We're urging you to consider a few different unique features of the construction industry when looking at a micro-localized solution for the GTA.
Employment in the construction industry with any particular employer is always, by its very nature, transient. Jobs start and jobs end. The model that we have within our immigration system of an employer reaching out to bring a foreign worker to Canada does not work for our industry. Our employers can't forecast their specific labour needs with enough certainty because they go contract to contract. Our industry, however, knows what we need. We can't tell you which contractor is going to get the drywall on a new hospital, so we can't tell you that that drywall contractor will need 50 board men. We can tell you, though, that one drywall contractor is going to get that work and that we will need 50 board people to put up the drywall.
What we are urging is that, in the GTA in the construction industry, consideration be be given to an industry-wide approach through the unions that are involved. It's one of the most heavily unionized sectors in the country.
The unions are a force and a player, and are willing to play a role with the employer associations to allow for broader industry-based immigration, and broader industry-based temporary foreign workers to come in, so they can be shared amongst the employers who need them. If it is done properly, through the unions and the associations, we feel we can negate any of the potential impacts of foreign workers being exploited.
My last point, very quickly, and this is what I wish to stress—allow the temporary foreign worker to transition to some sort of permanent residency status. We are urging you—pleading with you—to consider something for our industry and our tradesmen and women who come here. We have hard-working, decent people who come here as temporary foreign workers for two years and go to work every day. When I left this morning, going through Mr. Vaughan's constituency to the airport, there were construction workers out at 5:30 in the morning, to start work on those condos at 7:00 a.m. They work every day for two years and at the end of those two years, they have no hope of becoming permanent residents in this country, because we say as a nation that if you can't read or write English to an acceptable level, we don't want you.
We have brought with us two people who work at the sharp end of the process. Mr. Yorke and I have the easy part. Vlada Hershtynovich and Michael Randazzo actually do the intakes to try to navigate our members through the complex system that is immigration in Toronto. They have the unenviable task of telling hard-working carpenters, “You're good enough to have built those subway stations in Toronto for two years, but Canada doesn't want to keep you as a permanent resident because you can't meet the language requirements.”
We are urging you to recognize that for skilled tradespersons, if they come here and demonstrate that they can work at good jobs, at family-supporting wages—in some cases, $100,000 a year, because of the hours available in construction.... My friends from the Home Builders' will tell you what they pay their labour. These are good jobs. These are employers who are crying out to keep the workers, but we can't find ways to keep them here now because of—I wouldn't say anachronistic measures, but measures that don't make sense for construction workers. I don't want to sound.... Reading and writing are wonderful; they changed my world, but somebody has to build the library in which those books are kept. Somebody has to build these rooms and these buildings. Those people are just as valuable to the future of this country as anybody else.
I think that's our seven minutes.
The Canadian Home Builders' Association represents some 9,000 companies from coast to coast. As such, we are the national voice of the residential construction sector. More than 4,000 of our members reside in Ontario.
I am pleased to be joined today by both the CEO, Joe Vaccaro, and the president of our Ontario Home Builders' Association, Rick Martins, who will also be able to provide you with more insights.
Today, all of Canada faces challenges in meeting requirements for skilled tradespeople in the residential construction industry, and that challenge will increase over the coming decade, as we've heard. This is particularly true in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area.
The challenge is that we are already facing tight labour markets in many regions. Given the aging workforce, our work with BuildForce Canada shows that some 130,000 workers will be retiring from the residential portion of the construction sector over the next decade. The current feeder system of young Canadians and immigration, as we have heard, will not serve to fill those vacancies, so those skills shortages will heighten unless we change the equation.
This situation will require ongoing new construction and extensive renovation of Canada’s existing housing stock, and with it, of course, residential construction workers. It's important to note that the renovation portion of our sector has overtaken new construction in Canada in terms of economic activity; thus even in areas with poor economies and hence less new home construction currently, renovation continues and skilled worker requirements remain.
The challenge is not unique to residential construction. I regularly attend the employment insurance commissioner’s round tables at Employment and Social Development Canada, along with representatives from all employer industries in Canada. From all sectors there is a continual refrain: not enough skilled and, frankly, unskilled labour, and we're all competing for the same undersupplied pool.
Over the past two or three decades, in a drive towards higher education to respond to the knowledge economy, Canada’s education and immigration systems have focused on university education and its career paths. This has led to a shortage in the skilled labour workforce.
In residential construction there is a particular challenge. As we've heard, it's a sector of small businesses with limited training and recruitment capacity. More than 240,000 residential and non-residential building enterprises in Canada are sole proprietorships. Then, of the 142,000 enterprises that have employees, 81%, or 115,000 firms, have fewer than 10 people working for them. Just over 500 firms—thus less than half a per cent—have 200 or more employees. Education, training and recruitment are all challenges for small businesses.
On a positive note, recent fixes to the apprenticeship ratios in Ontario will be helpful for the residential construction industry in the GTHA. At the same time, it is important to note that the sector also employs many skilled workers who are not in apprenticeable trades, so federal programs geared only to apprentices fall short for the construction sector and many other industries.
That’s the challenge. Now, how do we address it?
To address skilled worker shortages all across Canada and in the GTHA, the federal government needs to take a lead role in promoting careers in the skilled trades. We have a cultural “parity of esteem” issue, whereby skilled worker careers are seen as lesser options than university degrees. This needs to change, and there is a federal role in leadership to be filled here. The federal national occupation classification system needs to better reflect residential construction. Also, the federal government needs to support more economic immigration for skilled workers in residential construction.
In general, we need to tweak the immigration system to respond better and more quickly to labour shortages in construction through permanent immigration solutions, as we have been hearing, noting that these skills are transferrable and mobile even, if regional conditions change. We need to adjust the education system to better direct students into skilled worker careers. Also, we need to encourage young Canadians to make construction a career path of choice.
One potential opportunity is to note that the Future Skills Council announced on February 14 did not include the construction industry in its plans. This is unfortunate, as no matter how many other industries evolve in the future, there will be an ongoing need for residential construction, for more skilled workers in this sector and for an evolution of skills and productivity to address workforce shortfalls. CHBA would be happy to work with the government to put together a similar initiative for residential construction.
Last, I would be remiss if I didn’t quickly comment on the very biggest thing having an impact on jobs in this sector: the stress test, compounded with previous mortgage rule changes, which together are now causing an excessive economic slowdown in some regions in residential construction.
It’s important to note that the Bank of Canada has now changed its forecast from the fall, and housing is now forecast to instead be a drag on the economy. Our CHBA member survey showed that 95% of our members blame that on the stress test directly. We are seeing layoffs in our industry in some regions as a result and warnings from members that things will get worse in 2019. This is at a time when the Bank of Canada is stating that it over-estimated the strength of the economy and is now predicting an economic slowdown. Residential construction and skilled worker jobs should be a part of the solution, but right now government policy in this area overshot and is directly responsible for the economic downturn in housing, and hence, the downturn in the economy, which will get worse unless things change.
We need fixes to the stress test and 30-year mortgages for first-time buyers immediately. We need these fixes for young Canadians, for their financial futures, for jobs and for the economy right now and tomorrow.
Thank you very much for having us here today.
My name is Joe Vaccaro, and I proudly serve as the CEO of the Ontario Home Builders' Association. I'm joined by my president, Rick Martins, who is a builder and an employer in the region. We are pleased to be here today to support MP 's motion.
Some facts to be put on the table to consider are:
The greater Toronto and Hamilton region is growing by 100,000-plus people a year. Housing demand is real and driven by real people looking for more housing choice and supply. These are home believers looking to achieve the great Canadian dream of home ownership. Home believers need our members, both builders and renovators, to deliver 50,000 new units of housing, along with all the associated services, roads and such, to the marketplace to support their dream.
You have heard data from our colleagues here around the table on the skilled trades issue in this region. The reality for our members is that the demand for housing is real; the demand for construction services is real; the need for skilled labour is real and the need to skill up our current labour force is real.
With that, I'm going to turn it over to my president, Rick, to talk as a builder and as an employer.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
With regard to my own company, Huron Creek Developments, we're active in the apprenticeship and mentoring programs. Each semester we're able to bring about 30 to 50 students from the high school level into the construction program. It has been a great rewarding experience. Yesterday morning I was working with Louis. Fifteen years ago, we started him in an electrical apprenticeship program. He was on my site actually pulling some wire yesterday.
Well-paying jobs and very rewarding jobs are unfortunately a drop in the bucket. I've been doing it, like I said, for over 20 years. We have a huge skilled trades shortage.
Unfortunately, we have a problem. The numbers don't match up. We have people retiring at a high rate. On average, my masons on my site are in their late sixties. When one retires, we not only lose a great mason, but we also lose a mentor. We lose business acumen, and it's hard to replace. We really need to open up the avenues to immigration to bring in the skilled people, to help us learn from different techniques out there and, more importantly, to help us train the youth and the apprentices that we have here because there isn't that mentoring available.
Joe and I are happy to hear everything that was said here today. I wouldn't be present here if the rules of immigration were what they are today. My father is Portuguese, and he came over, immigrated and worked really hard. To this day, he can speak and understand English, but he can't read or write it. He has been very successful. He raised four boys. We all went to school and are successfully employed.
I think we need to understand that it's not all about book smarts. We're not all going to go to NASA or become surgeons and whatnot. It's about being willing to work hard and enjoying what we do.
It's the greatest industry in the world. I can go back 25 years and point out to my kids when we're driving through a subdivision, “You know what? Dad cleaned up the bricks over there” or “You know what? I did that roof over there.” It's a great industry.
We really believe in our industry. There's a huge shortage. We can do a lot more if we work together and open up our minds and open up the system because, really, that's what we need.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the stakeholders who came here today. You gave us a lot of information. I think you will be happy to hear that a lot of the things you are telling us are resonating with just about every stakeholder we have had, and certainly in our discussions with people outside of this committee.
When I was in government, we made the changes to the temporary foreign worker program, so I know how difficult that program is to work with, and some of the issues we have when it comes to it. Over the last year or so, we have certainly seen that, in my opinion, the temporary foreign worker program, that brand, has become so tainted that I don't think there is any resurrecting it. I think we have to come up with something totally new that addresses a permanent solution to what has become a permanent problem in Canada, not only in your industry but in agriculture. Across Canada, I hear it as probably the number one issue. Access to labour is becoming a crisis. If we want to grow our economy and reach new markets, we must have these tools to be able to do that, and we must provide you those opportunities.
Ms. Nord, you were talking about a trusted employer program. We have certainly talked about coming up with some sort of model—almost like a NEXUS card for employers. Once you've been in this program—whatever we end up calling it—how long would you say...? Would this be something that an employer has been in for three, five or 10 years, and then you say, “Okay, you've been accessing this program, you've been audited, everything has gone well”? In terms of your membership, have you had those discussions, and a timeline, for example, “We've been in this program for five years, or whatever, and I think that's sufficient”?
My next important question is for BuildForce.
I have a document here from the Library of Parliament. I understand that in January 2019, BuildForce Canada, a national construction industry association, included data and projections for the greater Toronto area.
This report says, “The report also considered the demand for and supply of labour in the GTA. It concluded that in the residential sector, 'established patterns of recruiting and mobility are sufficient to meet job requirements' in all construction related occupations in 2019 and beyond.”
Further, it also says, “In non-residential construction, demand in 2019 was higher for almost all occupations, with the report stating that 'employers will need to compete' for additional qualified workers 'to meet any increase' in construction. However, like the residential sector, by 2021, the labour supply of almost all occupations was projected to be sufficient.”
I am hearing something different today. Can you explain that?
Yes, that is a problem. We would love some form of action by the federal government in terms of giving incentives—a tax break or however you want to call it—in terms of being able to write off certain expenses to try to get workers to come to the GTA. The carpenters' union has local unions, as we tried to point out in our speaking notes, from every province all across the country. For five years, we've been appealing to our local unions in other parts of Canada. We're saying, “If you want to come to Toronto, we have work for you. Please think about it.”
I love Toronto. It's my city. Unfortunately, it's a very expensive place to live. That's an unappealing quality for a lot of other Canadians in other places. Anything that would help bring people to Toronto, we're all in favour of, but I would state that we still need help from the immigration system.
I want to make this clear. Although we have members working in the residential sector, the bulk of our members work in the ICI sector, the industrial, commercial and institutional sector, in and around Toronto. There, even though low-rise residential construction may be slowing down, the ICI needs—those infrastructure needs related to the unprecedented 10 to 20 years of growth in the GTA—remain, and they remain coming up. If you look at the BuildForce surveys and at the big projects in and around the GTA that are going to be ongoing, that's the crisis of skilled labour we face, given where the bulk of our members work.
Yes. That's absolutely right. It's a two-part question.
We hear you loud and clear in terms of doing the proper outreach. It's something that we've not ignored. Right now we have a crisis in the industry, but at the same time, we are planning for the longer term.
In terms of Bill's suggestion around women in construction, we're very active on that issue. We have a number of partners in the industry: the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing, the Daniels Corporation, major employers in the industry.
We've done specific training programs for women. One is CRAFT, Creating Real Apprenticeships for Toronto. We work with every school board in the GTA. We bring in 100 OYAP students every February and give them three to four months of training, and they do their last semester with us—
I think what you're saying is that it's the overshooting right now. We're trying to loosen things back up, which won't create a huge demand. It won't suddenly do an about-face and go right back to a huge demand. We're seeing major challenges all across the country and economic conditions that don't support it, right? It's really just tweaking to get it back on track.
You're absolutely right. I mean, we need immigration. We need to bring in the under-represented groups as well, but it won't be enough, and the BuildForce forecasts show all of that. It's really important to note, as a couple of people were talking about, that this is not just about apprentices and journeypersons, especially in residential construction. It's about skilled workers who are in non-apprenticeable trades, and that's why adjustments to the NOC system are so important in order to reflect residential construction. It doesn't reflect that very well yet.
Rodger Cuzner has just joined us. He has heard this around the employers' table, not only from residential construction but from many other sectors. The NOC system right now is set up more around those higher levels. In almost every sector, we need skilled workers who are non-apprenticeable.
I would like to share a little bit of my time with the legendary Rodger Cuzner.
I'm interested in the process we've been following when we're talking about the challenges we have in being able to get enough employment and looking at the micro level and comparing it across Canada. In metro Vancouver, certainly, we have similar dramatic challenges, if not more dramatic. We're starting to pay employees to travel. We're paying travel time and a number of other things to get them to the workplace. We have big challenges within that.
We're talking about the stress test and wanting to encourage growth, yet we don't have enough people to meet the demands. In the first part of the testimony, we heard that we don't have enough people to meet the demands that are there, and now we're talking about how to increase the demand even further.
I'm wondering about looking at a macro perspective, looking outside of here, and whether we can learn from that. Reference was made to Australia, Germany and other jurisdictions. Are there some ways to do that, given that unemployment rates are very low and it seems that the proposals are about how we fight for a limited workforce that is not going to expand? We have more retirements coming and more demands.
It looks as though the only solutions I'm seeing, from what you're talking about, are getting some externals and getting temporary foreign workers and other types of models. Do you have any experience from other jurisdictions that might help inform us in terms of how we might strategize around that?
I've had the great opportunity to be advised by many of the faces around the table here today. I appreciate your input in the past.
Just as a 30-second history, back under the past government, came in as minister, took the shackles off the temporary foreign worker program, and we had more temporary foreign workers in the country. There were 200,000 temporary foreign workers in the country, when we were admitting about 150,000 new Canadians. That was out of balance.
Some headlines came. Jason Kenney came in and slammed the door shut. That wasn't the right answer either. If you read former prime minister Harper's book—I have it on my night table, and it's a good read. Right here, right now, if he could take a mulligan, it would be on the temporary foreign worker stuff. He said that the actions taken on the temporary foreign workers actually had a negative effect on wages in this country. They had an impact on wage suppression in the country.
It's a complex issue, and we have to get it right.
Mark, you indicated that the plasterers and painters are interested in building training facilities in other countries. What are they willing to do to help with accommodations and to build accommodations so that they can get some of the unemployed...? It's not just the painters and plasterers. What are we willing to do to help the 1,000 unemployed electricians from Alberta or the 800 carpenters who are looking for work in Alberta right now? We've always travelled to Alberta to get work. What can we do to help them come to the GTA now and to accommodate them? Accommodations are central, and shift management is central. What initiatives have been taken to date for those accommodations?
If anybody wants to weigh in, please do.
Thanks to all of you for being here today.
I want to touch on this. My riding is in Saskatchewan and is very close to Alberta. What we see all the time in Alberta is that for a lot of people who live in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer or Lloydminster, or even in Saskatchewan, such as Swift Current, when they go to work, they go to camps up north that are built by the companies. They have housing, accommodation and cooks. They're being fed. There are rec rooms.
Literally, they live for a week in camp. It's something interesting, I guess, if you're looking at encouraging workers to head elsewhere, even for people from Atlantic Canada. I've spoken to many different operators who live in Newfoundland. They come up for their two weeks and then go home for two weeks. That's the lifestyle they've chosen, and it works.
I want to ask this of Ms. Nord. You had mentioned a decline in economic immigrants coming into Canada—
I want to touch on another thing because I've heard a lot about it, ESL, English as a second language, and the possibility of lowering that requirement or making it not so stringent or whatever the case may be.
I'm wondering again what industry is doing, the unions, contractors or businesses, to help with ESL classes, whether it's writing or reading or even community.
I know teachers. I have a school in my riding that has a lot of ESL. Something that teachers actually struggle with is students coming into the classroom speaking English, struggling with it, but going home to their parents or whatnot within their own community and speaking their mother tongue because it's easier. It's actually hindering the students being able to speak English.
I'm wondering what industry is doing to help promote English skills.
Just to touch a little bit on that, I think it's two different fields. First you want to look at the trades as a competency-based evaluation. It really is important, the fact that when a roofer is on a roof, he knows what he needs to do to be there safely and perform his job.
Language is important, but people will learn to communicate with each other. It's incredible how, as you said, you can go to a site and you've got Ukrainian, Croatian, Serbian, Portuguese and Italian, and they're all working and functioning at a very high level. They don't speak each other's language but they speak the language that they need to. If it's framing or if it's cement finishing, they can speak that language. That's important.
With regard to learning second languages, I'm an example. I went to school at the age of five. I didn't speak a work of English—and I was born here—because my grandmother raised me and Portuguese was our first language. Children will assimilate and we will learn to speak. I might not speak as well as other people in the room here, but I can speak from experience. My father can function in Canada and he can't read or write English, but he can communicate. I think we have to be careful with that.
Good afternoon, everyone. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, January 31, 2019, the committee is resuming it's study of the subject matter of the supplementary estimates (B), 2018-19: votes 1b, 5b and 10b under Department of Employment and Social Development.
Appearing today, we have the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
Joining her we have, from the Department of Employment and Social Development, Graham Flack, deputy minister, Employment and Social Development Canada; Chantal Maheu, deputy minister of labour; Leslie MacLean, senior associate deputy minister of Employment and Social Development Canada and chief operating officer of Service Canada; and Jason Won, deputy chief financial officer, chief financial officer branch.
Welcome to all of you. We'll turn it over right away to Minister Hajdu.
I understand you have a very brief opening statement.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and members of Parliament. It's great to see all of you again so soon. I want to thank you for inviting me back to this committee to talk a bit more about what we're doing to make sure that everybody has a fair chance to succeed, in terms of skills development and youth.
I would like to thank both my deputies who are here today. ESDC, of course, is a vast department in the Government of Canada and does a lot of great work, but they're here to support me as the Minister of Employment today. Both deputies and their teams have been critical in helping us deliver on our goals.
Specifically, my mandate as Minister of Employment is about supporting youth, students and Canadian workers so they have the skills, the opportunities to gain those skills, and the work experience they need to succeed in the modern workforce. This is becoming more critical, as we see a lower and lower unemployment rate as a result of the investments we've been making working over the last three years. As I travel across the country, the conversation has shifted. Employers had lots of choice in the market in terms of who they could hire and are now saying, “We need people and we need people with skills.” It has become a very critical portfolio in terms of our growth.
Some of the achievements we've made I think are making it easier for people to find their way into education and training and helping people land those good jobs once they complete that skills training. For example, changing our student financial assistance program so that more Canadians can benefit is a reflection that when everybody has a fair chance to succeed, they take that opportunity. They can reach their full potential and become valuable employees or, in some cases, business owners. They're able to contribute fully back to the economy.
Helping Canadians train or retrain to remain competitive in our workplace has a couple of aspects to it. One is for people who are wanting to return to school because they would like to improve their earning potential. It's also there for people who are struggling with unemployment and want to improve their skills so that they can transition to other sectors or opportunities.
With regard to investing in young Canadians to help them enter the workforce, we've talked a lot about the fact that students often have a great degree of skill. However, if they don't have work-related experience, it's hard for them to get that first job. Many employers will be reluctant to hire someone who doesn't have a qualified job in that sector. Our work-integrated learning programs are helping people get jobs while they're still in school, so they can land on their feet when they graduate with a great employer.
Then, of course, there is updating of the Canada Labour Code. That's something I am particularly very happy about doing. This is about protecting the most vulnerable in our workplace. It's making sure that people who aren't protected—federally regulated sectors often have higher rates of unionization— have things like a few paid leave days, so they can take care of the details of their lives, whether it's illness or caring for other people in their family. It's making sure there's more flexibility but also more predictability in terms of scheduling, advanced scheduling notice. It's ensuring that people have those protections and safety in their workplaces.
These things are all combining to make better opportunities for Canadians no matter where they sit socio-economically. That's the real goal. Whether or not people come from a family where they have the ability to support their young person to acquire skills training, it shouldn't be a barrier for people to enter education if they have financial pressures in their family.
We've made real progress. I think you can see that from the estimates. We see youth unemployment rates dropping. This is something that has been a very sticky unemployment rate. As we've seen the general population unemployment rate plummet, one of the challenges has been the youth unemployment rate. It has been very persistent. However, we're starting to see trends in terms of a lower youth unemployment rate. More people are going to school than ever before. We've created together as Canadians, with all of these investments and many more from my colleagues' portfolios, over 900,000 jobs in the Canadian economy.
Things are looking up for Canadians. I'm excited about continuing on this trajectory. I'm excited about budget 2019. I think there will be even more measures in budget 2019 that will ensure that everybody truly does get that fair chance and that we continue to be a country where we value education, opportunities, and we know that when people are given the tools to succeed, they take them. They pay back their communities and their country enormously.
Thanks very much.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks, Minister, for coming back at our request. It's certainly much appreciated, taking the chance to answer some questions about the budget and supplementary estimates.
I want to ask about the temporary foreign worker problem, which kind of ties into the study we're doing right now. I know that's not entirely under your portfolio, but I'm sure it's something you've been aware of just because it has become such an issue in this current study that we're talking about. I know in the supplementary estimates there were an additional $35 million that were put in for worker protections under that title.
Over the last few months, I've spoken with people in the agriculture sector, and these audits have made them very anxious. Some of them take two years to complete. Are the $35 million generally just for hiring additional auditors or are there some funds that are going to be set aside for, say, a dedicated line for agricultural producers to access better information? How is this going to work? There's concern with biosecurity when these auditors come on the farm unannounced. I'm just wondering how the allocation of that $35 million is going to be set aside.
Thank you very much, MP Barlow.
I will say that the temporary foreign worker program, when I was appointed Minister of Employment and Labour, was flagged for me as one that had been incredibly mismanaged by the previous Conservative government, in fact, so badly that we had lost trust as a country in the program. Canadians were regularly outraged by the lack of protection for the temporary foreign workers we were using, whether it was in agriculture, food processing or in tourism. Also, it wasn't meeting the needs of employers either.
In fact, the Auditor General had quite a scathing review of the temporary foreign worker program. I believe this committee studied the temporary foreign worker program and made a number of fantastic recommendations about how we could move forward, restore the integrity of the program and make sure that we invest in the program so that we can actually expedite getting people here, but also, when we have people here, protect their rights as human beings. Quite frankly, I say all the time to employers, “Look, you know what we need for this program to succeed is for you to respect the program as an employer and your obligations underneath—”
Thank you very much, Minister, for finally getting to the answer to that.
Just to your comment, every single person whom I've spoken with over the last two years has said that accessing the temporary foreign worker program has become almost unattainable and much, much worse under your leadership than anything ever before. To say that you've expedited the process of the temporary foreign worker program is absolutely false. You've made it extremely difficult to navigate, so much so that many have just given up accessing the program.
I understand that you're trying to protect those workers who come here. I think all of us would agree with that. For workers who are coming here, we want to ensure they are coming here and getting the best experience possible. That's what our employers want. That's what those new Canadians want. We want a pathway to permanent residency. We don't want people to be coming here necessarily for two years and going home.
When you say that you somehow made this miraculous change to the temporary foreign worker program, I think you're naive, maybe close to delusional, if that's really what you think. I think everybody would agree there needs to be a massive overhaul.
The Chair: Your comment is not appropriate.
Mr. John Barlow: What's that? Sorry?
Mr. Chair, I'm happy to answer the question.
In budget 2018, $15 million was set aside. It is not part of the supplementary estimates. I'll ask our chief financial officer rep to confirm that.
That work, as the minister noted, is to increase the number of on-site and unannounced inspections we are doing. Of about 22,000 approvals for the labour market impact assessment that are made every year, our program of on-site reviews and inspections is about 2,800, so it's slightly over, and of course, with a risk-based focus. We will work, as the minister noted, with the agricultural sector and all other sectors to ensure that we're respecting whatever protocols are unique to the workplace, whether they be biosecurity or other.
Thank you, Minister Hajdu, for coming back. We appreciate very much that you took the time to come back to our committee and answer some questions from all of us.
One of the greatest announcements I certainly had in my riding of Saint John—Rothesay was the Human Development Council’s UYES! project through skills link. It was very important for me as a member of Parliament to come to Ottawa, advocate on behalf of the riding and deliver on things like the Canada child benefit, housing strategies and the poverty reduction strategy, but I was determined to try to deliver programs to my riding that could break the generational cycle of poverty that unfortunately my riding does have. The skills link program, the UYES! program, will help 200 at-risk youth in my riding. I see it happening now through the Outflow men's shelter. They're working with youth downstairs to develop carpentry skills and training. I see it upstairs where they're getting increased education so they can move on to post-secondary and ultimately help them gain employment in the riding. The impact of that investment on dozens of youth in the riding is profound.
Can you tell us about the impact of investments in skills training through skills link and skills boost on the lives of Canadian youth, in particular at-risk youth, in my riding or in ridings right across the country?
Thank you very much, MP Long.
You've touched on a program that's very close to my heart, and I don't need to remind everyone about the work that I used to do. I truly do believe, and this is what drew me to politics, that when we invest in people who are furthest from the labour market, the euphemism at ESDC, that means people who have the hardest time getting a job, the hardest time getting the first job and the hardest time getting a break, really, when we invest in people through skills link and the youth employment strategy we're investing in our own potential as a country. When we don't invest in vulnerable people, whom we saw the previous government repeatedly ignore, not only is it a lost opportunity, but it's also an expense.
MP Long, you would know that when we delay our investment in young people, they fall further away from opportunity. That hopelessness and that lack of opportunity and that prolonged poverty end up putting someone from the revenue side of the sheet, to use a finance term, onto the expense side of the sheet. That's what we ultimately want to avoid. This is a social justice argument but this is also an economic argument.
Ensuring the investment of $339 million over three years for Canada summer jobs, and an additional $395 million for Canada summer jobs, also addresses more than 33,000 vulnerable youth so they can develop the skills they need. We almost doubled the skills link program when we took over. That was about ensuring that everybody has that fair chance to succeed.
I'm really glad that you raised that program. To me, this is one of those long-term investments that's going to pay off not just for Canada while we have the opportunity to be government but for successive generations.
I had the opportunity to tour the program recently, two weeks back. You have youth learning carpentry skills. Those youth, once they get those skills, will be employed by a social enterprise, Catapult Construction. Catapult will renovate older homes in my riding that ultimately the youth and their families may live in, so it's the perfect kind of program that can break that generational cycle.
Thanks for that, Minister.
I do want to switch to Canada summer jobs, a wonderful program, again in my riding, which hired over 350 youth and put almost $1 million into the riding of Saint John—Rothesay.
Last year our committee undertook a study of experiential learning and pathways to employment for Canadian youth. During that study we heard from many witnesses who felt that the Canada summer jobs program could be expanded, and, in fact, ought to be expanded in order to provide Canadian youth with more work-integrated learning opportunities.
I was thrilled when I learned that your department would be expanding the Canada summer jobs program in 2019 in order to allow all youth between the ages of 15 and 30 to qualify for jobs funded through that program.
Can you tell us what impact you believe the expanded eligibility criteria will have on Canadian youth, particularly for those who have graduated from post-secondary institutions and are looking to break into fields in which past work experience in the field is often a prerequisite for employment?
Thank you very much, MP Long.
I think you're touching on two distinct streams we're working on. One is the Canada summer jobs program, which will help ensure that students—actually, all youth this year, because we've changed the criteria since many of you advocated to make sure that it was available to all youth—will have an opportunity to get that sometimes first job experience. There is also the expansion of the student work placements in budget 2018, which give them industry-specific experience.
I will say that under our government we have doubled the number of jobs for youth. The Harper Conservatives had the worst youth unemployment rate since the nineties. In contrast, every summer we're providing over 70,000 young people with that valuable work experience you're talking about.
I too have met the Canada Summer Jobs young people in my riding. I have a very large riding and it's partly rural and partly urban. For many of these folks—I have 12 first nations—this is their first job for the summer. This is the first time in their life that they've had paid employment. They now have a little bit of money in their pocket to spend on school or other things that they need, but they also have that first reference, and we know that the first experience and reference are critical for the next job.
More than that, they also have that confidence, because oftentimes—and I'm sure you've met youth in your own community—people who have not had that first paid experience lack confidence in their ability and their capability to actually land a job and lack confidence about how it's going to be once they're in the workplace.
The Canada summer jobs program is a really safe place for people to experience that first paid job. The employers who apply oftentimes have done it for years. They know how to work with youth, and they know the kinds of supports that youth need in the workplace. This year of course we're even strengthening the obligation of employers, to make sure they're providing that mentorship and leadership in the workplace.
I want to thank you for your work, and make sure you continue to meet those young people, because they will continue to inspire you.
Good afternoon, Minister.
I would like to talk to you about a concern we share—integration of youth into employment. I myself worked with troubled youth for nearly 20 years.
Last January, I held an economic table that brought together four economic development organizations from my riding: Développement économique de la MRC des Maskoutains, Développement économique et local de la MRC d'Acton, Saint-Hyacinthe Technopole and the SADC de la région d'Acton.
Employment integration organizations also participated in the table, such as Johnson County's Carrefour jeunesse-emploi, but there are many others in my riding, such as Parcours Formation and Espace carrière.
Of course, we have talked about the labour shortage, an issue that affects all businesses. Businesses in my riding have to buy school buses to pick up employees in the Montreal metropolitan region or have their own buses to travel from downtown to the villages where their plants are located. I was asked a question about a project or a program I have been talking about since we took a trip together. During a trip to Turin, where I joined you, we visited an organization whose experience really interested me. That organization was doing employment integration and had responders who could move around. I'm sure you remember it very well.
Employers told me about that difficulty. When they integrate a young person into a job, they have the tools needed to provide them with support in terms of everything that has to do with the job, but, when it comes to young people's more personal problems, employers often feel that they lack tools.
The organization we met with would send a responder to the employer, as needed. If a young person was experiencing difficulties at work—be it because one of their friends died of an overdose the day before, their mother experienced domestic violence, or they were late in the morning after going to get food for their family from the food bank—those organizations would support employers, beyond the integration of young people into employment.
I think there is a shortage of community organizations taking care of those issues. It would help if the government supported employers in terms of employment integration aspects where they lack tools. Those are often small SMEs. Eighty-five per cent of our economy is made up of small businesses that lack resources to support those young people.
Those employers are losing to retirement employees with a great deal of knowledge and, more importantly, love for the profession. I visit a lot of businesses, and it is always nice to see a sparkle in the eyes of someone who has been doing the same job for 30 years and still talks about it passionately. Yet, that employee will often leave before a young replacement is integrated into the job.
When we carried out a study on learning, we talked about the idea of mentorship programs. Those programs should extend to more businesses, so that they can keep their employees who are planning to retire as long as it takes for young employees to be integrated.
We are talking about money that has been spent, but I would like to hear you speak to new programs and new support measures that could be implemented to integrate young people into jobs.
Thank you very much for the question.
I will say that I share your passion for making sure that young people have the supports—not just the job skills in particular, but also the supports—that help them with all of the other problems they experience in their lives. I think that MP Long spoke about an organization that is doing that.
The funding we provide for, say, the training through skills link can be augmented by partnerships in the community. Many of these skills link deliverers all across the country—and that's why we actually deliver this program through partnerships with not-for-profit organizations—do form those partnerships with other organizations that are providing the add-on and the wraparound support for a young person to succeed.
I'll also congratulate you on your new leader being present in the House. That's fantastic. It'll be great to see what the NDP plan will say about investing in youth unemployment. In the last plan, the budget was $25 million for job creation and the same arbitrary number for housing. It's a lot more expensive than that and I will tell you that investment is worth every dollar.
As we reshape the youth employment strategy, we'll be moving forward to reflect the kinds of comments that we've heard through the various consultations we've held from all of the people who are delivering this program across Canada They all pretty much say the same thing as you, which is that young people need extra supports to succeed, so we're going to continue on that path.
Thank you very much, Madam Sansoucy.
I would say that we have been doing a tremendous amount of work investing in small businesses and the needs of small businesses, and economic development. I will also say that there's always an opportunity for businesses to be creative and innovative in the way that they look at their labour shortages. I would say that ensuring that youth have an opportunity to participate fully in the labour market is a real, great opportunity for innovative small and medium-sized businesses that are looking for new ways to solve old problems.
Many of the businesses I visited across the country are taking advantage of things like our subsidized student work placement program, which actually provides a subsidy of 50% for the students' wages, up to 60% if the person is a woman, or indigenous, or otherwise further disadvantaged from entering the labour market. That is a direct support for small businesses and medium-sized businesses, in that it covers and it compensates them for the cost of hiring new talent. It also provides that small business the opportunity of all that enthusiasm, and passion, and to-the-minute, up-to-date learning that the student is learning in their relevant course.
I will continue to invest in student work placements. It's a way to support small and medium-sized businesses, but also to ensure that young people get that very critical, sector-specific experience.
Thank you very much, MP Hogg.
I will say that, yes, it was a very vigorous conversation last year in terms of Canada summer jobs. If you had told me I would speak that much about Canada summer jobs when I first got the job, I might not have believed you. I'm glad we were able to speak so much about it, despite the fact that oftentimes they were vigorous conversations.
The unintended consequence was that many people found out about Canada summer jobs as an opportunity to hire students who previously didn't even know the program existed. Some people say there's no such thing as bad press. I will say, in terms of Canada summer jobs, it helped us reach our target of 70,000 jobs. There was no dip in the number of jobs available to young people across the country.
We, as you know, worked very closely with all of the different stakeholders who felt uncomfortable with the process. We wanted to be very clear, as we were in our communications last year, that this was about activities and job descriptions and not about beliefs and values. We heard back from many of the groups we worked with, including faith leaders from all different faiths, that they were much more comfortable with the process this year and they understood our goals of ensuring that students weren't put into positions where they were asked to violate the established rights of other people in this country. I think we were able to do that in a way that lent comfort to groups that this really wasn't about a judgment on their faiths or beliefs; rather, it was around protecting the integrity of those positions for young people.
Thank you very much, MP Hogg.
You're right. The Canada student loan default rate is steadily tracking downward, and that is as a result of the supports that we're providing students in terms of repayment assistance. We've increased the amount of support for non-repayable Canada student grants, so that helps as well. Obviously, for lower-income students, having more grant and less loan is one way to prevent the default of loans. We know that for lower-income students, oftentimes even the prospect of taking out debt can be a deterrent to education.
There are changes to the repayment assistance program so that no graduate who applies will have to repay their Canada student loan until they're earning at least $25,000 per year. This is going to benefit 54,000 students, and the writeoff represents less than 1% of the overall amount of the Canada student loans, so this is obviously heading in the right direction.
We want to make sure that any young person who wants to attend post-secondary training has an opportunity to do so and can see a financial path toward that goal.
Again, we know when people feel confident to invest in themselves through higher education or skills training, they repay that investment multiple times over in their contributions to their communities and to our economy.
Welcome, Minister. It's always a pleasure to have you at our committee.
First, I would just comment on the Canada summer jobs, because we all seem to be talking about it. I love the program. Since I've been elected we've more than doubled the number of Canada summer jobs we've had in the riding of Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge. Part of the reason for that is that I've gone out and met with almost every single student. We showcase them on social media with videos, pictures, and we interview them—not only the students, but also the organizations that hire them to find out what they hire them for and what criteria they are looking for.
I was really excited to see that over the course of the last three years, we've tried to push people to hire on what the students are doing in school. For example, we have a hatchery, and they've hired people from university who are studying fish and biology. This is practical experience for them, which is great. So thank you for that program.
I'm going to move to a different subject. Right now we're studying construction jobs and the lack of skilled labour and so on in the GTA. I see that in the supplementary estimates (B) there is $409 million for the Canada summer job grants for qualifying full-time and part-time students. I know you haven't likely been following our study, but the problem we're seeing is that people are moving away from skilled trades. Could this money be applied to trying to encourage skilled workers to pick up the trades? Is there an opportunity here to use this program?
I'll take it first, and then I'll turn it over to my deputy for a few more details.
Yes, you're absolutely right. What we want is more people in the trades. We want more interest in the trades earlier on. We need to reverse the generational stigma around pursuing a career in the trades. This is obviously a burning desire for me as the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, but also as the mom of a young man in trades. Trades are some of the best middle-class jobs in our country. There's a shortage of skilled workers for 65,000 trades positions in our country.
Obviously, the previous government didn't invest in unions. As a matter of fact, they introduced a whole bunch of union-busting legislation. They were no friends to organized labour or to the trades, so for us, this is about reversing that. We're doing that by ensuring that we invest in the women in apprenticeships model, so that we bring more women into the trades, by investing in pre-apprenticeship strategies, so that we can get people into the idea of trades before the apprenticeships, and by investing in union training. We know that unions actually do some of the best jobs in terms of training the next generation of skilled tradespeople, whether it's for equipment or innovation, in terms of bringing people into union-based trades.
We are going to continue that work. We have more to do, for sure, but I think we're on the right trajectory now. We're talking about the trades in a more positive way. We're working with organized labour. The skilled trades unions are an important partner in this country, not just to build up the next generation of skilled tradespeople but also to protect those good-quality middle-class jobs we talk about all the time.
MP Diotte, I will say that you're right. We have created, together with Canadians, 900,000 jobs. We've set the table so that Canadians have the confidence to create those jobs, and it's created a new problem, which is a severe labour shortage all across the country in a variety of different ways. When I visit with my Quebec counterparts, for example, and the only thing we talk about is the labour shortage, that's when I know we have a crisis of keeping up, quite frankly, and making sure that our businesses have an opportunity to grow.
I will say that a whole bunch of things are going into that labour shortage. Obviously, we have an aging population, people who are getting older and wanting to retire and people who are retiring. We're sort of at the apex of the baby boomers retiring. We have a lower birth rate, which means that fewer people are entering the workforce over time.
Also, we obviously have challenges around recruiting people for these jobs, people who can fill these jobs, people with the skills that employers are looking for, which is why the work we're doing in terms of my portfolio is so incredibly critical. If we do not ensure that every single person in this country has the opportunity to fully skill up to their best potential, then we are doing our employers a huge disservice, not just now but into the future, because it will actually retard their growth. They will not be able to grow their businesses. They will not be able innovate in the same way that they want to. They will not be able, in some cases, to keep their businesses open.
I will end on this. You know, Mr. Diotte, your party has an incredibly negative message around the value of immigration and that is not helping employers all across this country—
MP Sangha, I will say there is not one silver bullet solution to the labour shortage. I think part of it is what I have in my portfolio, which is making sure that more people have an opportunity to access skills training and paid work experiences whenever possible. You're right that employers often don't want to take a risk on a young person or a person with new skills who hasn't tested them in the workplace. We have to help support employers to take that risk. That's why things like the student work placement program—60,000 of them across the country—is so critical to making sure that employers have the confidence that they can hire a student, that the students have the confidence that they can get a job in their sector and that we play a bit of a role of matchmaker as the Government of Canada making sure people land in their sectors fully skilled up.
We have to make sure that older workers who have been out of school for a long time have the kinds of financial support they need. Older workers benefit when people can actually have extra financial supports through grants, whether to take care of their children or to help pay for some of the bills that we acquire as older people, and take the chance to go back to school. As a matter of fact, that's a very personal story for me because I didn't graduate until I was 28, and it's a very hard thing to do to go back to school when you have children who are financially dependent on you. We want to make sure that we clear the way for those older workers who have been out of school for a while and that people have an opportunity to see themselves as students again or gain skills that are going to help them move forward on their earnings.
Quite frankly, we also have one of the fastest-growing populations in our country, and that's indigenous young people. The indigenous population is really the only place where we see high birth rates and an opportunity to actually tap into those indigenous young people and ensure that they have skills earlier on, that they have a career path and that they can actually match up their skills and their training with the available jobs in this country. I think that would be also an opportunity for employers.
Finally, and I mentioned it to MP Diotte, we have to be very protective of a robust immigration strategy because, quite frankly, we just are not growing enough people to meet our labour shortages across the country.
I wish I could speak for the future, but I can't. I will say, though, that the changes we made this year are critical to making sure the program is accessible to as many young people as possible. You're right. We did survey employers and youth on their experience with Canada summer jobs 2018, and 89% of participants and 78% of employers were satisfied or very satisfied with the program, which means that it's beloved by both employers and the people who are taking advantage of it as young people.
Based on feedback, we decided to make it more accessible, to your point. You know, I will say that it really warms my heart that some of the strongest advocates for opening up this program to people besides students were the young people themselves, who worried about their friends who were not in college or university or going back to another full-time year of study. They said it's great that they get to take part in this, but they really wish their friend down the street who's not going to school next year could take part in this program as well. Youth continue to advocate for each other, which is truly quite remarkable.
Also, Canada summer jobs this year will be posted online on job banks, because one of the things we heard was that sometimes you have to be in the know, especially in smaller communities like mine. If you know someone in a small business, you might be the first person to get the job, or maybe the job isn't posted. This year, all the jobs will be posted online. Students will be able to look across the country to see what jobs are available in their communities but also in other communities, if they're interested. I have a lighthouse in my riding. It's a pretty neat experience. The students get to spend the six to eight weeks out at the lighthouse. Students from all across the country apply for an opportunity to take part in that Canada summer jobs program.
We also made sure that we'll continue to ask for this feedback. Next year we'll be asking for feedback again, and to your point, MP Ruimy, that's when we have the opportunity to continue to evolve the program. As we get feedback from participants and employers, I think it's our obligation as legislators to look at how we can improve it continually year over year.